2013 Winter - Will the Murray-Darling Basin Plan improve with age?

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FPJ1002F - Maywald - The Basin Plan and Australia’s National Water Reform Journey

Maywald, K (2103), The Basin Plan and Australia’s National Water Reform Journey, Farm Policy Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 27-35, Winter, Surry Hills, Australia.

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When it comes to Australian water reform few issues loom larger than the management of the Murray-Darling Basin. It has taken more than a century of protracted negotiation and compromise to finally emerge with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan which was formalised in November 2012.
Now, the National Water Commission – the body responsible for auditing the Plan’s implementation – will start providing independent oversight of progress.
The National Water Commission sees the Basin Plan as a step-change in the governance and management of water resources in Australia’s largest and most important river system. The Basin Plan aims to deliver on the vision articulated in the National Water Initiative (NWI) by restoring the Basin’s rivers and groundwater resources to health and supporting strong communities and resilient industries.

$12.10


 
 




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Making Decisions About Environmental Water Allocations

There are major changes underway in the management of water in Australia, with one of the most significant being the ownership of water entitlements by the environment. When announced water buy-back programs are completed and promised water infrastructure investments are implemented, the environment will be the sole largest holder of water entitlements in Australia, and that water will be used to restore or improve ecological processes and environmental assets associated with Australia’s major inland rivers.

How that water will be managed; who will be responsible for making decisions about it; how the general community will be able to monitor how well that water is being used; and who will decide whether the environment is receiving sufficient water, are all questions that are yet to be answered. The decisions that will need to be made are complex, because they incorporate both economic (attempting to ascribe economic values to outcomes that can be achieved from alternative uses of water) and scientific (how much water is needed to achieve desired environmental outcomes) elements, and both have considerable uncertainty.

The research project was initiated by the Australian Farm Institute to advance discussion on these questions, and to identify some preferred options for the future management of environmental water in Australia. Given that the Australian public will, in future, be the owners of water assets valued in excess of $3 billion, it is important to make sure these assets are managed in a way that maximises the return from them, while at the same time enabling irrigated agriculture to continue to make a large contribution to national economic output.

The aim of the research reported here was to utilise the knowledge of experts who have extensive experience in water policy issues to further develop thinking on how decisions about allocating water to the environment should be made. This is important not only to ensure environmental water is used effectively, but also because the same decision-making framework will be used to decide how much water will in future be available for irrigated agriculture. Each of the four experts responded in quite different ways to each of the questions posed.

Making decisions about environmental water allocations
is a report stemming from the collective work of two economists - Professor Jeff Bennett and Professor Mike Young - and two environmental scientists - Professor Richard Kingsford and Professor Richard Norris.

How that water will be managed; who will be responsible for making decisions about it; how the general community will be able to monitor how well that water is being used; and who will decide whether the environment is receiving sufficient water, are all questions addressed in this report.

Full Report
June 2010, pp. 1-80 (80 pages)
Publisher: Australian Farm Institute
Authors: Bennett, J, Kingsford, RT, Norris, RH & Young, M
ISBN 978-1-921808-00-5 (Web)
ISBN 978-0-9806912-9-0 (Print)

$77.00


FPJ1002E - La Nauze - Time to Roll Up Sleeves on the Basin Plan

La Nauze, J (2103), Time to Roll Up Sleeves on the Basin Plan, Farm Policy Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 17-25, Winter, Surry Hills, Australia.

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Compromised in its gestation and its final form, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is nonetheless worth implementing. It is incumbent upon all stakeholders to get on with the job of maximising the environmental and social benefits provided for in the Plan. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) computer modelling predicted that only 65% of environmental flow targets will be achievable under the Plan, indicating that in the long term, additional environmental water recovery will be required if the environmental objectives of the Water Act are to be fulfilled. Rigorous monitoring, evaluation and reporting will be essential to see if this claim bears out, and if it does it will be incumbent upon the Authority to recommend the Plan be amended early rather than risk further decline of the Basin’s ecosystems. In the meantime there are many pressing implementation challenges to tackle. Money set aside to overcome system constraints must be spent on projects that provide the biggest environmental benefit. The development of long-term environmental watering plans should be harnessed as an opportunity to build local knowledge and support into the process. Existing environmental water that predated the Basin Plan needs to be protected so that it doesn’t disproportionately bear the burden of any reduced rainfall due to climate change, taking us back to where we started. Existing river operating rules, regulations and inter-jurisdictional agreements must be brought into the 21st century, in line with the recommendations of the Regional Australia Committee. The MDBA must develop a scientifically credible scoring method for assessing ‘environmental equivalence’ under the sustainable diversion limits (SDL) adjustment mechanism. Governments will need to invest new money in monitoring, evaluation and reporting. Finally, governments and the whole Australian community have a moral obligation to resolve the unfinished business of Indigenous water rights.

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FPJ1002G - Gregson - The MDBA, Where to Now?

Gregson, A (2103), The MDBA, Where to Now?, Farm Policy Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 37-41, Winter, Surry Hills, Australia.

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As a Regulation, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was ‘made’ by Water Minister Tony Burke in November 2012. Sure, it was a disallowable instrument (either House of Parliament could disallow it) but that was highly unlikely to occur. As a result, the Parliamentary process was something of an anticlimax after several years of high profile national debate. Two Members tried a last hurrah with a Disallowance Motion, but it received very little support. The Federal Government likewise tried to breathe life back to the issue by releasing a media statement earlier this year on the theoretical last day for Disallowance (despite the Standing Orders, which govern how Parliament is conducted, being quite clear on hearing the same issue twice in a limited period).
Subsequent to all of that, the most frightening opinion of all came to the lips of too many commentators; the Basin Plan is ‘done’.
Oh, far from it.
Like all far reaching and broad debates, the setting of the high level policy directives is far simpler than working out how to implement them in practice. The difficulty for the Basin Plan lies ahead – a problem exacerbated for irrigators by what will now be a lack of public leverage given the unfortunately common perception that it is ‘done’.

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