Royal Commission slams MDBA

By Alana Christensen

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is the result of unlawful behaviour and maladministration by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, according to a royal commission report.

The South Australian Royal Commission into the plan also said the future recovery of the controversial 450Gl of ‘up-water’ should largely be conducted through buybacks, as the effect on communities had been ‘‘overstated’’.

Released on Thursday, the 756-page report slams the MDBA, saying it had failed to take into account best science, including climate change, and had failed to act transparently by not releasing modelling to the public and science community for scrutiny.

The commission, led by Bret Walker, also took aim at the federal, Victorian and NSW governments in regard to the recent Ministerial Council meeting, saying the implementation of the neutrality test for the 450Gl only proved that none of the three governments ‘‘have had any genuine commitment’’ to recovering the ‘up-water’.

‘‘It is doubtful that much of the 450Gl of ‘up-water’ will ever be actually recovered for the environment through efficiency measures, and especially under the new criteria agreed,’’ the report said.

‘‘Future water recovery, including the 450Gl of ‘up-water’, should largely, if entirely, be through buyback. There is no proper justification for the massive additional expenditure on efficiency measures to recover water.

‘‘The notion of some proportional relationship between a reduction in water and a reduction in farm production is rejected.’’

Speak Up campaign chair Shelley Scoullar said the only thing the report showed was that South Australia refused to come to the table.

‘‘Surely we have not reached a point where this nation is prepared to sacrifice farmers and the towns that depend on them, purely because one state — South Australia — is not prepared to undertake what should be seen as essential infrastructure works,’’ Mrs Scoullar said

The MDBA acknowledged the release of the report but refuted the claims it had acted unlawfully, saying it was ‘‘confident’’ the basin plan was lawful and was based on the best available science.

Federal Water Minister David Littleproud echoed the MDBA’s statement and said the Federal Government had consistently received legal advice that the basin plan was lawful and was lawfully made, while Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said the state government stood by the plan and renegotiating simply wasn’t an option.

‘‘Any suggestion of starting again or significantly increasing the targets would be a disaster for the environment and jeopardise progress made so far,’’ Ms Neville said.

Many have taken aim at the report, with the National Irrigators Council accusing the commission of picking and choosing science.

Naring farmer Barry Croke, who presented to the commission, said the report was simply another inquiry that put irrigation ‘‘further back behind the line’’.

‘‘Our whole industry gets worn down and put in the bad box,’’ Mr Croke said.

‘‘Our enemy is the way hearts and minds are influenced by these inquiries.’’