The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has filed a formal complaint against the current affairs program 60 Minutes.
The MDBA has alleged a recent episode titled ‘Water Rats’ breached the commercial television industry Code of Practice by airing false information regarding the Barmah-Millewa forest and water losses, which was then repeated in 9News’ articles and on social media. The program producer had also denied the MDBA the right of reply, the authority said.
The episode claimed that the MDBA had delivered “massive water sales” through the Barmah Choke — a narrow part of the Murray River that runs through the Barmah-Millewa forest — causing a flood of toxic and stagnant water which had damaged the forest. The episode also showed satellite imaging of water that the MDBA had lost through the forest, and claimed the MDBA had “hidden this in a bureaucratic report”.
The MDBA has refuted these claims, and said the 2019 spring watering event discussed in the episode was planned, and the MDBA had delivered water to NSW and Victorian water agencies “as per the operating rules for the River Murray System”.
“This was a purposeful watering of the forests for the health of the river red gum forest,” the authority said in a detailed response to the reports.
According to the authority, 60 Minutes did not mention that environmental water holders had ordered water specifically for flows through the forest, or that the flow rates delivered by the MDBA were “well within the regulated flow limits, and are well below what are considered flood flows”.
“The program provided viewers with no context and gave the impression that the MDBA had chosen to flood the forests negligently to provide water to allocations downstream. This is incorrect,” it said.
The Murray River is in flood right now – as the Murray Darling Basin Authority fulfils deals cut on the water market. That flood is killing red gum trees in their hundreds and making the water toxic by the trees’ shedding leaves. #60Mins pic.twitter.com/DjlF3jH15T
— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) October 27, 2019
The MDBA said it had published a detailed report and factsheet on water losses for the first time earlier this year, and denied hiding any information in the report. It also gave the program a statement containing extensive information on River Murray losses, suggesting losses are “normal” and “occur when water evaporates, is used by plants or seeps into the ground”.
“The MDBA maintains that the river was operated efficiently and effectively in order to deliver state water entitlements in light of the climatic conditions that prevailed.”
The authority also got stuck into 60 Minutes for denying it a right of reply. The MDBA said offers of an on-camera interview and an off-camera briefing were rejected by the producer. Instead, the MDBA responded to a set of questions in writing, as requested. The authority argued 60 Minutes published the MDBA’s statement on their website but only referred to it after the episode had aired.
The MDBA said they explained in the response that it only releases water from storage on behalf of NSW, Victoria and South Australia, and have no involvement in water allocations and entitlements.
“The program insinuated the MDBA is the sole government agency responsible for water markets, trade, environmental health of the Basin, and river operations. There are many government agencies that are involved in water management,” they said.