Basin plan turning us into a mockery

By Riverine Herald

AUSTRALIA is at risk of becoming a laughing stock in water management unless there is greater accountability around using this precious resource.

This is the only conclusion to be made from an independent Ernst & Young report which had been kept under wraps until just before Christmas according to Speak Up.

It was also the focus of Australia Institute paper Coorongs Don’t Make A Right, amid concerns about “unique fraud risks” in the delivery of environmental water.

Speak Up Campaign spokesperson Doug Fehring said the release of the Ernst & Young report, as well as the Australia Institute paper, should be ringing alarm bells at the highest level of government.

‘‘We have a $13 billion basin plan riddled with flaws; the more evidence compiled through its implementation, the more we learn about its inconsistencies and inadequacies,’’ Mr Fehring said. ‘‘Our concern is that the political risk to governments of admitting they have another ‘pink batts’ on their hands is too great, so the issues are ignored.’’

Mr Fehring said the latest revelations indicated water which was supposed to be sent to the Coorong as environmental flows has been held back to keep the Lower Lakes at a prime recreation height.

Additionally, he said in 2015-16 the SA Government deferred its entitlements replacing them with environmental water, but failed to deliver this water to the Coorong. Mr Fehring said it also failed to use its desalination plant to provide Adelaide with water, instead using Murray River flows, despite substantial cost to communities further upstream.

“While water is keeping the Lower Lakes at optimum level for boating, it is not being used to help the environment, and at the same time is significantly impacting the amount of water available for food production, especially in areas like the NSW Murray and northern Victoria,’’ Mr Fehring said.

“This is reducing the amount of food available for Australian consumption, as well as what we can export to starving people throughout the world. Should we really be putting recreation for a minority above growing food and protecting the environment?’’

A Murray-Darling Basin Authority spokesperson said MDBA was committed to ‘‘full accountability and transparency’’.

‘‘Under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, SA is able to defer the delivery of some of its monthly water entitlement so it can be available for use in a future year,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘‘The MDBA reviewed SA’s deferral decisions in 2015-16 and determined that the activities were entirely legal and consistent with the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

‘‘The internal audit commissioned by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder demonstrates their commitment to best practice in water resource management, which includes identifying organisational risks around use of this valuable resource. The audit did not conclude that fraud has occurred.

‘‘All parties to the basin plan, including the MDBA, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and the state and Commonwealth governments, are guided by continuous improvement in water management to improve the long-term outcomes for basin communities and the river environment.

‘‘The basin plan is about improving the health of the environment right throughout the basin, including the Lower Lakes and Coorong.’’