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SA must be part of the solution

The new South Australian Government needs to be part of developing sensible solutions, including in its own state, to challenges around water management.

The Speak Up Campaign is calling on SA to stop expecting other states to solve its water management problems, and instead be proactive in developing effective projects and initiatives.

Speak Up deputy chair Lloyd Polkinghorne said action is required before a scheduled Murray-Darling Basin Plan review in 2024, and called on new SA Premier Peter Malinauskas to be decisive and bring his state to the table with a renewed vigour to build an effective, adaptive plan.

“At present we have a plan that is failing because it was based on false modelling, and relies on all the ‘heavy lifting’ being done upstream in New South Wales and Victoria. This is contributing to further damage to the iconic Murray River, which the plan was designed to protect.

“The further we progress into Basin Plan implementation, the more urgent becomes the need for change. Major political parties have to stop placing the protection of South Australian votes ahead of the Basin’s future, and SA has to start being accountable for its own problems.

“It is seven years since a 2015 Senate Inquiry called for Basin Plan changes, with more than 30 recommendations to repair the economic, social and environmental damage that, even back then, was obvious. All have been ignored.

“This month concerns with the Basin Plan have again been raised in the Senate, this time at a Regional and Rural Affairs committee meeting by One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts.

“The great shame about the present debacle with the Plan is that achievable solutions are available, but politics gets in the way. The major parties do not have the courage to address them,” Mr Polkinghorne said.

He asked how it could be that Senator Roberts is able to identify problems and solutions, but they are avoided by those in the major parties.

“The simple answer is that some of the solutions exist in South Australia, which cleverly used the Millennium Drought to push the cheapest and simplest way of getting more water; that is, drain it down the Murray River from upstream storages. But to this point, SA has not been doing enough to help overcome issues around Basin Plan implementation.

“Huge volumes which once ran into the southern end of the Coorong are now diverted out to sea. Yet no major party, nor the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, is prepared to acknowledge this indisputable fact and work towards having it be rectified by the South Australian Government.

“Instead, we keep draining massive volumes from Hume and Dartmouth dams to the end of the system, and seem to be accepting all the damage being caused along the way. This is a ridiculous situation,” Mr Polkinghorne said.

He added it was disappointing that in the recent Senate hearing the MDBA’s Acting Chief Executive Andrew Reynolds did not acknowledge the role played by the upstream dams in providing water to the end of the system.

“He was quick to point out the extractions by food producers, but I believe he should have made it clear that before the dams were built the river ran dry, so there were no flows downstream. The MDBA, perhaps due to its legislative guidelines, has also been reluctant to address the damage to the Murray River.

“This issue is being ‘kicked down the road’, but will only get worse if we continue along the current trajectory.”

Mr Polkinghorne suggested some of the remaining Basin Plan funding should be allocated to fixing problems in South Australia at the source, and this could include changes to farming systems to reduce dependence on synthetic inputs and creating on-farm wetlands to filter run-off.

“This would be a great outcome as it would improve farming methods and help the health of the Coorong. Instead of crying out for more water from upstream, with all the unintended consequences that are resulting, it is time for South Australia to start being part of the solution.

“Senator Roberts can see this. It’s disappointing that other politicians have not had the courage to follow his lead. Now, we need the new SA Government and Premier Malinauskas to stand up and be counted, on behalf of their state and the rest of the Murray-Darling Basin,” Mr Polkinghorne said.

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