ALGA responds to Murray Darling Basin Terms of Reference inquiry

Image shows Darling River at Toorale National Park. Credit B897 on Wikimedia

ALGA has told an inquiry into the Murray Darling Basin that its draft Terms of Reference also need to consider climate change, town water supplies, and individuals’ concerns for their own welfare and their communities’.

In June, the Water Resources and Drought Minister David Littleproud instructed the Murray Darling Basin Authority to hold an Independent Assessment of the Social and Economic Conditions in the Basin, which called for submissions on its Terms of Reference and Assessment Framework.

The authority said the panel will “look at the underlying causes of the social and economic conditions across the Basin as communities deal with issues such as drought, demographic change, commodity price changes and the biggest water reform in Australia’s history”.

While ALGA notes and supports the draft Terms of Reference, it queried the Inquiry’s question which asked: How have water reforms and changes impacted different Basin Communities to date, and what future impacts and opportunities are likely.

“The word ‘changes’ is very broad,” the ALGA submission said.

“Does this mean climate change, change to the amount of water available for irrigation etc. You may need to be more explicit if you are seeking information on a specific aspect of the water reforms.”

The ALGA submission also said the Inquiry’s review needs to consider not only ongoing structural changes in agriculture and communities in the Murray Darling Basin, but also cumulative changes.

“One small change in a valley may have negligible impacts, whereas multiple small changes in the valley may have a significant widescale impact,” ALGA’s submission said.

“Similarly, we would also ask that you consider the impacts on ‘keystone’ sectors (a sector that plays a unique and crucial role in the way a local economy functions) of changes in water policy.”

The inquiry has said it will first hear from experts, then develop an issues paper and share its Terms of Reference. It intends to look at both agriculture and non-agriculture sectors in each community.

Its community consultation period will run from August to September 2019; in December 2019 it will deliver an interim report which will outline what panelists learned to date, and what could be improved.

The ALGA submission said the independent panel should be prepared to hear of people’s visions and hopes.

“You may wish to consider a question related to balancing the allocation of water for irrigation, the environment and town water supplies,” the submission said.

“This is an emerging issue that is likely to increase in importance with the Government’s current policy agenda to facilitate population growth in regional Australia.”

ALGA said it recognized that the management of the Basin was highly complex, but was mindful of the need to ensure that the principal of equity for all regions across the Basin was considered.

“This doesn’t appear to be listed in the criteria, but it is an important governance principle underlying the Basin plan and should be reflected in the Terms of Reference,” the submission said.

ALGA’s submission is supplementary to any submissions which other local government associations or local councils may lodge.

The independent panel of seven people includes representatives from the Indigenous community and irrigation industry; its chair is a primary producer of wool, meat and grains.

IMAGE: Darling River at Toorale National Park. Credit B897 on Wikimedia.