A recent meeting of water ministers about fixing the mess on the Murray-Darling has had mixed results, with no official version of what actually happened. While federal Minister David Littleproud showed leadership, Victoria and NSW are still dragging their feet in getting the plan back on track.
Water ministers gathered in Canberra on Sunday 3 August to discuss how to fix the problems with implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. While we still haven’t had official confirmation of what happened, we have seen some great leadership from federal Minister David Littleproud with a proposal for a new ‘cop’ to investigate allegations of water theft and other integrity issues.
But there’s also a worrying trend of states again questioning and devaluing essential aspects of the Plan. Here’s what we know so far.
In a win for better regulation and greater accountability, the states agreed to Minister Littleproud’s proposal to create an Inspector-General, who could be “a tough but fair cop to oversee all state and federal agencies delivering the Basin Plan”. The exact details remain to be worked out, but the appointment of former police commissioner Mick Keelty as interim Inspector-General is very welcome. Mr Keelty has been doing an excellent job of lifting the lid on non-compliance in the northern basin.
Meanwhile, Victoria and NSW have placed another road block to progress on managing ‘constraints’ in the Murray. Constraints is a technical term referring to anything that reduces the ability to deliver water for the environment. Constraints can be physical things – like low-lying bridges – or operational aspects like rules.
Removing these impediments to the delivery of environmental water is an essential part of the Plan. Failure to manage constraints means that water cannot be delivered to floodplains and the Plan’s environmental objectives can’t be fully achieved. There’s a strategy in place to resolve community concerns about constraint management projects, and funding is available to develop the projects and mitigate the impacts of any unwanted flooding. All the constraint management projects along the Murray have been scrutinised by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and are included in the list of SDL Adjustment projects agreed to by the states.
But under the guise of ‘water flow modelling’, Victoria and NSW intend to review the constraints projects again, putting their own interpretation on MDBA modelling that is undertaken on behalf of all the Basin states and is peer reviewed. Victoria and NSW are once again undermining confidence in the Plan while claiming to act on behalf of communities and “restore faith in the process”.
Getting rid of constraints is absolutely vital to the success of the Plan and returning water to our rivers. While constraints are still in place it is literally impossible for environmental water holders to make best use of their water. It’s like saying to a farmer “you can only irrigate this strip of land, not the whole paddock”. The states need to get behind these projects and make them happen, rather than continually raising the bar and throwing more road blocks in the way.
Sorting out constraints is all part of getting the plan back on track, which means implementing the whole plan, not just your favourite parts.