The Murray Darling Basin Authority has released a statement saying that the socio-economic report on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has been delayed indefinitely due to interruptions caused by the floods throughout the region.


The report, which was due to be completed by March 15, is being prepared by a consulting team led by Dr Mark Fenton, Director of EBC. Other members of the team are RM Consulting Group (working in Victoria and Sunraysia, Marsden Jacob Associates (leading consultation in Queensland), EconSearch (leading consultation in South Australia),  Tim Cummins (leading work in the Gwydir and Border valleys in northern NSW and southern Queensland), Geoff McLeod (working in southern NSW), and Guy Roth (leading work in the Namoi and Macquarie Valleys in NSW).


The consulting group is seeking to assess from discussions at the local level issues potential economic and social impacts of the MDBA’s proposed basin plan. Issues it is pursuing include:


  • How will the changes impact on irrigation farmers? How far can they adapt in response?
  • If farmers produce less then what will that mean for local food or fibre processing factories that operate in the region?
  • How will that affect local stores and suppliers who rely on their custom?
  • How will all of these changes translate through into impacts on local communities? What will it mean for the local school or the health clinic?


Meetings were scheduled to take place through January and February, but many were cancelled due to the floods.


The MDBA’s statement was prompted by criticisms from Opposition water spokesman Barnaby Joyce when the report was a week overdue and there was still no word on when it would be released.


Meanwhile, the Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Craig Knowles, who took up the position six weeks ago, is touring the Basin and has set up a new technical delivery group and appointed an advisory committee. Mr Knowles has met with the Gwydir Valley Irrigators and the National Irrigators Council at Moree in NSW who are calling for more detail on the revised Plan.


Mr Knowles was appointed by the Water Minister, Tony Burke, in February to salvage the reform process and negotiate acceptable cuts to water entitlements by the end of the year. His predecessor, Mike Taylor, resigned from the position following a difference with the government over his belief that the environmental needs of the Murray-Darling system should be given priority when recommending water cuts.


The MDBA has been criticised for its secrecy in the details of its revision of the Plan and also faces cricitism for misrepresenting CSIRO science in its Guide to a draft Basin Plan.


In a submission to the MDBA, CSIRO scientists have identified eight areas of concern with the Guide. Writing to MDBA Chief, Rob Freeman, the Science Director of CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country research flagship, Dr Ian Prosser, said CSIRO had “some concerns with how the Authority has interpreted or applied this work in the development of key aspects of the Basin Plan.


“There are a number of areas where our view is that what is documented in the Guide either does not represent best available science, or does not represent appropriate application of best available science in the context of the Basin Plan and the wider context of the National Water Initiative. There are also areas where the explanations in the Guide are either misleading or do not fully articulate key assumptions made by the Authority.


“In two areas, methods used by the MDBA could have a significant bearing on the outcomes of the plan, especially SDLs and economic costs. Alternative methods could produce substantially different and possibly better outcomes and therefore the choice and justification of the method is important.


“The most important concern is that the Guide lacks a transparent description of how priority environmental assets, environmental outcomes and flows required to achieve those outcomes were derived. The second substantial concern is how downstream flow requirements are distributed among tributary regions. Different ways of distributing SDLs among regions would give very different outcomes.”


In other news, the Standing Committee on Regional Australia is coming to the end of hearings for its inquiry into the impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in Regional Australia.


The Committee, which is due to report to Parliament by the end of May, has been seeking feedback from communities throughout the Basin since late last year.


The Chairman of the Committee, independent MP Tony Windsor, who has spent the past two days in St George and Goondiwindi in southern Queensland, has said there is “no need for hysteria” over the Plan, which includes the buy-back of up to 45% of water entitlements in the northern Basin. He said the cutbacks to water entitlements to meet environmental needs would not ruin communities or remove peoples’ livelihoods.


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