On 24 June 2015, the Senate resolved to establish the Select Committee
on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to inquire into and report, on or before
26 February 2016, on the positive and negative impacts of the Murray-Darling
Basin Plan ("the Plan") and associated Commonwealth programs on
regional communities, particularly:
implementation of the plan, including:
its costs, especially those related to further implementation,
its direct and indirect effects on agricultural industries, local
businesses and community wellbeing, and
any evidence of environmental changes to date;
effectiveness and appropriateness of the plan's Constraints Management
the progress of identifying constraints and options to mitigate the
identified risks, and
environmental water flows and river channel capacity;
management of the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray mouth, including the
environmental impact of the locks, weirs and barrages of the Murray River; and
On 2 February 2016, the committee's terms of reference were amended to
extend the reporting date to 17 March 2016.
Conduct of the inquiry
The committee received 399 submissions, as listed in Appendix 1. While
many submissions had been received by the close of the submissions period, the
committee continued to receive submissions beyond this date.
The committee held nine public hearings:
Canberra—18 September 2015;
St George, Qld—29 September 2015;
Broken Hill, NSW—26 October 2015;
Griffith, NSW—27 October 2015;
Echuca, Vic.—5 November 2015;
Shepparton, Vic.—6 November 2015;
Goolwa, SA—8 December 2015;
Renmark, SA—9 December 2015; and
Canberra—5 February 2016.
A list of witnesses for each public hearing is included in Appendix 2.
The report addresses the committee's terms of reference and is divided
into the following four chapters:
Chapter one (this chapter) states the administrative arrangements
for the inquiry.
Chapter two provides background and history of the Murray-Darling
Basin Plan, and associated frameworks.
Chapter three examines Basin state issues identified by
submitters and during hearings, and makes a number of recommendations.
Chapter four discusses the value of water, its ownership its use,
quality and management.
Scope of the inquiry
This inquiry follows several other parliamentary committee inquiries
into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and into the basin more broadly.
A central aspect of this inquiry is the notion of the efficacy of the Plan
across the economic, social and environment needs of the land and the
communities that live and work within the basin. Examination of these three
elements has often been referred to as the effects or impacts of the
"triple bottom line" (TBL).
The TBL was a term that originated to describe the impact of the three
Ps: profit, people and planet. Essentially aiming to measure not just the
financial (profit) and social impact of an activity or policy, but also its
environmental performance and impact over time.
In some ways the TBL has become a de facto balanced scorecard in
examining these outcomes. The key premise behind the principle is that you
cannot manage what you don’t measure, since what you measure is what you are
likely to pay attention to.
However, a key issue with the application of the balance scorecard
principle is that it is often difficult to add together the three separate
elements effectively and meaningfully. For example, it is difficult to measure
in economic terms the environmental cost vs the social impact of water
deprivation or water scarcity over all factors.
Whether each of these elements has been fully and equally realised in
the implementation of the Plan has been a key consideration for the committee.
The committee is concerned that there has never been a cost-benefit
analysis of the Plan to assess alternative policy options such as estuary
restoration or the opportunity costs of policy choices.
Evidence in submissions and from witnesses spanned a broad range of
views, from those who were dissatisfied with the Plan and called for it to be
stopped, others who felt that the environment was benefiting at the expense of
the social fabric, and those who were very satisfied with the Plan and the
positive effects it was having on restoring the environment.
Much of the evidence detailed the impacts of the Plan on industry and
communities. This evidence has enabled the committee to digest a greater
understanding of the uniqueness of different regions' issues and impacts of the
Plan across the basin and the complexity of effectively managing the basin's
water for ongoing, productive use.
Notes on references
References to submissions in this report are to individual submissions
received by the committee and published on the committee's website. References
to the committee Hansards are to the official transcripts from inquiry public
During the course of the inquiry, the federal responsibility for water
management moved from the Department of the Environment to the Department of
Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR). As such, the Department of the
Environment prepared a submission to the inquiry (Submission 50), and
representatives from that department appeared at the committee's first public
hearing in September 2015, but the (same) representatives at the committee's
final public hearing were from DAWR.
The committee would like to thank the many individuals and organisations
that made written submissions to the inquiry, as well as those who gave
evidence at the public hearings.
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