Murray-Darling Basin Plan: Implementation review 2023
Released 30 / 10 / 2023
This interim report assesses and makes findings about the progress made toward implementing the Murray–Darling Basin Plan since 2018. It makes a number of interim recommendations about the actions needed to achieve full implementation of the Basin Plan and to strengthen and simplify the framework.
Getting the Murray–Darling Basin Plan back on track
Improved accountability would boost progress on the Murray–Darling Basin Plan, according to the Productivity Commission.
The interim report of the 2023 Murray–Darling Basin Plan implementation review finds the Australian Government’s recently proposed extension of the Basin Plan timeframes is necessary but won’t be enough.
“In the five years since the last Commission review, very little progress has been made on water recovery, or on supply and constraints-easing measures,” Associate Commissioner Chris Guest said.
“The plan is central to securing a healthy working Basin. Basin governments need to be more transparent and accountable for delivering the plan.”
The Australian Government funds the states’ supply projects. Unviable supply projects should not continue to receive funding.
“The Australian Government Minister for Water should report annually to Parliament on the progress, feasibility and cost to date of supply projects, and decide on their future,” Commissioner Joanne Chong said.
Despite the prospect of more time, a significant water recovery shortfall is likely. The Australian Government should commence a renewed program of water recovery, using the most cost‑effective methods, including staged voluntary water entitlement purchases. This should occur alongside a commitment from Basin governments to support communities to adjust, where warranted.
A new government-owned corporate entity that operates at arm’s length from governments would be one option for undertaking water recovery and implementing some supply projects.
The report also finds that further effort should be made to ease river constraints on environmental water delivery.
“Constraints-easing measures are critical to the success of the Basin Plan. Governments should implement them through a dedicated, standalone program,” Commissioner Guest said.
The Commission also says that more should be done to recognise the values and deliver on the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Basin Plan matters.
“Basin governments need to improve how they partner and share decision making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and publicly report on this,” said Commissioner Chong.
“The Basin and the people who depend on it need this Plan to work. All Basin governments, under the leadership of the Australian Government, need to pull their weight,” Commissioner Guest said.
Read the full interim report and provide a comment or submission at www.pc.gov.au
02 6240 3330 / firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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 through efficiency measures.
- 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 (and are fundamental to implementing the Basin Plan) – 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 and connectivity, and ecosystem and biodiversity outcomes.
- But the Basin Plan will not be fully implemented on time or on 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 (a shortfall of ~315 GL/y is possible). The program to recover an additional 450 GL/y of water via efficiency measures will also fall well short of the target (only 26 GL/y has been recovered). And 13 water resource plans in New South Wales, due in 2019, are still not in place.
- A new agreement to deliver the Basin Plan will, if legislated, provide more time and allow new supply measures and voluntary water purchases. But this will not be enough to implement the Basin Plan in full. Weak accountability and other underlying risks to Basin Plan implementation remain. Existing funding is also not sufficient.
- The Australian Government must take greater responsibility for implementing the Basin Plan, in partnership with Basin states.
- Constraints-easing measures are critical to achieving environmental outcomes from recovered water; they are complex projects and should be progressed separately to the 2,750 GL/y target.
- The Minister for Water should report to the Australian Parliament by June 2024, and annually after that, on the cost-effectiveness and feasibility of existing and new Commonwealth-funded supply projects.
- The Australian Government should develop a renewed approach to water recovery, including staged voluntary purchases. Waiting until reconciliation (now proposed for the end of 2026) to address the shortfall will perpetuate uncertainty for Basin communities and risks further increasing the cost of water recovery.
- 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.
- A new government-owned corporate entity that operates at arm’s length from governments is an option for undertaking water recovery and implementing some supply projects.
- Recognising First Nations values and delivering on First Nations interests requires Basin governments to improve how they partner and share decision-making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Basin governments should publicly report on how water resource plans deliver on First Nations objectives and outcomes, and strengthen the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to engage in Basin Plan activities.
- Preliminaries: Cover, Copyright and publication detail, Opportunity for comment, Terms of reference and Contents
- About the Murray–Darling Basin Plan and our task
- A lot achieved, but key elements will not be delivered
- With a large shortfall looming, what should be done?
- Recognising the values of First Nations people
- Strengthening the Basin Plan
- The Australian Government must take greater responsibility for implementing the Basin Plan
- 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 have been 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 WRPs
- 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 engagement
- B Public forums – what we heard
Murray–Darling Basin Plan: Implementation review 2023
The plan aims to deliver a healthy, working Basin to benefit the environment, Basin communities, and current and future generations. To get the Basin plan back on track, governments need to be more transparent and accountable for delivering the plan.
Key interim recommendations:
The Australian Government Minister for Water should report annually to Parliament on the progress, feasibility and cost to date of supply projects, and decide on their future.
The Australian Government should commence a renewed program of water recovery, including staged voluntary water entitlement purchases coupled with effective adjustment assistance.
Constraints-easing is critical to the success of the Basin Plan – governments should implement these projects through a dedicated, standalone program.
Basin governments need to improve how they partner and share decision making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and publicly report on this.
We are seeking your input on:
- Ways to improve the reporting arrangements for water resource plans.
- The merits and design of a new government-owned corporate entity to address the water recovery shortfall.
- The role of climate change science in the Basin Plan.
- Ways to improve water quality and meet critical human water needs in the northern Basin.
Printed copies of this report can be purchased from Canprint Communications.
You were invited to make written submissions by 20 November 2023.
A final report will be delivered to the Australian Government on 19 December 2023.