Water Week

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South Australian Premier claims credit for new Murray-Darling Basin authority

Posted by waterweek on 22 September 2007

In the face of a one-in-a-thousand-year drought event, he had brokered the creation of an expert body to take over management of the Murray Darling Basin South Australian Premier Mike Rann said in the South Australian House of Assembly on 11 September 2007.

2006 driest winter on record: “Less than one year ago, on 28 September 2006, the Minister for the River Murray released a statement saying that, for the fourth month in a row, water flowing into the River Murray had been at a record low,” Rann recalled. “At that time, only 112 gigalitres had been recorded flowing into the river system during September, compared to the previous minimum of 178 gigalitres in 1902. The September inflow is usually around 1,558 gigalitres, not 112 gigalitres. This meant that 2006 was the driest winter on record.”

Measures taken to secure water supply: “South Australian irrigators had their water allocations cut from 80 per cent to 60 per cent of the entitlements by November, which was an act without precedent. It was the first time that water allocations for irrigators had ever been reduced mid-season. It was an indication of just how serious the drought was becoming for South Australia and the nation. That was less than a year ago. The Murray-Darling Basin Commission, state governments and the federal government responded quickly to this rapidly deteriorating situation. By October 2006, this government had established a Water Security Task Force to identify contingency options in the possible event of deteriorating water availability over the following two years. The Prime Minister called a water summit in November 2006 to develop plans to deal with the emerging national crisis. Contingency planning arrangements for providing water to cities and towns reliant on the River Murray were established at the summit, and I attended that meeting.”

“One in one thousand year” event: “At that meeting, a senior Murray-Darling Basin Commission official informed the Prime Minister, and the premiers and water ministers who were present, that the Murray-Darling Basin was engineered to manage a one in 100-year drought, but what we were facing in terms of inflows into the River Murray was more like a one in 1,000-year event,” said Rann. “Between December 2006 and May 2007 the Murray-Darling Basin states decided that the agreement that governed how water was shared between the states should be set aside so that critical human needs could be met. On 25 January this year, the Prime Minister announced a $10 billion federal takeover of the whole Murray-Darling Basin system that included promises to upgrade Australia’s irrigation infrastructure to build in more efficiencies and a buyback of water licences.”

Independent authority proposed: “I then wrote to the Prime Minister and other premiers proposing that an independent authority manage the Murray-Darling Basin. Two weeks later, having announced my support for a federal takeover, provided there were certain safeguards built in, I negotiated with other premiers to secure their support for the independent authority. That was prior to a meeting convened by the Prime Minister in Canberra on 23 February that was designed to secure the Murray-Darling Basin premiers’ support for the federal takeover bid. I backed the plan to relinquish the states’ rights to the river management, but only on the condition that the system was managed by an independent authority made up of non-partisan experts with bipartisan support. I also made it conditional that the decisions and advice of the independent authority would be made public, and any federal minister, whatever their political persuasion, acting contrary to the advice would need to table the reasons for doing so in federal parliament.”

Water Act 2007 partial solution: “Following the breakdown of its negotiations with Victoria, the commonwealth proceeded in August to pass the Water Act 2007 based on its own constitutional powers to partially implement its national plan for water security,” Rann said. “In line with the agreement I brokered, the Water Act 2007 establishes a new, expert-based Murray-Darling Basin Authority that will develop a basin plan and set enforceable and sustainable diversion limits. The new authority will operate alongside the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, which will continue to run river operations, salinity management works and other programs, such as the Living Murray Initiative. South Australia remains committed to passing complementary legislation, with the commonwealth and other states, to achieve the best outcomes for the River Murray and South Australia’s water security.”
Reference: M.D. Rann, Premier of South Australia, Minister for the Arts, House of Assembly, South Australia, 11 September 2007.

Erisk Net, 16/9/2007

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