Australia: Government seeks agreement of review to look into Basin Plan after water scandal

Australia’s Coalition Government (COAG) will be seeking the agreement of all Basin states for the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to commence an independent Basin-wide review into compliance with the state-based regulations governing the use of water. The report is to be handed to the COAG by December 2017.

The review will complement a number of actions launched after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s programme, Four Corners, levelled serious allegations at the Murray-Darling Basin, claiming that water in the Basin was being harvested in the Barwon-Darling region by irrigators, who are harming the environment as well as communities downstream.

Actions include the judicial inquiry Ian Hunter, the South Australian water minister, called for, saying that the New South Wales government needed to account for the claims and allegations made.

“If the allegations are correct, that at a very senior level in the public service in New South Wales that people have turned a blind eye to this, then that is very concerning,” Hunter told The Guardian.

The Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, issued a statement, stating that he would seek the agreement of all the Murray-Darling states in commencing the review, and report to the Council of Australian Governments.

“Over recent months significant milestones have been achieved in the delivery of the Basin Plan, with the June 2017 meeting of COAG having endorsed an approach to ensuring the Plan is implemented on time and in full,” the statement continued. “While the Government is confident about COAG’s implementation plan, it is important that basin communities and all Australians have confidence that the rules that underpin fair and lawful water use throughout the Basin are being followed.”

Barnaby Joyce, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, will soon write to all Basin water ministers to seek their agreement to terms of reference for a strategic review of compliance and enforcement regimes in the Murray-Darling Basin.

According to the statement issued by the Prime Minister, the terms of reference will cover the appropriateness of and compliance with state laws, statutory instruments (including water resource plans), the terms and conditions of water licences and entitlements and any other relevant powers or approvals; the adequacy of water measurement and monitoring arrangements, including metering and investigating irregular activity; and the adequacy of governance and institutional arrangements necessary to ensure legally compliant water use.


Sources: Statement by the Prime Minister of Australia, The Guardian