Commissioner Bret Walker’s scathing report on the Basin plan says its broke.
Farmers want to know the truth but trying to wade through a sea of political doublespeak can be confusing. If you want to cut through the garbage, listen carefully to the concise legal language spelling out the facts.
There have been three previous attempts at water reform, all exacting a heavy price on farmers and rural communities. Reality is this third fix is a failure because of political interference in bureaucracies, and now communities will have to line up again.
Irrigation is extremely important but we also know the Australian public will not cop the fish kills, so politicians pretending there is no problem will not help the bush.
Political campaigns are expensive, but farmers will not thank politicians giving favours to those who donate to their campaigns, in fact they will be disgusted at the corruption.
As chairman of the Northern Basin Advisory Committee (NBAC) of the MDBA from 2012 to 2016, I worked closely with both the board and senior staff, but I became increasingly concerned we would end up in the mess it is now.
I agree with Commissioner Walker who said “There is no scientific, intelligible or rational justification put forward for the reduction of 70 GL. The obvious inference to be drawn is that political considerations largely drove the NBR, not science. Making it completely unlawful”.
My observation was MDFBA were not using the best available science, but delivering a number that would keep the politicians happy. More worryingly, they withheld information from NBAC, other scientists, partner states and even parliament.
There are numerous farmer groups in the Basin, including flood plain farmers, those drawing stock and domestic water, grape growers at Menindee and irrigators, not to mention fisherman, bird watchers, rural communities and indigenous groups.
However, the Commissioner said “the MDBA appeared to be willing to adjust its modelling to reflect real-world experiences, this approach appears to have been largely confined to the irrigation sector. There is no indication from the MDBA’s reports that the same level of consultation was adopted with respect to the hydrological or socioeconomic modelling of other community sectors”.
The plan can be saved, however major changes must occur. There must be an honest factual way forward, but I fear the dishonest culture in the MDBA has irretrievably lost the trust of the people in the Basin.
To quote the Commissioner, “the entire NBR process has contributed to a serious level of mistrust among significant stakeholders regarding the ability and intent of the MDBA to implement the Basin Plan”.
If government wants to save the plan, they must appoint a new MDBA board who understand governance under Australian company law and senior staff who do not acquiesce to politicians.
- Mal Peters