Water policy has moved to a whole new level of uncertainty this past week, with Deputy Premier of NSW John Barilaro stating that the Basin Plan is untenable for NSW.
Here at the CWA of NSW we are seeking better transparency and communication when it comes to decisions made under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and improvements in terms of a more transparent balancing of the social, environmental and economic considerations.
It's no wonder there is widespread outrage. Despite having immense generational knowledge of how the river system works, rural community members don't get input into decisions that are being made, that affect their livelihoods, their environment. They're not seeing thought leadership or any type of strategic planning, or transparent decision making.
Our members cover the broad church of stakeholders in the Basin, from small business owners in town, to irrigators with significant water entitlements, from bushwalkers, birdwatchers to canoeists and kayakers, and everything in between. Finding a balance was never going to be easy. Communication however, that should be a no-brainer.
Rural community members don't see who exactly does get to decide, and on what basis decisions are made. Seemingly no government or authority are truly accountable - if you ask the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, they will point you to the state or federal government. And vice versa. It's been carried out by people who don't "own" it.
There is a cohort of people calling for a "Royal Commission" into the Plan. There's a movement in southern NSW and Victoria of people calling for the government to "pause the Plan".
Admittedly, there have been some encouraging steps forward recently, at least in terms of starting the long but necessary process of identifying the issues.
Minister Littleproud has announced the socio-economic study - to be undertaken by an independent panel, to look at social and economic impacts on rural communities. He has also announced a look into the market and the trading rules, to be led by the ACCC.
Transparency is long overdue. We can only improve if we are clear on the issues, and there are people willing to show leadership, be accountable and make change.
The community outrage says to us that the status quo is untenable. But does that mean walking away from the Basin Plan?
We don't think it's necessary helpful to imply such without identifying what a possible alternative is. If the NSW government does find itself in a position where it no longer feels that our further participation in the Basin Plan is tenable, we need to have a discussion as to what is, and quick smart.
Anything else is simply adding to the layers of complexity and confusion, adding to the chorus of outraged voices, instead of finding a plausible pathway forward.