Fireworks in the water debate

By Cassandra Power

State Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh has ruled out a royal commission into the controversial Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Mr Walsh and Southern Irrigators chairman Chris Brooks have gone head-to-head in a debate on issues of water trading, transparency of water ownership and the economic impacts of the basin plan on regional communities.

Both Mr Walsh and Mr Brooks agreed on triple M radio that changes were needed to the basin plan but disagreed on how.

The two men debated the finer points of the plan, with Mr Walsh declaring his "total support" for a more transparent system but ruled out supporting a royal commission.

“It is not Liberal party policy to support a royal commission,” he said.

“Royal commissions make a lot of lawyers rich, but I’m not sure they always achieve a really good outcome.”

Mr Brooks staunchly defended the call for a royal commission to sort through all the issues raised in the debate.

“This thing is, this is such a disaster it needs to be externally audited,” he said.

“There have been 43 reviews into this thing and every one of those reviews shows a lack of transparency, lack of accountability and poor management.

“At some stage someone has got to step up, grow a set and shake it by the throat.”

Seven years on from the basin plan’s inception, Mr Walsh said there had been learning experiences and there was "no doubt" it needed modifying, but getting changes through the Senate would prove difficult.

“The Senate includes Greens members who violently oppose any water being used on agriculture,” he said.

“There needs to be some trigger mechanisms in place to get environmental water traded back to food producers in times of drought.”

Mr Brooks said there was legislation already in place that could help irrigators, such as a public register, exchange rates for downstream users and protections for existing valleys.

“They’re in place they just need to be put into action,” he said.

“Why it’s not worked on or pursued is beyond me.

“Why let small farmers go to the wall and go to great lengths to support the corporates, when smaller farmers are the ones creating jobs and spending money in these economies?”