Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Statements by Members
Murray-Darling Basin: Water
Yesterday in the House of Representatives I called for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to be broken up in order to create a more transparent and accountable regime when it comes to how we manage our water issues up and down the Murray-Darling Basin. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has been lumped with various responsibilities, but, namely, they are responsible for the service delivery, operating our dams and our locks on the Murray River to deliver water to the states—which is mainly funded by the irrigators. Secondly, they have policy work associated with implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. They are the main advocates for the plan. They also have the power to step in and prepare plans in the states for the implementation of the Basin Plan. Thirdly, they have the regulatory activities related to the implementation of the Basin Plan, including quantities of water savings generated by the states' water recovery projects to determine whether or not the states' water diversions are within the limits that are set by the plan.
What we find, though, is that there is an enormous amount of complexity and confusion in issues around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, as shown up by Mr Keelty, who is Interim Inspector-General of Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources, when he was giving evidence at the Senate yesterday at the Senate Select Committee on the Multi-Jurisdictional Management and Execution of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Mr Keelty was more or less talking about the responsibilities of the authority, and he said that there was evidence that came from the public suggesting that there might be 700 gigalitres of unallocated water each and every year. In his conversations with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, that was whittled back to 50 gigalitres of water each and every year. So, at the time of going to print with Mr Keelty's report, 50 gigalitres of water that was underallocated or unallocated was the amount printed. But now we understand that, over the last couple of weeks, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has effectively acknowledged that the amount of unallocated water is more like 375 gigalitres per year. This is an enormous amount of water.
Astonishingly, Mr Keelty is now calling for a single source of truth. That is a blunt statement, because it obviously means that we don't have a single source of truth at the moment. Someone who has been working with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority for five months has acknowledged that around 370 gigalitres has been underallocated every year, yet the Murray-Darling Basin Authority cannot put its finger on where that water is.
This is an enormous amount of water. Yesterday we spoke about half a billion dollars worth of water that evaporates from the Lower Lakes. Now we're talking about a quarter of a billion dollars worth of water that is underallocated. I think what we need to do is break up the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and put these various responsibilities into different organisations.