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MURRAY-DARLING AT RISK OF BECOMING AUSTRALIA'S ARAL SEA

30 September 2021

Independent Senator Rex Patrick has called for bold reform in today's report of the Senate's Select Committee on the Multi-Jurisdictional Management and Execution of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

"The Committee, in a pervasive environment of political timidity, has produced a policy mouse, not the lion’s roar required to make Governments and vested interests sit up and take notice," Senator Patrick said.

“The Committee has done a good job in investigating and documenting the many significant problems and dysfunctional complexity caused by the fact that river management is carried out on a lowest common denominator basis by the Commonwealth Government, and the governments of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.”

“The former interim Inspector General of the Murray Darling Basin accurately summarised the situation as 'a nightmare'.”

"The Select Committee has made a series of recommendations broadly aimed at streamlining and better communicating the division of jurisdictional responsibilities in relation to the Basin Plan, but the implementation of these measure will be fettered by the very jurisdictional complexity identified in the report."

“Anxious not to offend powerful stakeholders and in some cases eager to safeguard the interests within their particular states, members of the Committee have very deliberately chosen to tinker with the status quo and not confront the underlying problems with the dysfunctional administration of what is Australia’s most important national water resource.”

"The truth is much more substantial reform is required. The correct resolution to the mess that is the Murray-Darling Basin management is my Constitution Alteration (Water Resources) 2019 Bill that would put beyond doubt the power of the Commonwealth to legislate to manage the Murray-Darling River system without relying on the referral of power from state parliaments and if necessary, to override state water management legislation," Senator Patrick said.

“As long as vested interests continue to exert influence through their state governments, little progress to save the Murray-Darling will be made. We've already seen this through the failure of federal and state governments to make a substantive response to the recommendations of South Australia's Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission that made clear the bankruptcy of the current management of Australia's most important river system."

"The current trajectory of the Murray-Darling Basin is one of environmental decline, no doubt accelerated by climate change. It is at risk of becoming an over-exploited wasteland."

"I fear this inquiry may come to be seen as another missed opportunity to avoid a slow-motion disaster of tremendous proportions." 

"In the absence of radical change to the governance of the Murray-Darling Basin, and the adoption of a truly national framework to manage a national resource, we are all too likely to see further environmental decline, no doubt accelerated by climate change, such that the Basin will become an over-exploited wasteland, Australia’s own version of the Aral Sea."

The full Select Committee report can be found here.

Senator Patrick's dissenting report can be found here.