Don’t sugarcoat basin plan

January 26, 2018

Firstly, as we have come to expect, the MDBA continues its mantra to sugarcoat the plan’s implementation and ignore the negative impacts and those which do not suit the political agenda.

While I welcome the 2017 Murray-Darling Basin Plan summary as published recently from Murray-Darling Basin Authority chairman Neil Andrew, I believe there are some issues which need clarification.

Firstly, as we have come to expect, the MDBA continues its mantra to sugarcoat the plan’s implementation and ignore the negative impacts and those which do not suit the political agenda.

The two most important are the lack of scientific knowledge on which the plan is based and the effect it is having on rural communities.

It is difficult to understand why Mr Andrew makes no reference to the recent independent reports (including the CSIRO) which cast doubt over the scientific modelling on which the plan was based, as well as subsequent monitoring and evaluation.

Surely they should be an issue of serious concern to the MDBA, because if the science, the modelling and evaluation are not correct the entire plan is flawed and must come into question.

Then there is Mr Andrew’s convenient neglect of the plan’s impact on rural communities.

Further independent reports on its social and economic consequences have revealed:

■in the NSW Murray, an economic cost of $190million a year and nearly 700 jobs; and

■in the Goulburn Valley, production losses of $550million a year and a massive 2000 job losses.

Mr Andrew is prepared to state ‘‘the basin economy has grown’’ and ‘‘some towns have had a tougher time than others’’, yet fails to acknowledge the pain being suffered, nor the need for remedial action.

Likewise he ignores the environmental damage caused by river slumping, as well as the significant damage from carp proliferation, from the MDBA’s ‘just add water’ environmental approach.

Mr Andrew talks about water being ‘‘shared fairly’’ for ‘‘benefit of both irrigators and the environment’’ but Blind Freddy can see that the genuine triple bottom line social, economic and environmental balance we were promised from this plan is not the reality.

As we enter 2018 and the important 18 months ahead to which Mr Andrew refers, I would respectfully request a higher level of accountability in relation to all aspects of the basin plan from the MDBA, not just the positives it wants to highlight.

This must include:

■Acknowledging that 86 per cent of the water recovered so far under the basin plan has come from the southern connected system, and honestly accepting the social and economic damage caused, which will become clearer when reports are released in coming months. Genuine action must be taken to alleviate this economic pain and support these communities.

■Highlighting to politicians and the public that under legislation the 450Gl ‘up-water’ only applies with no adverse economic impacts, and independent reports already indicate this is not possible.

■Highlighting the serious constraints issues and the flooding risks to public and private land.

■Honestly reporting on South Australia’s failure to be an active participant in measures to limit the amount of water from upstream that needs to be transferred from productive to environmental use.

■Acknowledging that some of the science and modelling on which the basin plan has been based was carried out during the millennium drought and is not a realistic assessment of the basin’s long-term health. Take positive action in relation to monitoring and evaluation concerns, as expressed by 2017 independent reports.

The MDBA is supposed to be an independent body, but as Mr Andrew’s assessment yet again shows, it chooses to ignore any report that does not paint a rosy picture of the plan. This must change.

Australians also need to remember that high value agricultural crops like almonds may help the basin economy in the short term, but they do not put staples on your dinner table.

If we decimate industries like dairying and rice, will you be happy to eat almonds instead?

—Graeme Pyle


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