Murray-Darling Plan hits more rough waters
It’s rough waters for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan right now, with news that the federal and state water ministers have pushed the Plan back to early 2012.
The meeting of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council — federal Water Minister Tony Burke met with the Victorian, NSW, ACT and SA water ministers in Albury on Friday, with the QLD water minister phoning in to the meeting — decided the the delay was required based on “the need to improve community engagement”.
As the press release of the meeting reads:
Ministers have heard loud and clear the concerns of Basin communities about the guide to the proposed Basin Plan and the need for greater community involvement in the preparation of the proposed Plan. Ministers agreed to support a new process for the Basin Plan going forward that will more fully involve state governments and Basin communities.
The Basin Plan will need to properly take into account social and economic factors, including the needs of urban centres that rely on the Basin. Ministers encouraged the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to release the proposed Basin Plan according to a timetable that allows it to take into account the findings of the House of Representatives Committee inquiry chaired by Mr Tony Windsor, MP…
…Ministers committed to implement these processes consistent with the statutory framework established by the Water Act. Ministers further stressed that greater certainty should be provided for Basin communities and called on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to progress its work so that the Basin Plan can be presented to the Commonwealth Parliament in early 2012.
The Plan was originally supposed to be implemented from 2011.
But the “consistent with the statutory framework established by the Water Act” line is particularly pertinent since Mike Taylor, head of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, announced his shock resignation nearly two weeks ago due to the issues with the Water Act. Taylor penned a letter to water minister Tony Burke criticising how the Water Act 2007 tied the hands of those trying to achieve water reform, since the objectives of the Water Act declared exactly how much water had to be returned to the Murray-Darling Basin, regardless of community consultation on the Plan guide.
The National Farmers Federation, the peak body for farmers and agriculture in Australia came out on Friday with its 90 page submission to the MDBA, declaring the current guide to the Plan as “dead” and “riddled with holes”.
In the executive summary of its submission, it reads: “NFF believes the Guide is so fundamentally flawed that it cannot be used as a basis for moving forward and we need a new approach.” It also discusses the problems with debating an issue, saying that a “fundamental change” to the development of the Plan has to occur to include Basin communities, or the states will withdraw their support of the commonwealth plan.
The Ministerial Council meeting on Friday also covered the issue of better engagement and communication between the states and different levels of government. It’s likely to be a bigger issue as the Plan continues, with NSW due for an election next year and the Liberals looking like a distinct possibility to win it. They already declared when the guide was first released that “NSW Liberals & Nationals will not support the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the form released.., citing the serious threat it poses to the future of regional employment and agriculture.”
It has been, as the ministerial meeting noted, the wettest spring on record in the Murray-Darling region. Also today comes news that a vague “inter-departmental committee” found reduced irrigation in the Basin because of the Murray-Darling Plan could have a negative impact on carbon mitigation efforts, reports The Age.
And despite all the initial talk of how many jobs will be lost because of the Plan, a variety of MDBA jobs are currently available, including Basin Plan editors: “The specific duties of sub-editors and writers will be to edit and/or rewrite technical or other material to make it suitable for specific or general audiences.”
With community engagement now seen as the key for getting water reform passed, this job may prove one of the most crucial.
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