Senator John Madigan: Abolish the Murray Darling Basin Authority. It’s not working !

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On March 17 the Senate Inquiry handed down its report into the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

I was pleased to be part of this inquiry. In fact, I am proud to say I was one of the initiators.

Deep suspicion remains across the Murray Darling Basin about the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

Deep suspicion remains about its operation and the nature of its attempts to liaise and listen to local communities.

Country communities are exhausted by challenging economic conditions.

Country communities are facing dwindling farming and irrigation sectors.

Country communities are seeing farmers walk away from farms – many of them in the one family for generations – because of the high cost of water.

Country communities, many that presented to the senate inquiry, remain convinced the MDBA is proceeding on its own agenda while paying ‘lip service’ to consultation.

Many Senate inquiries go to considerable lengths to investigate complex subjects.

Senate inquiries are powerful tools.

Many senate inquiries explore subjects the government refuses to discuss.

All the Senate inquiries I have been involved with have produced profound reports.

All the Senate inquiries I have been involved  with have produced tangible, common-sense recommendations.

All the Senate inquiries I have participated in have provided safe and structured vehicles for Australians to speak out and be heard on issues that are important to them

Many Senate inquiries, of course, gather dust. The government chooses to ignore them.

This is not the fault of the Senate.

At the moment, we have a government awash in self-obsession.

We have a government unable or unwilling to address numerous pressing issues.

We have a government calcified by indecision, infatuated with its own electoral chances.

And here’s my point.

The government moved to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal this week because it thought it was a dud body.

I would safely say most Australians – except those who work in the trucking industry – had never heard of the RSRT until this week.

I am not discounting this as an important issue. I also voted to abolish it.

But why stop here?

Mr Turnbull, I call on you to move quickly and abolish the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

It’s a body that impacts thousands of Australians.

The Basin is now home to 2.1 million people and a further 1.3 million people are dependent on its water supply.

The Basin is responsible for around 40 per cent of the nation’s irrigated production and produces 90 per cent of the nation’s cotton, 56 per cent of its grapes, 42 per cent of its nuts and grapes and 32 per cent of the nation’s dairy, all from 14 per cent of the continent’s land mass.

And less than a decade after the Water Act, less than a decade after the formulation of the Plan, we are almost back to millennium drought levels of water across the Basin.

So what was the point?

I don’t know Mr Acting Deputy President.

But I know the answer.

Abolish the Murray Darling Basin Authority. It’s not working.

Our water resources are near historically low levels. Country communities are dying. The Murray Darling Basin Authority has no credibility.

So abolish it. Bring it on. I will support it. So will many others.

Current water levels in the Murray Darling Basin are at 29 per cent capacity.

I repeat that figure.

Current water levels in the Murray Darling Basin are at 29 per cent capacity.

The 2000s drought in Australia, also known as the Millennium drought, is said by some to be the worst recorded since settlement.

The year 2006 was the driest on record for many parts of the country.

And what was the lowest water storage in the Murray Darling Basin during the millennium drought?

I’m told by those who know, I’m told by those who remember, I’m told by those who live in the Basin the figure was 27 per cent in 2009. In 2010, it was at 28 per cent.

That’s right. We are close to being at an all-time low in water storage in the Basin, the level of water storage that existed during the worst recorded drought in Australian history.

There are high levels of blue green algae in the southern Basin area.

And places such as Broken Hill are running out of water.

This is the state of our water resources in 2016. This is the standard of water management by the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

And who is talking about it?

We know that the Murray Darling Basin Plan grew out of the 2007 Water Act. The Act was a response to the Millennium drought.

And who was the architect of this act?

Our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

Prime Minister, last December in the other place, you were asked about water.

You said: ‘The government  is absolutely committed to ensuring that water is exploited—sustainably, of course, you said —to the economic benefit of all Australians.’

If that was more than weasel words, then act now. Act in the dying days of the current parliament.

Act in the same way you did on the RSRT. Act in the same way you did in changing Senate voting to get rid of the crossbench.

Act like a Prime Minister who sticks to his words and abolish the Plan.

Five years ago a House of Representatives Inquiry into the Guide to the Murray   Darling Basin Plan, was highly critical of the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s community engagement program.

Additionally that same committee articulated concerns about the MDBA’s modelling, assumptions and data gathering.

Four years later, local communities gave vent to similar complaints.

During the current Senate inquiry I saw little perception from communities across the Basin that the operations of the MDBA had changed in response to the first report.

As I said in a dissenting report, Basin people are suspicious, frightened and angry about an organisation they see as all-powerful and non-responsive.

I take seriously evidence that the MDBA’s modelling has been proven wrong, that the organisation is not responsive to criticism and in some cases has forced constituents to resort to Freedom of Information requests to obtain data.

As I said in the dissenting report, I remain deeply concerned that the MDBA is a well-funded and diverse bureaucracy dedicated to its own self-preservation.

I remain concerned there is little real accountability to the government or the Parliament by the MDBA.

I remain convinced the authority – and therefore the government that tacitly supports it – does not care about the thousands of rural and regional Australians who are impacted by its operations and decisions.

I remain troubled that this organisation, like many government bureaucracies, is insincere in its pronouncements of regard for local expertise.

As I said in my report, the Murray Darling Basin Plan is one of the largest negative man-made impactors on our farming communities in the history of this country.

More significantly, much if not all of the negative impact of the MDBP is ignored by governments and ignored or rationalised by the authority.

Many witnesses were adamant that the Plan must be paused to undertake a more thorough and detailed stocktake of our water resources and their effective management.

Others are more hesitant, saying such action would create additional uncertainty.

In my view, it’s time for action. We are again on the precipice of a national water crisis.

Pause the Plan, Mr Prime Minister. Abolish the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

Stop and start again – before it’s too late.

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