There has been significant misuse and waste of the $13 billion in public funds commited to implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. 

Public funds have largely benefited well-connected irrigators and failed to achieve the legislated goals of the Plan to revive rivers and wetlands.

The Problems

  1. Buying back water from willing sellers is the most efficient, cost effective and transparent way to return water to rivers. The government prohibited further voluntary buybacks before recovery targets have been reached. 
  2. The federal government has allowed the states to dictate prohibitive criteria that rule out the second most efficient form of water procurement — on-farm efficiency works. These works added to farm and regional efficiency and returned water to rivers in a cost effective way.  
  3. Accepted tendering processes have been ignored and instead there have been special deals with large corporate farms for infrastructure and water purchases that offer poor value for the taxpayer, minimal transparency and equity, and returned minimal water for the environment.  
  4. Recent deals for regional irrigation upgrades have benefited irrigation corporations and even increased private storage capacity, but return very little water to rivers. Costs for the ‘recovered water’ have escalated to approximately five times the market value.
  5. Due to a lack of transparency and a number of scandals there is a strong public perception of corruption, croynism and illegality in water management.

The Solutions

  1. Prioritise buying back water licences from willing sellers at open tenders the most effective method to return real water to rivers.
  2. Invest in diversifying regional economies to broaden the economic base beyond irrigation.
  3. Establish an on-farm efficiency program with criteria that enable genuine efficiency gains and water savings.  
  4. Provide transparent evidence of water returned to the environment from all irrigation infrastructure upgrades and efficiency projects.
  5. The Water Ministry should be returned to the Environment Portfolio to avoid conflicts of interest with agriculture.

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