Royal Commissioner Bret Walker’s findings on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have ignited passions and resulted in a flurry of calls for action – some seeking to ban entire export industries, and others questioning the very future of the plan itself.
Much has been made of Mr Walker’s assertion that according to the Water Act 2007, environmental considerations must always be given higher priority than social or economic factors.
As SA Murray Irrigators chair Caren Martin said, Mr Walker’s ‘environment before all else’ approach ignores the complex and difficult situation facing those developing the plan at the time.
Love or hate the plan, there’s no denying that creating one document to apply across four states and the ACT was a significant achievement. Had there not been a focus on achieving ‘triple bottom line’ outcomes, we probably wouldn’t even have a signed plan for Mr Walker to critique.
Public opinion on the need for a national Royal Commission into the plan remains split, with some arguing it is likely to be a lengthy, expensive process with no guarantee of achieving positive outcomes for any parties involved.
Others believe it is the only way to get a nationally-accepted resolution to the issues that continue to plague the plan’s progress.
Being an SA-based Royal Commission, it’s easy for people interstate or working in the federal sphere to question the legitimacy of the findings and palm Mr Walker’s findings off as biased or serving the interests of SA only.
The long-term health of the basin will always be in jeopardy unless we can all unify and work together to create the most economically and environmentally sustainable system possible.
While passions are high, those making outlandish calls – such as Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick’s pledge to introduce a bill to ban cotton exports – are hindering the situation, not helping.
Imagine if someone upstream called for all SA almond plantations to be ripped out?
How do you feel every time people interstate call for water allocated to the Coorong and Lower Lakes to be diverted elsewhere? Calling for a cotton export ban is received in a similar fashion upstream.
The only way we can find meaningful solutions is if governments and stakeholders work with each other, not against each other.