Monday, July 26, 2021

Senate hearing Deniliquin

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Last week Deniliquin hosted a Federal Senate Committee on The Multi-Jurisdictional Management And Execution Of The Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

In layman’s terms, the Australian Federal Government is considering taking over all things water, essentially excluding the states from decision making.

Eroding Apex Park
Eroding Apex Park. Photo: Lloyd Polkinnghorne.

The bill summary is ‘the power to make laws in relation to the use and management of water resources that extend beyond the limits of a state; and ensure that any Commonwealth law relating to water resources does not have an overall detrimental effect on the environment’.

To grasp how terrifying this proposal is, imagine the last four years without Helen Dalton, and that your only elected politician advocating on water is the honourable Sussan Ley, Federal Environment Minister. How well are the Feds doing on ‘detrimental effects on the environment’?

Three senators were in attendance, Senator Deborah O’Neill, ALP; Senator Perin Davey, Nationals; and Senator Rex Patrick, Independent; with a fourth, Senator Slade Brockman, Liberal, online. 

Every speaker that I was fortunate enough to hear, spoke of the huge humanitarian, ecological, economic impacts of the ‘plan’ and the preceding legislation water changes.

Our collective governments have put our prosperity at risk: economic, environmental and food security.

Attendees from communities had set time to speak and receive questions from the senators. It was invitation only to address the hearing, though the meeting itself was public.

Eroding Barham boardwalk
Eroding the award-winning Barham boardwalk.
Photo: Lloyd Polkinghorne.

I was extremely disappointed that the political grandstanding and party politics could not even remain silent while people attempted to give evidence. Maybe the senators should have been reminded that it was not parliament. It was a rural community that has been raped and pillaged under a fundamentally flawed political plan and the preceding 2007 Water Act.

This is not the first Federal Senate Committee looking into the extraordinary failings of Australia’s current water policies.

A similar hearing was held in 2016. Have those recommendation been acted on? Recommendations like:

  • The committee recommends the Commonwealth assume liability for damage to private property from environmental watering events, including to both landholders and third parties, except to parties who have given prior consent to such flooding.
  • The committee recommends that the MDBA review its communication methods, particularly with regard to projects still in development such constraints proposals, and improve its ability to incorporate the views of communities and landholders into decisions and reports.
  • The committee recommends the Federal Government work with the Victorian Government to ensure adequate accountability and scrutiny of the Goulburn Murray Water Connections Project, by initiating a judicial inquiry into the operation of the Goulburn Murray Water Connections Project. Further, given the use of Commonwealth funds on the project, the committee recommends the Australian National Audit Office should consider an audit of the project.
  • The committee recommends that Bird Island be removed by the South Australian Government and MDBA to improve water flow through the Murray mouth.
  • The committee recommends the government undertake cost-benefit analyses of the following options for adapting the management of the Lower Lakes and Coorong, and their social, economic and environmental impacts throughout the basin:
  • removing all of the barrages;
  • removing some of the barrages;
  • modifying some of the barrages (such as Tauwitcherie and Mundoo);
  • allowing the ingress of salt water into the Lower Lakes during periods of low flow; and
  • investigating the construction of an additional lock at a location above Lake Alexandrina,   such as near Wellington, SA, either in concert with the above options or as a single change.
  • The committee recommends the MDBA calculate the economic value of fresh water evaporated from the Lower Lakes.
  • The committee recommends the government direct the Productivity Commission to investigate the value of foregone production and food processing due to reduced irrigation water under the Plan.
  • The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government request the Productivity Commission to undertake a full cost-benefit analysis of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
  • The committee recommends that the government amend the Water Act 2007 to make clear the equal standing of economic, social and environmental needs and outcomes.

Therein lies the problem. Given the evidence, sensible people make recommendations of action. Then political  parties benefit from continuing down this path, despite the humanitarian, social, ecological and economic crisis this political plan has unleashed.

The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 13 May 2021

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 13 May 2021.

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