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Murray-Darling Basin Plan: Five-year assessment

Inquiry report

This report was sent to Government on 19 December 2018 and publicly released on 25 January 2019.

The report makes findings on progress to date in implementing the Basin Plan and recommendations on actions required to ensure effective achievement of Basin Plan outcomes. Most of our recommendations involve incremental improvements to the current arrangements. Others are to provide the strong foundations needed for the Plan to succeed — sound governance, good planning, and effective and adaptive management.

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  • Key points
  • Contents summary
  • The 2012 Basin Plan is a $13 billion reform to reset the balance between environmental and consumptive use of water and to establish a new sustainable water management system.
  • Significant progress has been made.
    • About 20 per cent of the water that was available for consumptive users a decade ago is now dedicated to the environment. About $6.7 billion has been spent to recover about 2000 gigalitres (GL). Water recovery is within five per cent of the July 2019 target.
    • The arrangements for managing environmental water are working well, with evidence of improved ecological outcomes at the local and system scale.
  • There is still $4.5 billion to be spent and the next phase is challenging.
  • The package of supply measures to achieve equivalent environmental outcomes using 605 GL less water recovery is highly ambitious. Failure of key projects would delay environmental benefits and could cost taxpayers about half a billion dollars for further water recovery.
    • To manage the risks, Basin Governments need sound governance arrangements for integrated delivery. Before implementation, projects need to be independently reviewed to give confidence that they will deliver the predicted environmental outcomes and offer value for money. For some key projects, realistic implementation timeframes are likely to extend beyond 2024.
  • The Australian Government’s program to achieve enhanced environmental outcomes with an extra 450 GL of water recovery through efficiency measures needs to be adaptive to new information. These outcomes are at risk as key program assumptions have changed.
    • The Murray‑Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) should update its modelling to reflect current information. The Australian Government should recover water in line with the ability to use it effectively. The 2021 legislated review of the budget appropriation for efficiency measures should be used to check the likely environmental benefits and the cost of achieving them.
  • The development and accreditation of Water Resource Plans is behind schedule. Basin Governments should agree to extend the 2019 deadline for those plans where complex changes are required and there is a material risk to the quality of the plans.
  • The MDBA should substantially revise the Basin Plan Evaluation Framework and Governments should develop a monitoring strategy. This will enable the impacts of the Plan to be effectively evaluated in 2020 and 2025, and provide information for the review of the Plan in 2026.
  • The complex challenges ahead have been made more difficult because of the way Basin Governments have approached the implementation of the Plan.
    • The process has lacked transparency and candour with stakeholders.
    • It has been unclear who is responsible and accountable for leading implementation.
  • In the Commission’s view, the significant risks to implementation cannot be managed effectively under current institutional and governance arrangements. Reform is required.
  • Basin Governments (not the MDBA) should take responsibility for leading implementation.
    • The Basin Officials Committee should be assigned responsibility for managing the significant risks to successful implementation, including the supply measures.
    • The MDBA has conflicting roles. It supports Basin Governments (as their agent) to implement the Plan and is also required to ensure compliance with the Plan. These conflicts will intensify in the next five years. The MDBA should be split into two separate institutions — the Murray‑Darling Basin Agency and the Basin Plan Regulator.
  • With negotiations largely settled, Basin Governments must make important changes now to ensure effective implementation. Failing to act will be costly for the environment and taxpayers, and undermine confidence that the Basin Plan has been worthwhile.

Media requests

Leonora Nicol, Media Director – 0417 665 443 / 02 6240 3239 / media@pc.gov.au

  • Preliminaries: Cover, Copyright and publication detail, Letter of transmittal, Terms of reference, Disclosure of interests, Acknowledgments, Contents and Abbreviations
  • Overview including key points
  • Findings and recommendations
  • Chapter 1 About this inquiry
    • 1.1 About the Basin Plan and this inquiry
    • 1.2 Key elements to implementing the Basin Plan
    • 1.3 What was the Commission required to do?
    • 1.4 The Commission’s approach
    • 1.5 A guide to the rest of the report
  • Chapter 2 Summary of progress
    • 2.1 Significant progress has been made
    • 2.2 But for other elements there is still significant work to do
    • 2.3 Outcomes of the Plan
  • Chapter 3 Recovering water for the environment
    • 3.1 Background
    • 3.2 Progress to the July 2019 water recovery target
    • 3.3 Environmental effectiveness of recovered water
    • 3.4 Cost‑effectiveness of water recovery
    • 3.5 Structural adjustment assistance
  • Chapter 4 Supply measures and Toolkit
    • 4.1 Background
    • 4.2 Assessment of implementation risks
    • 4.3 Improving implementation
    • 4.4 Northern Basin Toolkit
  • Chapter 5 Efficiency measures
    • 5.1 Background
    • 5.2 Assessment of implementation effectiveness
    • 5.3 Improving implementation
  • Chapter 6 Water resource planning
    • 6.1 Background
    • 6.2 Assessment of implementation
    • 6.3 Improving implementation
  • Chapter 7 Indigenous values and uses
    • 7.1 Background
    • 7.2 Progress in considering Indigenous values in Water Resource Plans
    • 7.3 Progress in implementing environmental water management provisions
    • 7.4 Improving knowledge and evaluating outcomes
  • Chapter 8 Water quality
    • 8.1 The Basin Plan is an evolution in water quality management
    • 8.2 Monitoring and evaluation of water quality targets and objectives
    • 8.3 Water quality management plans
  • Chapter 9 Critical human water needs
    • 9.1 Critical human water needs in the River Murray system
    • 9.2 Managing CHWN through Water Resource Plans
  • Chapter 10 Water trading rules
    • 10.1 Background
    • 10.2 Restrictions on water trading
    • 10.3 Market information and transaction costs
    • 10.4 Responding to emerging risks from greater trade
  • Chapter 11 Environmental water planning and management
    • 11.1 Background
    • 11.2 How the Commission has assessed effectiveness
    • 11.3 Providing and protecting the agreed share of water for the environment
    • 11.4 Long‑term planning for environmental water
    • 11.5 Annual planning of environmental water
    • 11.6 Coordination and consultation by environmental water holders
    • 11.7 Maximising the benefits of environmental water
  • Chapter 12 Basin Plan compliance
    • 12.1 Compliance with the Basin Plan
    • 12.2 Water take compliance
  • Chapter 13 Reporting, monitoring and evaluation
    • 13.1 Background
    • 13.2 How the Commission has assessed effectiveness
    • 13.3 Reporting on progress of implementation
    • 13.4 Evaluation to assess the outcomes and effectiveness of the Plan
    • 13.5 Looking towards the 2026 review
  • Chapter 14 Institutions and governance
    • 14.1 Current institutional and governance arrangements
    • 14.2 Have institutional and governance arrangements been effective?
    • 14.3 Reform of institutional and governance arrangements is required
    • 14.4 Transition to the new institutional arrangements
    • 14.5 Now is the time for action
  • Appendices
    • Appendix A Inquiry conduct and participants
    • Appendix B Analysis of the cost of recovering water for the environment
  • References

Printed copies

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

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