Admit mistakes and get on with fixing them

Murray Darling and water: it can work, but learnings must be heeded first


Opinion
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This government, and particularly the public servants who work within its bureaucracy, have some hard decisions to make, but those decisions cannot be made without first admitting some serious mistakes have been made.

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IT IS time for a transparent water market, free of manipulation and not shielded in secrecy by multi-agency bureacuracies.

That the Barmah Forest, in the middle of the Murray Darling system, can be inundated while the system’s top end is bone dry and both regions are experiencing drought tells us something is very wrong.

To blame the fish kills in the Lower Darling on drought and a generally dehydrated system would seem, on the face of things, to make sense.

But there is no throwaway excuse for the Murray River running so hard its banks are eroding and irrigators are left without water.

It is not a case of too much rain and nobody being responsible – an unnatural flow through a region in drought is a deliberate act on behalf of the system’s managers.

For generations Australians have gone to great lengths to regulate water flows.

So then it is fair enough to ask: Who is responsible?

It must be remembered that in NSW for one, the commonwealth is the largest licence holder of water.

In his delivery of the South Australian government’s Murray Darling Basin Royal Commission, senior counsel Bret Walker wrote of the people inhabiting the planet’s driest inhabited continent: “It was once the case that Australia’s water expertise was a human resource of distinction and earned renown”.

He then criticised the Murray Darling Basin Authority and to a lesser extent the CSIRO for “an unfathomable predilection for secrecy” that was an obstacle to “democratic and informed design and improvement of public policy”.

These are heavyweight allegations and cannot be tucked under the carpet. 

To do so, given the expense of a royal commission, would be to waste precious resources from our finite pool of tax dollars. 

Irrigators want answers, so too the public.

There are many questions being asked and opinions proffered, but it is time science and accountability for our sorry state of affairs is put at the forefront.

No-one can expect a solution until the problem is revealed.

And surely a solution is what is needed and deserved by all Australians.

This government and particularly the public servants who work within its bureaucracy have some hard decisions to make.

But those decisions cannot be made without first admitting some serious mistakes have been made.

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