My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Water, and the action I seek is that she urgently take all steps to release the expert panel’s report into the Murray-Darling Basin plan that was commissioned in February this year.
The expert panel was established by the Minister for Water and the New South Wales Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair, to provide advice on the technical foundations of the basin plan’s sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism.
This mechanism allows for the 2750 gigalitres of water to be recovered under the plan, to be offset by 650 gigalitres worth of projects that deliver equivalent environmental outcomes.
When the expert panel was announced both ministers argued that there was a lack of transparency around the assumptions that sit at the heart of the mechanism. The panel reported back to the minister in mid-March, yet the results of the review have still not been publicly made available. At the last Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting of water ministers in June this year, agreement was reached to sign off on up to 650 gigalitres worth of works to meet the basin plan’s targets. This is in lieu of buybacks of water or otherwise water being taken out of our consumptive pool.
In recent weeks representatives from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) have been conducting community meetings throughout the basin, providing general advice about these environmental measures and projects that have been put up by the states. However, no details were provided of the actual projects to be implemented locally, and there remain many questions for our regional communities. There is a strong belief throughout the southern basin community that the MDBA has been less than transparent in many of the actions it has taken. The release of the expert panel’s report would provide a level of comfort and more detailed knowledge about the technical foundations for going forward on these issues. Recent media reports by the ABC’s Four Corners and Lateline programs of alleged water misuse and indeed theft in the northern basin have raised serious concerns about the integrity of the plan as a whole. Victoria’s river communities have done their part to achieve the 2750 gigalitres and are now feeling the devastating socio-economic impacts of having done so. We in Victoria have done it by the book and at great cost. We cannot afford to give up more water from productive agriculture.
Of course we support healthy rivers. We know that healthy river systems are vital to our communities and are needed to support sustainable agriculture now and in the future. With numerous investigations, audits, reviews, evaluations and inquiries currently underway in relation to various aspects of the plan, into the authority itself and into certain New South Wales government departments, and with the ministerial council set to make key decisions about the recovery of a further 450 gigalitres from the consumptive pool later this year, we must have all available information. It must be put on the table.