South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin

Submissions and Evidence:

  • Mr Will Mooney – Executive Officer of Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations

Basin states are required to have regard to indigenous people’s views about cultural flows in the development of water resource plans. Water resource plans represent an opportunity to accommodate First Nations law, interests and aspirations through provision of cultural flow entitlements, or other commitments to progress provision of cultural flows. To date, States have not
allocated water resources or funding to acquire water entitlements to address the rights and aspirations asserted in the Echuca Declaration.

MLDRIN submission

  • Mr Fredrick Hooper –  Chair of the Northern Basins’ Aboriginal Nations.

It is time for the Water Act 2007, Basin Plan and the Water Resource Plans to ensure that
they are compliant with the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), and the human rights of Aboriginal
Peoples’ protected at International Law.

Mr Hooper’s Evidence Transcript

NBAN Submission

  • Mr. Mal Peters – former director of the National Farmers Federation and former Chair of the Northern Basin Advisory Committee (NBAC).

Mal Peters claims that Barnaby Joyce tilted the MDBA towards irrigators and away from the environment when he was Minister 2013-17. He accused the MDBA staff of rejigging the models to give the desired outcomes for the irrigators.  Mr Peters asserts that the MDBA took no notice of the Northern Basin Advisory Committee and expect it to be a rubber stamp.  He was particularly critical of NSW ex-Minister Katrina Hodgkinson, who amended the Barwon-Darling Water-Sharing Plan after the public consultation period to allow irrigators to use larger pump sizes and to pump during low flows and environmental flows.

“They put up a model that showed out of the nine targets that I recall they were getting one of them or something. I can remember making a statement, well, why the bloody hell are we doing this? What’s the point of it? I mean, the whole point of spending $13 billion of public money is to try and
fix the environmental part of it, and we weren’t getting it.

Well, that’s the point we touched on when we first started. I was seeking – when I started the process it seemed to me that, you know, you had to make the community confident that the modelling was not all rubbish. But I couldn’t get – I couldn’t get the MDBA to give the information to be able to, you know, let the community know what was going on. So – and I mean, we had countless
meeting with a number of their modellers, and I’ve been round long enough to know
whether we – we weren’t being told the truth.”

Mr Peters’ Evidence Transcript

  • Ms. Maryanne Slattery – Former MDBA Director of Environmental Water Policy from 2011, currently Senior Water Researcher at The Australia Institute.

Ms Slattery highlights potentially unlawful aspects of the Basin Plan, including the lack of protection of environmental water, and the manipulation of water recovery numbers. The use of the term ‘peer review’ by the MDBA has a completely different context than in the rest of the scientific community.

Excerpt from submission: “The Northern Basin Review does not comply with the requirement to consider climate change, as set out in s6.06{3):
A review must be undertaken having regard to the management of climate
change risks and include an up-to-date assessment ofthose risks, and consider
all relevant knowledge about the connectivity ofsurface and groundwater, the
outcomes of environmental watering and the effectiveness of environmental
works and measures.
The MDBA used the same hydrological modelling in the Northern Basin Review that
was used for the original Basin Plan. That modelling is based on available historical
data and does not include climate change. I am not aware of any work on climate
change that informed the Northern Basin Review amendment.”

Ms Slattery’s Submission

Ms Slattery’s Witness Statement

  • Bill Johnson – River Ecologist

Bill Johnson, a former MDBA senior staffer who now serves on an advisory committee developing the NSW Barwon-Darling water resource plan, told the commission he feared that the agency was preparing to sign off on the plans with only a perfunctory review. He said the authority seemed more interested in meeting its schedule for accreditation of 30 June 2019 than ensuring that NSW’s water resource plans delivered the outcomes promised – and that this could compromise the entire Murray-Darling basin plan.

Mr Johnson’s Submission

Mr Johnson’s Evidence Transcript

  • Professor R. Quentin Grafton and Professor John Williams, representing the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists

Our key findings and submission to the Royal Commission are as follows:

We contend that the target reduction of 2,750 GL/year in surface water extractions is well below the reduction in diversions needed to meet the key objects of the Water Act 2007. Further, this reduction is much less than the minimum mean reduction in Basin surface water diversions of 3,856 million GL/year estimated by the MDBA in 2010, and that would have a high uncertainty of delivering on the required environmental outcomes.

The basis for the 2,750 GL/year reduction in surface water diversions in the Basin Plan has not been scientifically justified. Neither has the recommendation of 70 GL/year increase in surface water diversions in the Northern Basin as part of the Northern Basin Review, nor the 605 GL/year increase in surface water diversions with the proposed SDL Adjustment Mechanism. Such increases in diversions can only be scientifically justified if there is in place comprehensive water accounting that measures changes in the water balance, including return flows. These two amendments to the Basin Plan seriously diminish the likelihood that the key objects of the Water Act 2007 will be achieved.

On our best estimates, and in the best case, the public good of spending $3.5 billion to subsidise on-and off-farm water irrigation upgrades is zero, after accounting for the reduction in recoverable return flows. We are disturbed that such expenditures could be made in the absence of a publicly available cost–benefit analysis or even a system of measuring or properly estimating the effects on diffuse return flows associated with irrigation infrastructure upgrades.

Given that billions of dollars were made available in 2007 in A National Plan for Water Security, including half a billion dollars for water metering and monitoring, we cannot understand why so little has been achieved in terms of Basin-scale environmental improvements and water accounting. This requires thorough investigation and questions need to be asked of senior public servants as to how this has come about.

As a result of ‘double-counting’ of the environmental water recovered from water entitlements held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, and the reduction in recoverable return flows associated with subsidies for irrigation infrastructure, we estimate the actual increase in environmental flows as a result of water recovery to date could be 1,460 GL/year to 1,319 GL/year, LESS than the 2,108 GL/year claimed by the Australian Government. In other words, on our best estimates, the actual water recovered for the environment could be as little as 31% of what is claimed by the Australian Government. 

Based on the scientific evidence we have provided in this submission (please see cited references), we contend that the current Basin Plan, even if it were to be delivered “on time and in full”, will not achieve the key objects of the Water Act 2007. Thus, the current Basin Plan will fail in its primary purpose.

If something is not working then it needs to change. Ignoring the problems, or claiming problems do not exist (as have some politicians and senior public servants) when there is easily accessible evidence to show otherwise (and which has been directly provided to them), is not acting in the public interest. Nor will it deliver on the key objects of the Water Act 2007.

A first key step for the Basin and its communities is to not spend further billions subsidising on-and off-farm water infrastructure upgrades that appear to provide no public good.

A second key step is to complete an independent and comprehensive audit as to what the Basin Plan, and water recovery, have accomplished. Based on this independent and comprehensive audit that must include a proper accounting of expenditures, outcomes and the water balance, Australia can then plot a path forward that truly delivers on the key objects of the Water Act 2007.

Wentworth Group Submission

Wentworth Group Evidence Transcript

The Guardian – Questions about MDBA use of science

  • Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association

The current and future value of the beef cattle industry in the Macquarie Marshes is vital to the survival Marsh landholders and our local communities as well as having an important role in wider  regional economies. To imply or say water purchased by governments in ‘buy back’ programs as no real value to communities is not only incorrect but it is irresponsible as the benefits are great and far reaching.

Beef cattle production on floodplains and in wetlands flourishes as a result of flooding however it does this without extracting or taking water from the system. Therefore this water can continue on through the river system and benefit many graziers as well as any identified environmental assets downstream.
It is extraction of water from the system that has the biggest detrimental impact, to both ecological
communities as well as graziers on the downstream side of the extraction.

Excerpts from the transcript:

MR BUCKNELL: Yes, but the climate, the publicly perceived idea of climate change is it will get drier. In the Marshes we have the situation that water is being removed upstream either for irrigation,  towns or on-farm dams, so all up there has been an enormous amount of water removed. So the Marshes and downstream of where those extractions happen are actually more inclined to be in drought.

THE COMMISSIONER: Yes. In other words, even without a drought there has been severe diminution of the flows so that to take environmental water away from the Marshes because of drought is as it were to magnify what’s already a state of degradation.

MR BUCKNELL: Absolutely.


THE COMMISSIONER: So their entitlements stay the same. In effect, there has been a forced decision, a dictated decision to sell environmental water to – for consumptive use; correct?
MR HALL: Yes, correct. Yes.
THE COMMISSIONER: At a price which is going to be just produced by the market.
MR HALL: That’s right.
THE COMMISSIONER: So that the ultimate user of that water may well be somebody who is very well set up to deal with the drought?
MR BUCKNELL: Most likely.
THE COMMISSIONER: That’s presumably why they have the capacity to pay.
THE COMMISSIONER: Right. So it’s a drought alleviation measure for those least in need of a drought alleviation measure then. Isn’t that what it amounts to?

MR BUCKNELL: …. It’s amazing the irrigation industry in the ….. Narromine area have just had one of their best years on record and here they’re being able to gain more water when everybody else in agriculture is suffering this drought.


MR HALL: Tangled up with the over-recovery is the so-called toolkit measures and we have touched on these in our submission.
THE COMMISSIONER: Do you know why they’re called toolkit measures? I’ve asked many people. Do you know why?
MR HALL: No, I don’t. But we support and have always supported toolkit measures over and above the existing environmental water recovery target, rather than instead of. Environmental restoration works and programs have been a feature of water management in the Macquarie for many years. It’s not a new thing. The term sometimes changes, depends on who’s doing the planning, but our view as an Association has always been that we – we look forward to improved environmental outcomes as a result of works such as toolkit measures, but over and above the existing water holdings rather than a reduction in.
THE COMMISSIONER: I find it quite difficult when looking at them to see a common element by which they are activities or instructions or approaches which reduce the amount of water the environment needs. I can’t – I read – they’re a very disparate bunch, this toolkit measure, and I find it very hard to see the common element that says all of them have this element that if this succeeds you will need less water for the environment.
MR O’FLAHERTY: Like, for example, how a fish trap can equate to a – or a fishway can equate to a reduced recovery of volume of water.

THE COMMISSIONER: I gather you say well, fishways are a great idea and they should be happening regardless of what you do concerning allocation between consumptive and environmental use. Is that right?
MR BUCKNELL: That’s correct.
MR HALL: Fish ladders, fish screens on pumps, ability for fish to move up and down weirs, they’re all great toolkits but – – –
THE COMMISSIONER: It’s hard to see why that reduces any amount at all of the water the environment had.

MMELA Evidence Transcript

MMELA Submission