Windsor Committee reports on Basin Plan

I wrote on 11 May about the Parliamentary Committee that has been given the job of enquiring into the ‘Impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in Regional Australia’. Last week (2 June) the Windsor Committee Report was tabled in Parliament and released on Parliament’s Inquiry web page.

The Foreword to the report is by Committee Chair Mr Tony Windsor MP, whom you’ll remember, holds one of the critical casting votes in the federal parliament.

From my reading, there are no bomb-shells or whacky recommendations in the report.

Windsor says the Committee heard ‘clear recognition’ that change to water management is needed in the Murray-Darling Basin, with some water needing to be returned to sustain both the ecological assets and the people of the region. He comments that across the MDB, people told the Committee of ways in which water could be saved ‘through environmental works and measures and on-farm efficiency works’. He says that the Committee recommends that a number of these solutions be explored before considering cutting water allocated to productivity.

Of course, all these things were already being considered and are funded, however that was not well communicated in last October’s ‘Guide to the Basin Plan.

Windsor also says that federal and state governments should put aside ‘their parochial tendencies and work together to help these communities adapt and thrive in the face of this change’.

All reasonable stuff, reinforcing what most people have been saying for ages frankly.

Some specific recommendations (21 in all) in the report cover:

  • Providing a better way for regional communities to participate in the planning process and for local knowledge to be incorporated
  • Linking water buybacks to a proper rural restructuring process and related economic and social compensation.
  • Stronger focus on so-called ‘works and measures’ (ecological engineering and smart water delivery) to reduce amount of water required for the environment
  • Separation of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder function out of the federal water department to its own agency/authority (perhaps it might be better placed in the MDBA itself?)

A recommendation to immediately halt “all non-strategic water purchases (for the environment) ” has brought a rebuttal from the Australian Conservation Foundation, but overall the response to the report on all sides has been pretty supportive.

The increasingly controversial coal seam gas (CSG) industry copped a clear warning too, with recommendations that the ‘mining industry’ comply with the same water rules and requirements as other water users. Furthermore, that impacts (from mining) are first ‘understood and able to be mitigated’ before they are allowed, and that suitable laws and rules are set up to guard ‘the health and productivity of [the Basin’s] water resources’.

A clear shot across the bows for CSG companies operating, or seeking to do so, in the MDB (more on that controversy next week).

As I said, reactions in the media and on Twitter have been generally positive, both from environmental groups and irrigators, and I hear the report has bipartisan support in the parliament.

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