Keelty report ‘misses mark’

By Daniel Hughes

The Keelty report on water sharing in the Murray Darling Basin misses the mark, according to our political representatives.

Both Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley and NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton have taken aim at the report from Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources interim Inspector-General Mick Keelty.

Ms Ley said she agrees with frustrated irrigator, landholder and community groups who say there is nothing new in the information presented.

And while she believes the report does address ‘‘some issues’’ surrounding the plan, she can see ‘‘there is still a lot of work to be done’’.

‘‘In many ways the report has simply told us what we already knew and further dispels some of the myths surrounding water allocation,’’ Ms Ley said.

‘‘It does however highlight the critical point; that a consistent lack of northern inflows is having a severe impact on our ability to draw water in the New South Wales Southern Basin.

‘‘I am sure New South Wales has heard Mr Keelty’s message that December’s ‘Can the Plan’ rally actually took place outside the ‘wrong’ Parliament.

‘‘We can’t just hope for more rainfall to paper over the problem; which is less water coming from the northern basin than when the state’s water sharing agreement was created over 100 years ago.

‘‘How we address this is vital for the future of our communities and I continue to work towards a better outcome for our local farmers.’’

Mrs Dalton was stronger in her criticism of the report, labelling it a ‘‘complete waste of time and taxpayer dollars’’.

‘‘The top cop (Keelty) avoided the tough questions. His report provides no answers and no solutions,’’ Mrs Dalton said.

‘‘He highlights climate change as a major factor, but there is far more to the story.

‘‘The astonishing 80 per cent reduction of inflows into the Menindee Lakes is not solely due to climate change — there were some very wet years preceding the drought.

‘‘Dodgy government water sharing rules, poor government monitoring and regulation of floodplain harvesting, insider trading — these were factors too, but Mr Keelty barely touched on them.

‘‘Keelty’s report has not made any recommendations for state governments to change anything — so this seems like an attempt to shift the blame away from them.’’

Recommendations put up in the report are as follows:

● The MDBA should undertake further analysis of the causes of reduced inflows from the northern basin and the extent to which this is affecting state water shares.

● To increase trust in and transparency about water-sharing, the MDBA should provide clear and easily accessible information about special accounting measures, including the circumstances under which they are applied and how they are used to determine state allocations.

● The MDBA should clearly communicate the results of its examination of underuse of allocations and compare them with the submissions made to this inquiry so that accurate feedback can be provided to the community.

● The Basin Officials Committee (BOC) should consider implementing a single authoritative platform that combines information currently available on the various Commonwealth and state websites, to provide higher levels of transparency and trust and to improve water literacy.

● The BOC should consider ways through which States and agencies could work together across their respective jurisdictions to include water literacy in high school and higher education curriculums, including VET, in regional areas.

Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt said Mr Keelty’s report was one of three that would ‘‘guide’’ government policies around the managing the basin.

The others are the Sefton Report into socio-economic circumstances among basin communities and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the water market.

Ms Ley said findings would be discussed at an early Ministerial Council meeting.

‘‘I speak regularly with Mr Pitt and am delighted he is bringing forward the meeting of state and territory ministers, to canvas not only this report but the Sefton study which will be finalised over the next week.

‘‘Five states and the Commonwealth all have an equal say in water policy which is why this Ministerial Council will come at a critical time for our region.’’