Murray-Darling Basin Authority
|Preceding Agency||Murray-Darling Basin Commission|
|Annual budget||A$280 m (2009–2010)|
|Agency executive||Dr Rhondda Dickson,
Chief Executive Officer
|Parent agency||Minister for the Environment|
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is the principal government agency in charge of managing the Murray-Darling Basin in an integrated and sustainable manner. The Authority (MDBA) is the statutory agency that manages, in conjunction with the Basin stairs, the Murray–Darling Basin’s water resources in the national interest. The Authority reports to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment.
The Authority was established under the federal Water Act (2007), which was introduced under the Howard Government as part of the National Water Plan for Water Security. The Water Act (2007) was a response to the drought and the potential effects of climate change in Australia. The law aimed to fulfill Australia's obligations under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The 2007 Act was substantially amended in 2008.
The Chief Executive of the Authority is Dr Rhondda Dickson who replaced Rob Freeman (resigned 1 June 2011). The Chairman of the Authority is Craig Knowles. Knowles was appointed in January 2011 after the December 2010 resignation of Mike Taylor. Taylor resigned as he believed that the overriding principle should be the environmental outcome, which was in conflict with the Gillard Government and following a period of sustained criticism of the Authority and the implementation of the proposed draft basin plan.
Whilst the Authority is a Commonwealth Government agency, an inter-governmental Murray‑Darling Basin Ministerial Council (MDBMC) acts in an advisory role in the preparation of the Basin Plan by the Authority. This Council comprises the Commonwealth Minister with responsibility for Water, who also chairs the council, and one minister from each of the basin states (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia) and the Australian Capital Territory. The MDBMC introduced the Murray-Darling Cap in response to the 1995 report titled "An Audit of Water Use in the Murray-Darling Basin".
Role of the Authority
With the creation of the Authority in 2008, for the first time, a single inter-governmental body assumed responsibility for planning the integrated management of water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin. In addition to the Commission’s former functions, the Authority’s role includes:
- preparing the Basin Plan,
by the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, including setting sustainable limits on water that can be taken from surface and groundwater systems across the basin
- implementing and enforcing the basin plan
- advising the minister on the accreditation of state water resource plans
- developing a water rights information service which facilitates water trading across the Murray-Darling basin
- measuring and monitoring water resources in the basin
- gathering information and undertaking research
- educating and engaging the community in the management of the basin’s resources.
The Murray–Darling Basin Authority is an integral element of the Commonwealth Government's program Water for the Future which has four priorities; namely:
- tackling climate change
- supporting healthy rivers
- using water wisely and
- securing water supplies.
The Authority also commissions research into aquatic science and is a source of information on Australian freshwater biology.
Since 1914, there have been various intergovernmental agreements relating to Murray‑Darling water resources. Widespread degradation of the Murray-Darling basin’s natural resources was apparent in the 1980s. At the time, institutional arrangements for water resources management lay with the five State and Territory governments in the Basin, with little co-ordination. In response to this problem, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission was established in January 1988 under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, with a charter to efficiently manage and equitably distribute River Murray water resources. Secondly it was to protect and improve the water quality of the River Murray and its tributaries and lastly to advise the Murray-Darling Ministerial Council on water, land and environmental management in the Basin.
The Water Amendment Act 2008 was introduced in December 2008 to amend the Water Act 2007. This law transferred authority from the Murray-Darling Basin Commission to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, creating an independent, expert-based body that would manage the Basin holistically for the first time.
As at December 2010, the Authority has produced the following plans and strategies:
- a natural resources management strategy
- a basin sustainability plan
- strategic plans
- project plans for the development of policies and strategies and
- plans for generating and sharing knowledge, including a human dimension programme.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was signed off by Tony Burke, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities on 22 November 2012, and passed its final hurdle in the Australian Parliament on the 29 November 2012. Following is the history leading up to this significant occasion in the history of Australian water reform.
On 8 October 2010, the Authority released a major document entitled the Guide to the Proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan outlining a plan to secure the long-term ecological health of the Murray-Darling Basin. The plan entailed cutting existing water allocations and increasing environmental flows. The proposed plan is the first part of a three-stage process to address the problems of the Murray-Darling Basin; namely, over-allocation, prolonged drought, natural climate variability and climate change, leading to deteroriation of rivers, wetlands, forests and floodplains in the basin. MDBA is responsible for preparing and overseeing a legally enforceable management plan – the Basin Plan. The main aim of the Plan is to return between 3,000 and 4,000 GL to the river system. The authority reported that the number being as high as 7,600 gigaliters per year would bring long-term sustainability and would be the best scenario for the ecosystems of the basin but "would not be socially or economically viable".
The Basin Plan is claimed to be designed to set and enforce environmentally sustainable limits on the quantities of water that may be taken from Basin water resources, to set Basin-wide environmental, water quality and salinity objectives, to develop efficient water trading regimes across the Basin, to set requirements for state water resource plans and to improve water security for all Basin users. It also intends to optimise social and economic impacts once these environmental outcomes have been met.
With the release of the Guide to the Proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan there were a significant number of protests and voiced concerns in rural towns that the MDBA visited to present the proposed plan at consultation meetings. In Renmark, more than 500 people attended the Authority's first public consultation meeting in the local hotel that accommodated only 250 people. The draft plan proposed water cuts of up to 35% in the Riverland area, forcing job losses and reduced flows to angry irrigators. Over 5,000 people attended a meeting in Griffith where the local Mayor, Mike Neville, said the plan would "obliterate" Murrumbidgee valley communities. Other groups also echoed this feeling, such as the Victorian Farmers Federation and the Wine Group Growers' Australia. There was also been support for the draft plan by various groups, including the Australian Conservation Foundation, and Environment Victoria.
In legal advice, dated 25 October 2010, from the Australian Government Solicitor, the Government's reading is that the draft plan must give equal weight to the environmental, social and economic impacts of proposed cuts to irrigation. Environmentalists and South Australian irrigators say the Authority should stick to its original figure. In October 2010, a parliamentary inquiry into the economic impacts of the plan was announced. While, in November 2010, the Authority announced that it might be forced to push back the release of its final plan for the river system until early 2012.
Less than one month later, Mike Taylor, then Chair of the Authority, announced his decision to resign effective from the end of January 2011. In announcing his resignation, he cited his concerns that the Water Act made it difficult to balance the environmental and socio-economic impacts of cuts to water allocations aimed at rescuing rivers in the basin. Of crucial concern was Taylor's desire to not oversee a process that returned less than 3,000 GL to the basin. Both the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Water Minister, Tony Burke, rejected Taylor's concerns that the Water Act and the objectives of the Authority were compromised.
In May 2011, The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists withdrew its support for the Murray Darling Basin Plan, who described the process as seriously flawed and a waste of taxpayers' money. The Wentworth Group said they could not support the plan which they believed would cost billions and claimed that it would not fix the problems in the river system. The Wentworth Group wanted a minimum 4000 gigalitres of water returned to the river system but the group believed that it would not happen under the draft plan.
In June 2011, a federal parliamentary committee (chaired by independent Tony Windsor) delivered its report to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and its recommendations on water cutbacks in the basin. The committee was told river communities faced annihilation if 4,000 gigalitres was returned to the environment. The committee also reported that the health of the river system could be protected without the cuts. The Australian Conservation Foundation says it is disappointed by the report delivered by the inquiry into the Murray-Darling river system. The Australian Conservation Foundation believes that buybacks are the most efficient way to save the basin.
In November 2011, the draft plan was finally released. The plan proposes that 2,750 gigalitres per year be cut from water allocations over a period of seven years.
According to a study by Wentworth Group, the MDBA originally planned to start buying the 2,750 gigalitres of water and to increase groundwater extractions by 2,600 gigalitres at the same time in March 2011. Many of the groundwater is linked to river systems, but the Plan does not count it in the models.:
The Plan does not incorporate in the modelling the impact that increasing groundwater extractions by over 2,600GL will have on surface water flows, many of the groundwater systems in the Basin are linked to river systems. The Plan [also] sets long term diversion limits on the assumption that there is no risk to river health from climate change.—Wentworth Group Statement on the 2011 Draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan
In late May 2012, a revision of the plan was forwarded to state water ministers for review. It did not alter the recommendation to return 2,750 gigalitres of water to the environment by cutting water entitlements.
Following much negotiation between the Commonwealth and State governments and numerous submissions from interested stakeholders and the community,the Basin Plan finally became law in November 2012 and can now be implemented.
- "Summary of Murrumbidgee Region From the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan" (PDF). Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Commonwealth of Australia. c. 2010.
- "Water Act 2007 (Cth)". ComLaw. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
- "Sustainable management by the Commonwealth of water resources: Chapter 1 Background". Environment and Communications References Committee. Parliament of Australia. 8 October 2010. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- Lenore Taylor (16 October 2010). "Farmers fear water act priority". The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- "Water Amendment Act 2008 (Cth)". ComLaw. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
- "Murray-Darling Basin chief exec steps down". ABC Rural (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 12 May 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
- Kelly, Joe; Massola, James (7 December 2010). "Basin authority Mike Taylor's resignation won't halt Murray-Darling water reforms, says PM". The Australian (News Limited). Retrieved 29 January 2011.
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- "Water - New South Wales - Water Technical Report". Australian Natural Resources Atlas. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. 13 May 2009. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
- "About the Murray–Darling Basin Authority". About us. Murray–Darling Basin Authority. December 2008.
- Hooper, Bruce. "Australia: The Murray-Darling Basin Commission". Global Water Partnership. Integrated Resource Management Research Pty Ltd.
- "Key features of the Water Act 2007". Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Commonwealth of Australia. 29 August 2009. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- "Water Act 2007". National Water Commission. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- Thomsen, Joseph (12 October 2010). "MDBA Chair explains water allocation cuts". ABC Goulburn Murray (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 17 October 2010.
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- Lanai Vasek (9 October 2010). "Paradise possible but too costly". The Australian. Retrieved 2 December 2010.
- Arup, Tom (31 May 2010). "Joyce signals fight over plan for Murray-Darling Basin". The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- "Tractor convoy as SA irrigators protest". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 15 October 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Todd, Adam (15 October 2010). "Tractor protest at Renmark river meeting". The Advertiser (News Limited). Retrieved 29 January 2011.
- Woods, Kim; Ainsworth, Michelle; Myers, Fiona (20 October 2010). "Griffith irrigators vent anger". The Weekly Times (News Limited). Retrieved 21 October 2010.
- "VFF Declares War!: Stop the MDBA plundering". Victorian Farmers Federation. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- "Federal Government urged ‘not to forget people’ in Basin Plan". Media Release. Wine Group Growers' Australia. 13 October 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- "Murray-Darling Basin Plan – what’s it all about?". Environment Victoria. Government of Victoria. 11 March 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Orr, Robert QC; Neville, Helen (25 October 2010). "The role of social and economic factors in the basin plan". ABC News from the original Australian Government Solicitor (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 29 January 2011.
- Om, Jason (27 October 2010). "SA irrigators back Murray-Darling cuts". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Binnie, Kerrin (1 November 2010). "Basin authority flags delay to final plan". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Ker, Peter (7 December 2010). "Murray-Darling chair resigns, leaving reforms in turmoil". The Age (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 29 January 2011.
- "Riverina mayor welcomes Murray Darling Basin Plan withdrawal". ABC News (Australia Broadcasting Corporation). 23 May 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Lane, Sabra (2 June 2011). "Windsor report slams Murray-Darling authority". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 2 June 2011.
- Om, Jason (2 June 2011). "Environmentalists angered by Murray-Darling review". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 2 June 2011.
- "Mixed response to Murray-Darling plan". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 28 November 2011. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- Scientists want 'manipulated' Basin plan scrapped - ABC News, 19 January 2011.
- Wentworth Group Statement on the 2011 Draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan
- Anna Vidot and rural reporters (28 May 2012). "Murray-Darling plan delivered to states". ABC Rural (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- Official Murray-Darling Basin Authority website
- Murray-Darling Basin Commission - archived website
- An essay describing the MDBC's response to extreme drought conditions, Presented by Dr Wendy Craik in May 2008
- An essay which details the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's Living Murray Initiative, presented at the Australian Government Productivity Commission's Roundtable Proceedings "Promoting Better Environmental Outcomes" by Wendy Craik in August 2008
- The Basin Plan - Murray-Darling Basin Authority
- Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan - Murray-Darling Basin Authority
- Guide to the Basin Plan, Volumes 1 - 21 - Murray-Darling Basin Authority
- Basin Plan
- Murray-Darling Basin Science - Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
- Research to support Murray-Darling Basin industries and communities - CSIRO
- Issues Policy - Victoria Farmers Federation
- Murray-Darling Basin Plan - Environment Victoria