Calls to disband the Murrary-Darling Basin Authority are mounting, especially in Liberal and National Party circles.
Last week the federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum told Federal Parliament that breaking up the MDBA was essential and its various responsibilities should be put into different organisations. A Productivity Commission report last year also called for the MDBA to be split up.
Now, in a letter responding to concerns from various community and farming organisations, Victoria’s Deputy Leader of The Nationals Steph Ryan, on behalf of the state’s National and Liberal Parties, said the MDBA “has lost the confidence of the communities it serves and holds too much power and influence over the use of water within the basin”.
She added: “The MDBA needs to be made more accountable to Basin communities. The functions of the MDBA should be split to remove the conflict that exists with the MDBA regulating itself and essentially marking its own homework.”
The Speak Up Campaign was a signatory on the letter to which Ms Ryan was responding and its chair Shelley Scoullar says it is time for politicians to act.
“Everyone from the grass-roots to the Productivity Commission, to federal and state politicians can see the problems that exist with the MDBA,” Mrs Scoullar said.
“For several years we have been calling for the MDBA to be a truly independent organisation, but this has all fallen on deaf ears. It refuses to adequately accept the damage the failing Basin Plan is causing to our communities, or to recommend ways this can be rectified. We were promised a flexible and adaptive Basin Plan, but this has not eventuated under the MDBA’s watch. It is past time for change; we need the plan fixed and our communities protected.”
In her letter, Ms Ryan said the Victorian Liberal and National Parties “hold serious concerns about the management of the basin and the use of environmental water that has been recovered”.
She said they “have been very strong on our view that the Basin Plan is imperfect and requires ongoing amendment and adjustment to ensure the use of water in the public interest and to avoid perverse outcomes for our communities”.
Mrs Scoullar said communities want the Commonwealth Government to take firm action and fix the Basin Plan, and a key step is disbanding the MDBA.
“Its shortcomings have been evident again in recent weeks. First it helped Inspector-General Mick Keelty prepare his disappointing report which said unallocated water was only 50 gigalitres a year, then five minutes later – as Mr Drum told Parliament – the MDBA effectively acknowledged the amount of unallocated water was more like 375 gigalitres a year.
“Then we had the Lower Lakes report, prepared largely with the help of people either connected directly or indirectly to the MDBA and government instrumentalities it works with, which contradicts peer-reviewed scientific evidence about the lakes’ history.
“It is time to start afresh with Basin Plan implementation. No doubt, the initial step must be establishing a truly independent body that is prepared to work collaboratively and transparently in the best interests of our communities and the nation.
“When Speak Up started five years ago the MDBA promised to regularly visit our communities and work with us. But as soon as we started asking difficult questions, they high-tailed out of town and are rarely seen. That is not what collaboration and flexibility are about,” Mrs Scoullar said.