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Murray-Darling Basin Authority not happy with SA royal commission into river system


March 2019

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has officially responded to South Australia’s royal commission into the river system, rejecting some of the inquiry’s core claims.

Commissioner Bret Walker SC handed down his final report three weeks ago, making 111 findings and 44 recommendations in a 746-page document.

The report contained a scathing critique of the current basin plan and the MDBA, accusing it of gross maladministration, negligence and unlawful actions.

It found the sustainable diversion limit (SDL) — the amount of water to be removed from irrigation and returned to the environment — was influenced by politics, rather than scientific evidence.

The MDBA rejected those claims at the time but committed to a more detailed response, which it has now publicly released.

It said the royal commission was effectively proposing "abandoning the basin plan and starting again".

In its findings, the commission reported that the MDBA had relied on an "unlawful approach" to set key environmental targets, and described it as "maladministration".

The MDBA said it relied on the Federal Government’s legal advice and fiercely rejected claims it had acted improperly. It said it was committed to improving transparency.

"The fact that the South Australian royal commission report puts forward a different legal opinion on some aspects is not conclusive. It is simply a different opinion," the MDBA said.

"The commission report also asserts maladministration by the MDBA but contains no specific evidence for such serious accusations. We reject these claims.

"As with any science-based organisation we can always do more to improve our work and our transparency."

The MDBA has defended its implementation of the basin plan, which it said was starting to deliver environmental outcomes.

"Once fully implemented, it will reduce water extractions across the basin by around 20 per cent or equivalent and improve water use efficiency," it said.

"This is a huge step for the environment, communities and basin industries."

There were also points of agreement.

The authority said the commission’s findings about the legality of the plan overshadowed "useful analysis and insights in the commissioner’s report that could improve future basin plan implementation".

It supported the commission’s conclusion that implementing the SDL adjustment mechanism — which provides flexibility around how much water is set aside for the environment in the southern basin — "poses real challenges".

It also said it was concerned progress towards recovering an additional 450 gigalitres of environmental water through efficiency measures had been slow.

The commission found it was doubtful that much of that water would ever be recovered through efficiency measures.

The MDBA said it highlighted those risks in its basin plan report card last year and that "more work is needed to protect environmental flows".

The South Australian Government is yet to provide its official response to the royal commission, but said it had requested a special meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and basin states to discuss its findings.

Greek Tribune

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