Labor Senators are of the view that a Commission of Inquiry has the potential to impede progress or delay action in relation to delivering for the Murray Darling Basin, but notes the numerous problems that require attention. Labor is not ruling out support for a Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin, however Labor believes that immediate action by the Commonwealth is the best way to ensure the health of the river.
Labor Senators note that Australians are losing faith in the capacity of the Morrison Government to manage water fairly and effectively after six years of inaction in relation to the Murray Darling Basin. Controversy and mismanagement in the Basin is leading to a lack of transparency, public confidence and integrity in the system and is adversely affecting farming communities, regional economies and the future health of the Basin.
Labor Senators note significant reports that water speculation is driving water prices up and creating significant issues for farmers and communities in the Murray Darling Basin, and that this requires serious action from the Federal Government.
Labor Senators are concerned that the Morrison Government appears to be backing away from commitments it has made under the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Labor Senators are concerned about the issues raised by both the Human Rights Committee and Scrutiny Committee in relation to the drafting of the Bill.
The Human Rights Committee expressed concerns with the Bill that would result from application of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 to Commission the Inquiry, relating to the coercive powers by the Royal Commissions Act 1902 which engage multiple human rights such as the right to privacy, the right not to incriminate oneself, the right to liberty, and the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of assembly.
The Scrutiny Committee noted scrutiny concerns regarding the conferral of the significant coercive powers on the proposed commission of inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin and considered that the Bill’s explanatory materials do not adequately address these concerns.
Labor Senators note the many reports, including by the Productivity Commission, the South Australian Royal Commission on the Murray Darling Basin, which make numerous recommendations the Government has failed to address or respond to adequately.
Accordingly, Labor Senators urge the Commonwealth Government to take immediate action to address alarming and growing concerns in terms of the practices within the Murray Darling Basin, in relation to:
Allegations of water theft, mismanagement, noncompliance and corruption;
Allegations that significant water speculation from international corporate water giants and speculators is distorting the market, adversely affecting farming communities;
A severe lack of scientific monitoring stations which reduces capacity to obtain appropriate data on key indicators such as temperature, water quality, oxygen levels and turbidity;
A lack of accountability and transparency in the Morrison Government’s on-farm water infrastructure program including in relation to large subsidies provided for on-farm irrigation efficiency projects; and
A lack of genuine action to support communities running out of water rather than the Government’s approach to establishing more committees to talk about drought conditions.
The Murray Darling Basin requires immediate action to ensure its future health and Labor Senators acknowledge its dire condition and the concerns regional communities have about the Morrison Government’s mismanagement of the Basin.
Senator Anne Urquhart
Senator Marielle Smith
Labor Senator for Tasmania
Labor Senator for South Australia