Submission: South Australian Select Committee on the Murray Darling Basin

by Maryanne Slattery and Rod Campbell

The Australia Institute welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the South Australian Select Committee on the findings of the South Australian Murray Darling Basin Royal Commission and the Productivity Commission’s five-year assessment of the Plan.

Public commentary frequently blames the Basin Plan for the economic, social and environmental demise of much of the Basin. Industries such as dairy, rice and citrus in some valleys have suffered serious decline and many remaining businesses will be lucky to survive this drought.However, we agree with the Royal Commission’s finding that the Basin Plan is only one of many contributors to this failure.

We support most of the findings of the Royal Commission. However, we disagree with recommendations that essentially ask for the Basin Plan settings – the Environmentally Sustainable Level of Take, Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDL), SDL Adjustment Mechanism, the Northern Basin Review, etc., to be remade without an initial pause.

If Australia wants the Basin to remain as a food bowl and wants resilient and healthy regional communities, urgent measures need to be put in place to ensure the survival of agricultural businesses through this drought. Comprehensive policies should be developed for resilient regions. Much of the hydrology research used to establish the Basin Plan is now out of date because of changes such as increases in permanent plantings, especially nuts in the south, and floodplain harvesting for cotton in the north. The Plan needs to be paused and all the settings validated before proceeding with the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

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