We Need a Broad Review for a Complex Plan

Inland Rivers Network President Bev Smiles talks to ABC Riverina 24th April 2019

The complexities in the Basin and the world of water reform are deep, and have taken many years to develop – it will take a review with very broad terms of reference to do justice to the issues we face in the Basin. There has been a spate of reviews into the Murray Darling Basin, but they all have a narrow view and deal with only certain details of the implementation of the Plan.

From an environmental point of view, we need to look at the type of licences that are being bought back. Some types of licences might not be delivering the types of environmental outcomes required under the Basin Plan. We need an audit of all environmental water being held.

We need a review broad enough to look at the whole Basin. For example, many residents and stakeholders are unhappy with the Northern Basin Amendments, which takes in the whole Darling River system. Clearly this system is extremely stressed, as we experienced with the massive fish kill at the beginning of the year.

The socio-economic definitions being referred to in the public debate are too narrow, only focusing on those few communities that rely heavily on irrigation. There are many other industries in the Basin that rely on water; commercial fishing in SA, recreational fishing, tourism and grazing for example. We cannot afford to be blinkered and risk neglecting many interconnected economies and communities for the sake of one.

Inland Rivers Network has always said that communities that are heavily reliant on irrigation will need help. Built into the Murray Darling Basin Plan was money for Regional Diversification – where is this money, and what benefits have communities seen from it?

Environmental water buy backs are easily blamed for the hardships felt in irrigation communities, but the reality is far more complex. Drought will be a tough time for irrigation communities regardless of what is going on in water reform. Another important point to consider is that when water became a tradable property separate from land, anybody could buy water access licences and shift them to different valleys, impacting existing industries as other industries grew.

Water reform and Basin Plan implementation is very complex, and it deserves a very broad, big picture review.