Senator John Madigan
Deep suspicion remains across the Murray Darling Basin about the Murray
Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), its operation and the perceived perfunctory
nature of its attempts to liaise and listen to local communities.
Communities exhausted by challenging economic conditions, with dwindling
farming and irrigation sectors, remain convinced the MDBA is proceeding
on its own agenda while paying 'lip service' to consultation.
I note that in the 2011 House of Representatives Inquiry into the Guide
to the Murray Darling Basin Plan, the committee was highly critical of the
MDBA's community engagement program.
Additionally that same committee articulated concerns about the MDBA’s
modelling, assumptions and data gathering.
Four years later, local communities have given vent to similar
During the current Senate inquiry I saw little perception from
communities across the Basin that the operations of the MDBA had changed in
response to the first report.
Basin people are suspicious, frightened and angry about an organisation
they see as all-powerful and non-responsive. I take seriously evidence that the
MDBA’s modelling has been proven wrong, that the organisation is not responsive
to criticism and in some cases has forced constituents to resort to Freedom of
Information requests to obtain data.
I remain deeply concerned that the MDBA is a well-funded and diverse
bureaucracy dedicated to its own self-preservation with little real accountability
to the government or the Parliament, and certainly not to the thousands of
rural and regional Australians who are impacted by its operations and
I remain troubled that this organisation, like many government bureaucracies,
is insincere in its pronouncements of regard for local expertise.
I see the Murray Darling Basin Plan as one of the largest negative
man-made impactors on our farming communities in the history of this
country. More significantly, much if not all of the negative impact of the MDBP
is ignored by governments and ignored or rationalised by the
Many witnesses were adamant that the Plan must be paused to undertake a
more thorough and detailed stocktake of our water resources and their effective
management. Others are more hesitant, saying such action would create
Water resource management is now exceedingly complex, controlled by a
growing number of bureaucracies and administered by the Commonwealth and
relevant state governments.
It’s clear to many – and I share their view – the Plan is not working.
The destructive impact on the farmers, irrigators and communities who live
and work in our food bowl is considerable. Water is our most precious resource.
For the thousands who have been fighting this plan and this bureaucracy
for years now, it will be a tragedy if this report is shelved without
appropriate and clear government response and action.
Additionally I make the following recommendations.
The Commonwealth Water Act 2007 must be amended to indisputably
give equal balance to the triple bottom line i.e. social, economic and
The Water Act 2007 must be amended to remove reference to
the 450GL and links to the Sustainable Diversion Adjustment mechanism. The
$1.77 billion must be redirected to meet other objectives arising from the
We must review the MDBA’s Regulatory Impact Statement (2012) to account
for omissions and inclusion of relevant information evident in the
implementation phase of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
We must amend/extend current timeframes and project eligibility for the
Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDL) adjustment mechanism.
We must have an allowance within the scope of 650GL of SDL projects to enable
adaptive management and the development of further project options to deliver
environmental outcomes that may not be fully explored or developed prior to the
June 2016 deadline.
The Murray Darling Basin Plan’s focus on flow objectives to the Lower
Lakes must be reviewed to avoid massive third party impacts (social, economic
and environment) on Basin communities. The Plan must incorporate the physical
realities of the Murray, Edward and Wakool and Goulburn river systems and
acknowledge that the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s proposed flow targets to
the SA border are unachievable.
Federal, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australian governments
should be encouraged to investigate the development of localised projects in
South Australia to deliver environmental benefits for the Coorong, Lower Lakes
and Murray Mouth. Federal investments should be on the condition that SDL
credits generated help offset the shared downstream targets for the Murray
(971GL.) (The Coorong Connector should not be considered unless part of a
broader package of measures.)
We need an independent investigation of the accountability, performance
and independence of the MDBA with emphasis on the basis and validity of its
conclusions and recommendations to government in the development and
implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
The MDBA must be instructed and made accountable to facilitate open
access and transparency on all of its models and assumptions used in decisions
associated with the Plan.
The MDBA’s roles, responsibilities and future functions must be reviewed
and restructured to incorporate regional decisions in all aspects of the Basin
Plan – social, economic, environment.
The Federal Government must cease acquisition of further productive
water (except for strategic benefits which is agreed to by relevant parties)
until there has been a full analysis of social and economic impacts, an
evaluation of environmental benefits achieved with water already acquired and
it is evident there will be no adverse third party impacts on irrigation and private
Federal and state governments must be completely transparent and ensure
full consultation with affected parties and stakeholders on all Murray Darling
Basin Plan implementation decisions. This includes the Sustainable Diversion Limits
adjustment mechanism, the Constraints Management Strategy and any proposed
river or storage dam operational changes to ensure decisions do not undermine
the reliability of irrigation supplies or property rights of private
landholders or cause detrimental environmental impacts.
The Constraints business cases must provide a realistic, compelling
case, developed in full consultation with affected stakeholders, and establish
that proposed measures will be achievable and will deliver the expected
outcomes. The cases must provide a positive case for investment before any
decisions to proceed are made.
Impacts on all upper tributary catchments must be acknowledged and
investigated so that the focus is not only on the main stems of the Murray,
Goulburn and Murrumbidgee rivers when delivering environmental flows.
Government agencies must clearly establish timing, frequency, duration
and extent of proposed environmental flows in order for stakeholders to make
informed decisions in the development of the business cases on constraints.
The MDBA must address how the Constraints Management Strategy can
proceed considering Upper Goulburn Catchment landowners have refused to
negotiate easements to mitigate flooding impacts, and the Federal and State
governments have stated they will not forcibly acquire easements or
intentionally flood private property without consent.
Federal and state governments must avoid manipulation of water markets
or water use through references to high value crops or preferred industries.
I strongly object to overseas entities being permitted to trade in our
Monitoring and evaluation of the Basin plan and environmental flows must
include both negative and positive impacts to enable full evaluations.
After this inquiry I remain steadfast in my belief and support of the
people of the Murray Darling Basin. I admire their courage and creativity,
their strength and fortitude in the face of enormous challenges. The future of
this country is integral to their future. Much is riding on our ability to get
Senator John Madigan
Independent Senator for Victoria
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page