Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey today told a Commonwealth Senate inquiry NSW could not deliver the Murray Darling Basin Plan as it currently stands and foreshadowed bold new plans to deliver the basin’s triple bottom line benefits.
In an unprecedented move, the NSW Minister for Water used the inquiry to provide evidence of the plan’s ineptitude and the unachievable timeframes to deliver the projects currently identified in the Plan.
Mrs Pavey said there are a number of opportunities to enable a wider range of environmental projects, such as measures to control carp, to provide triple bottom line benefits, substituting the current Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) projects required under the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
“Ever since the conception of the Basin Plan the focus has been on delivering a single number – as a silver bullet. It’s time to focus less on a blunt tool and more on delivering proper balanced outcomes,” Mrs Pavey said.
“Some of the measures include a range of non-flow natural resource management activities such as the installation of fish ways, fish diversion screens, carp screens and traps and irrigation screening.”
Mrs Pavey said since the Basin Plan passed the Senate in 2012 there has been a failure to live up to the promise of having adaptive management and localism ‘hard-wired’ into the Basin Plan’s DNA.
“We have made it clear over the past three Ministerial Council meetings that NSW cannot deliver the projects identified in the Basin Plan in their current form by the 2024 deadline – yet other basin states and the Commonwealth have ignored the voice of NSW.
“Three independent reports have now identified that Commonwealth legislated timeframes are unrealistic and without changes the Basin Plan is broken and cannot be delivered in its current form.
The Minister’s appearance to the Senate was to provide evidence behind the concerns of NSW and to show the Senate’s failure to ensure key commitments such as a single point of truth to improve transparency.
“Despite numerous Senate inquiries, independent inquiries and even a South Australian Royal Commission set up to investigate water theft, not one of these uncovered the systemic theft of water that had been occurring in South Australia for years,” Mrs Pavey said.
“It took a journalist from the Weekly Times and upstream communities to fight for equality across the Basin. This year, for the first time, the South Australian government handed out over $15 million in fines.
“How this theft was uncovered by a journalist instead of the Royal Commission or numerous Senate Inquiries speaks to the failings of the Murray Darling Basin Authority to NSW communities.”
“At the coalface of the drought in NSW, almost a million megalitres of environmental water was delivered to the South Australian border on top of their monthly entitlement flows – that’s 677,000ML, flowing through the barrages into the Murray Mouth and sea.
“We need the balance to change – we have set the benchmark for compliance policy and it is well overdue for the other states to catch up.”
Mrs Pavey said NSW is involved in 22 of the Basin’s 36 Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) projects. While 13 projects are in place or nearing completion, key projects such as the Menindee Lakes project cannot be delivered in their current state.
“NSW has recovered over 4 million megalitres of environmental water entitlements, we now need to concentrate on measures that use this water smarter to deliver the environmental, social and economic outcomes to all communities,” Mrs Pavey said.
“We want these projects to succeed and we know if the trajectory doesn’t change they have no way of being successful.”
Mrs Pavey said the longevity of NSW towns and industries are now with the senate, should they decide to ignore NSW’s concerns and not adaptively manage the Constraints and SDLAM projects, the Basin Plan will disintegrate.