Governance of Murray-Darling needs better explaining, report states

By Tom Ravlic

October 5, 2021

Federal and state governments need greater effort in explaining the governance of the Murray Darling Basin Plan
Federal and state governments need greater effort in explaining the governance of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. (Junction of Murray and Darling rivers, Wellington, NSW; Bruce/Adobe)

Federal and state governments need to put greater effort into explaining the governance of the Murray Darling Basin Plan in order to enhance transparency about administration of water resources.

That is according to the final report of the select committee on the multi-jurisdictional management and execution of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Transparency – a word that appears a total of 76 times in the committee’s report on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan — is at the heart of much of the commentary about the plan and features recommendations.

The committee’s recommendations point to a need for the commonwealth government and the relevant states to “create, maintain and make easily accessible a detailed, comprehensive, clearly set-out and collectively-owned roadmap” of the plan’s governance framework.

That framework should, according to the committee’s recommendation, clarify which levels or government and what agencies have the power and accountability for decision making in the context of the plan.

“The committee also identified a need to improve transparency in relation to the management and implementation of the Basin Plan. Improved transparency is especially important given the complexity of the legislative, policy and institutional landscape that exists in relation to the management of the basin and its resources,” the report states.

“One concern raised during the inquiry was whether government water accounts fully reflect the reality of water in the landscape, particularly given the distribution of information across jurisdictions, and potential inconsistencies in accounting methods and modelling by each jurisdiction.”

The committee’s report recommends that the way in which the governments and agencies administer government water accounts be audited, so the process is fully understood with the objective of improving community confidence in the management of the basin.

Recommendations related to transparency and explaining the complex plumbing of public administration involved in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan were not the only things that appear in the report.

The committee identified that there is a need to review current research initiatives to determine whether the work being done provides coordinated long-term approaches aimed at dealing with the water management challenges across the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin.

This includes, but it is not limited to, the federal government allocating funds to ensure it has innovative ways of measuring the water levels and associated issues in the Murray-Darling Basin to assist water conservation.

The Australian Labor Party made additional comments related to the management of water accounts and rights across the Murray Darling Basin Plan. They included reflections on perceptions from witnesses that the water market was designed only for the participation of large and powerful agricultural entities.

“The perception that only powerful agricultural corporates had the capital and muscle necessary to participate in the water market was rife,” Labor’s additional remarks state. “Witnesses openly

queried whether the entire water market was corrupt and whether timely, accurate and credible information was available to some but not all.”

The ALP members of the committee also noted that any consultation that took place with the Indigenous communities impacted by the Murray-Basin Plan was largely performative.

Consultation in form rather than substance was not the only matter concerning the Indigenous witnesses giving evidence to the committee.

“Despite promising in 2018 to give $40 million in funding to help First Nations peoples invest in cultural and economic water, the government has yet to deliver this most basic of promises,” the ALP’s representatives state. “The failure to deliver the promised $40m in water rights to First Nations was of key concern to First Nations witnesses.”


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