Blog | 15th May, 2019

Murray-Darling crisis – Find out where the major parties stand

How our rivers are being managed is a major election issue. From massive fish kills and water theft, to dodgy deals and the South Australian Royal Commission findings of ‘gross negligence’, voters are rightly concerned.

So how are the major political parties responding to the crisis on the Murray-Darling? What is their view of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan? And what policies are they taking to the election?

See our brief one-sentence assessment below, and scroll down for a more detailed point-by-point analysis.

The Greens

The Greens policy has the potential for big improvements for rivers.


The Labor Party have committed to fixing the most shocking failures that have emerged since they were last in charge, which is welcome but not enough.

The Liberals

The Liberals seem to be offering little more than continuing the Basin’s current downward trajectory.

The details

The Greens have long been calling for improvements to the Basin Plan to stop the Murray-Darling from being bled dry. Their election plan commits to the following:

  • Establish a national Royal Commission

    Our comment: The South Australian Royal Commission (SARC) did a great job of exposing the problems with the Basin Plan and identifying solutions, but was blocked from fully investigating corruption and maladministration by the Morrison government. A national inquiry would likely reveal more.

  • Overhaul the Murray Darling Basin Plan, putting the environment at the centre

    Our comment: This is required by the federal Water Act 2007.

  • Ensure that future modelling on water flows accounts for the impacts of climate change

    Our comment: It is ridiculous that the Basin Plan does not already consider this.

  • Ban corporate irrigator donations to political parties
  • Ensure that any new plan delivers water buybacks and achieves proper environmental flows

    Our comment: Further buybacks, from willing sellers, are essential to achieving the objectives of the Basin Plan.

Click here to see the Greens’ policy

The Labor party’s commitments on addressing the crisis in the Murray-Darling are:

  • Ensure more water for the Murray-Darling Basin by guaranteeing delivery of the additional 450 gigalitres (to reach the Basin Plan’s extended target of 3200 gigalitres), removing the cap on water buybacks, and reverting to the original socio-economic test in the Basin Plan relating to the 450 GL.

    Our comment: These are all very welcome and important commitments.

  • Initiate a Commission of Inquiry into the purchase of certain water entitlements from Eastern Australia Agriculture Pty Ltd.

    Our comment: A broader inquiry is needed rather than this narrow, partisan focus on what went on under Barnaby Joyce.

  • Restore integrity by moving the compliance division of the Murray Darling Basin Authority to the proposed Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
  • Ensure the science is central to decision making and climate change impacts are understood.

    Our comment: This is a good idea and new nature laws will help too.

  • Improve transparency by investing for Basin-wide real time monitoring and re-establishing the Sustainable Rivers Audit.

    Our comment: The lack of sufficient data is a real problem – we can’t fix our rivers if we don’t know where the water is flowing and how the plants, animals and wetlands are faring.

  • Help fish recovery.
  • Support cultural water and First Nations’ leadership in the Basin.

    Our comment: A much-needed inclusion in any sensible water management plan.

Click here to see Labor’s policy

The Liberals are making only a single commitment on the Murray-Darling, which is included as part of their broader agriculture policy:

  • “Deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full to give Basin communities certainty – a triple bottom line approach that recognises the continued importance of agriculture in the Basin.”

Our comment: While David Littleproud has brought a more balanced approach to the Basin Plan as Minister, compared to his predecessor Barnaby Joyce, the vagueness of the Coalition’s commitment is concerning. Implementing the Basin Plan “in full and on time” is exactly what they claim they’ve been doing for six years, so it’s unclear what they would do to improve the situation.

For more details about the other nature and climate policies of the major parties, check out the scorecard from our friends at the Australian Conservation Foundation.

*This analysis was based on the publicly available policy announcements listed on the party websites.