South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said he was “fighting for what’s right”, and I agree with his sentiments. It is time we all started not only “fighting for what’s right” but also “doing what’s right”.
Mr Weatherill was commenting directly on the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which needs to be more far-reaching than protecting South Australia’s interests, which the SA Premier proposes.
Mr Weatherill is a bit loose with the facts when he says 3200 gigaltres has been “secured to deliver a healthy Murray-Darling Basin”. In fact, 2750GL was secured, and his government support the legislation that this would only be recovered if there were no adverse socio-economic impacts across the Basin.
Now that we have unequivocal proof there will be socio-economic damage if there are attempts to recover the additional 450GL, Mr Weatherill is trying to use his government’s political clout to have this vital part of the legislation ignored. Is that “fighting for what’s right”?
It is past time that South Australia accepted this is a four-state Basin Plan, not a South Australian plan. As part of its Royal Commission it needs to investigate recommendations of the 2016 report from a Senate Inquiry into the Basin Plan, in particular those relating to South Australia, as follows:
- The South Australian Government evaluate the effect of purchasing irrigation water while declining to use its desalination plant.
- A cost-benefit analysis of the SA barrages including removing them all, removing some or modifications, and if the analysis indicates one or more lead to positive social, economic and environmental outcomes then the Basin Plan be amended accordingly.
- Calculate the economic value of fresh water evaporated from the Lower Lakes.
- Undertake a detailed study to inform whether a reassessment of the Coorong’s Ramsar listing from a freshwater system to an estuarine system is more appropriate. Investigate construction of an additional lock above Lake Alexandrina, such as near Wellington, SA.
Remember, these were recommendations from a detailed Senate Inquiry that investigated ways to implement a Basin Plan that could deliver social, economic and environmental benefits across the entire Basin.
They should be back on the table at the next meeting of the Basin’s Ministerial Council, with the federal and other state governments demanding immediate action.
One also has to question why the supposedly independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority is also not strongly articulating the view that these recommendations should be actioned as a matter of urgency.
That, I believe, would be “fighting for what’s right”. As a consequence I trust all these issues will be part of the SA Government’s Basin Plan Royal Commission, and ongoing Basin Plan discussions.