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Greater transparency needed in Murray-Darling Basin management, study finds

Results from an inquiry into water sharing arrangements in the southern Basin are now in, with the Murray-Darling Basin Interim Inspector-General highlighting the need for transparency as a key recommendation.

Released last month, the report was requested by former Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud and conducted by Interim Inspector-General of the Murray-Darling Basin Mick Keelty.

In addition to looking at the impact of changing distributions of inflows to the southern Basin on state shares under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, Keelty also also inspected how any consequential impacts on shares would interact with allocation policies.

Current Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said he has acted towards implementing all of Keelty’s recommendations.

“Mr Keelty’s inquiry focused on the water sharing arrangements in the Murray-Darling Basin and how they work with state water allocation policies,” Pitt said

“This report reinforces the need to improve the transparency, accessibility and availability of information about Murray-Darling Basin water matters.”

Keelty met with more than a thousand Basin residents, undertook 80 additional interviews and considered 354 public submissions during his inquiry.

“While stakeholders had wide-ranging and often significant concerns, their views sometimes differed,” Keelty wrote in his report.

“It was also observable that stakeholder perceptions were frequently at odds with what the inquiry heard from states and agencies with responsibilities in the Basin.

“This highlights the challenge that remains in communicating the right information to Basin communities effectively. Improving the transparency, accessibility and availability of Information – as well as people’s ability to interpret and understand it – needs to be a focus.”

Minister Pitt has accepted the key recommendations from Keelty’s report, including: 

  • direct the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to examine the causes of reduced water inflows and how this affects state water shares; 
  • provide more transparent and comprehensive reporting about water accounting;
  • establish an authoritative platform to collate information provided by government bodies; and
  • provide water literacy programs in regional areas.

The report made no recommendation to state governments, and did not suggest a redistribution of water allocation under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

“I accept the five key recommendations of Mr Keelty and I have directed both my department and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to take action to implement them,” Pitt said.

“It’s important to remember that this is one of three key inquiries that together will help guide Commonwealth and state governments’ policies around the management of the Murray-Darling Basin.”

The other inquiries are: the Independent assessment of social and economic conditions in the Basin, which released a draft report last month, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s water markets inquiry.

MDBA Chief Executive Phillip Glyde said he welcomed Keelty’s recommendations and that the authority was beginning work with CSIRO to model inflows under different climate-change scenarios.

“[The] report also shines a welcome light on how the changing climate is impacting inflows and therefore state water shares, particularly in New South Wales,” he said.

“We've commissioned the CSIRO to model possible climate scenarios that we could face by 2050 in the northern and southern Basin. This research will help us all to better understand what changes are required to ensure we all have a sustainable future."

View the full report to learn more about the study.