Skip to Content
 Close search

Murray-Darling Basin Plan: Implementation review 2023

Inquiry report

Released 26 / 02 / 2024

This inquiry report assessed the progress made toward implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan since 2018. Recommendations are made about the actions needed to achieve full implementation of the Basin Plan and to strengthen and simplify the framework.

The report was sent to Government on 19 December 2023 and publicly released on 26 February 2024.

Key points

  • The Murray–Darling Basin Plan (the Basin Plan) is a significant reform that aims to deliver a healthy, working Basin to benefit the environment, Basin communities, and current and future generations. Under the Plan, Basin governments agreed to recover 2,750 GL/y of water for the environment (~20% reduction in water for consumptive use) and an additional 450 GL/y.
  • Some progress has been made implementing the Basin Plan since 2018.
    • Water resource plans – which set out how much water can be taken from the system and how it is managed – are now all in place in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT.
    • Environmental water management frameworks are also in operation, and water recovered for the environment – and partnerships to deliver this water – have improved river flows, connectivity, and ecosystem and biodiversity outcomes.
  • But the Basin Plan will not be fully implemented within the original timeframe or budget.
    • Key supply measures (infrastructure works and rule changes that offset water recovery) will not be delivered and projects to ease constraints on river operations are progressing slowly: less than half of the 605 GL/y supply measure offset has been achieved.
    • The program to recover an additional 450 GL/y of water via efficiency measures remains well short of its target (only 26 GL/y has been recovered). And 10 of 20 water resource plans in New South Wales, due in 2019, are still not in place.
  • Recent amendments to the Basin Plan and Water Act provide necessary timeframe extensions and allow for new supply measures and voluntary water purchases. Stronger reporting requirements are also included, as well as a greater emphasis on climate change and First Nations water interests. These are positive developments, but risks to full Basin Plan implementation remain.
  • The Australian Government – in partnership with Basin states – must ensure extended timeframes are used effectively to realise the objectives and outcomes of the Plan. A number of actions are needed:
    • Constraints easing measures are critical to achieving environmental outcomes from recovered water; they are complex projects and should be progressed separately to the remaining supply measures.
    • A significant water recovery task lies ahead. The Australian Government should – without delay – plan and implement a renewed water recovery approach, including voluntary water purchases. Purchases should be undertaken gradually, to avoid driving water market disruption and community adjustment pressures.
    • Future water recovery should occur alongside a commitment from Basin governments to assist communities, where warranted, to transition to a future with less available water. Adjustment assistance should build on the evidence about what programs work and the regional economic context.
    • Outstanding water resource plans in New South Wales pose a significant risk to Basin Plan implementation and must be developed and accredited as a matter of urgency.
  • Recognising First Nations values and delivering on First Nations interests requires Basin governments to improve how they partner and share decision making with First Nations people.
    • Building on recent reforms, Basin governments should publicly report on how water resource plans deliver on First Nations objectives and outcomes and strengthen the capacity of First Nations people to engage in Basin Plan activities.


  • Preliminaries: Cover, Copyright and publication detail, Transmittal letter, Terms of reference, Disclosure of interests, Contents, and Acknowledgements
  • Overview
    • Key points
    • About the Murray–Darling Basin Plan and our task
    • A lot achieved, but there are still risks that key elements will not be delivered
    • A large water recovery task ahead – what should be done?
    • Recognising the values of First Nations people
    • Strengthening the Basin Plan
    • Basin governments must not waste extended timeframes
  • Findings and recommendations
  • 1. About this inquiry
    • 1.1 About the Murray–Darling Basin Plan
    • 1.2 The Basin Plan – a significant reform
    • 1.3 What we were asked to do and our approach
    • 1.4 How we engaged
    • 1.5 Structure of the report
  • 2. Resetting the balance
    • 2.1 Resetting the balance is core to Basin Plan implementation …
    • 2.2 … but progress has been limited
    • 2.3 Why has implementation slowed?
    • 2.4 Where do we go from here?
  • 3. Environmental water planning and management
    • 3.1 About the Environmental Watering Plan
    • 3.2 Held environmental water is being actively managed by environmental water holders
    • 3.3 Looking back: 2019 to 2023
    • 3.4 Effectiveness of environmental water planning and management
  • 4. Water resource plans
    • 4.1 Water resource plans are fundamental to implementing the Basin Plan
    • 4.2 Making and assessing water resource plans
    • 4.3 Compliance and reporting
  • 5. The values of First Nations people
    • 5.1 Some background
    • 5.2 Assessing progress: 2019 to 2023
    • 5.3 Strengthening the role of First Nations people in the Basin Plan
    • 5.4 First Nations ownership of water in the Basin
  • 6. Bringing new knowledge into the Basin Plan framework
    • 6.1 The Basin Plan framework has an adaptive management approach
    • 6.2 Processes for generating and using knowledge
  • 7. Water quality and critical human water needs
    • 7.1 Water quality
    • 7.2 Critical human water needs
    • 7.3 The northern Basin
  • 8. Trading rules
    • 8.1 Trading rules support water markets
    • 8.2 Recent reviews of Basin water markets
    • 8.3 Review of trading rules
  • 9. Governance and engagement
    • 9.1 An overview of arrangements
    • 9.2 Accountability mechanisms under the Basin Plan
    • 9.3 Information and transparency
    • 9.4 Community engagement
  • A. Public consultation
  • B. Public forums – what we heard
  • Abbreviations
  • References

Printed copies

Printed copies of this report can be purchased from Canprint Communications.

We value your comments about this publication and encourage you to provide feedback.

Submit publications feedback