Hearing negative impacts was a valuable exercise for the Murray Darling Basin Royal Commission to understand the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Speaking at the commission’s second public consultation, in Albury on April 11, Senior Counsel Assisting Richard Beasley said there was a feeling among water users the Plan favoured the environment and South Australia, and he welcomed voices from all parties.
Mr Beasley said many people addressing the hearing were well informed about the Plan and its impact on the Murray region.
“There’s nothing like speaking to people that actually live in the region to get the best possible understanding and insight into the impacts of the Basin Plan,” he told Wednesday’s meeting of about 30 farmers, academics, indigenous representatives and others.
Commissioner Bret Walker told the hearing the investigation was focused on only the terms of reference and not sent out by the South Australian government looking only for a better result for that state.
”We’ve been asked to consider whether the Basin Plan is working. Whether it’s likely to work and whether it needs to be changed in any way so as to improve the outcomes,” Mr Walker said.
The Royal Commission – which is required to finalise its report to the South Australian Government by February 1, 2019 – had studied submissions made to other inquires looking into the Murray Darling Basin.
“We noticed several themes. Concerns about the buybacks. Concerns that the Basin Plan itself is being too ambitious. That 2750 gigalitre recovery is too much,” Mr Beasley said.
“There seems to be a concern that too much focus is on the environment of the Murray Mouth, the Lower Lakes and the Coorong.
“Some people have expressed concerns that the Water Act has got an imbalance of objectives … the environment is prioritised over local economies and local communities.”
Many of those views were reinforced by speakers in Albury who flagged issues ranging from the impact of raised river levels on riparian land users to a lack of understanding of the river from water managers and the Murray Darling Basin Authority.
Farmers outlined how access to water had dried up under of the plan and how the economic cost was clear indication third parties were negatively affected by water recovery measures.
“If water doesn’t come out of the Darling we’ve got to make it up out of the Murray and that’s the critical part that hasn’t been enunciated,” Berrigan farmer Graeme Pyle said of environmental flows into South Australia.
The Royal Commission also met with water users in Deniliquin on Tuesday, including irrigation district shire mayors, Southern Riverina Irrigators, SpeakUp4Water action group and rice growers including a rice farm tour.
“All of those meetings were incredibly valuable to us,” Mr Beasley said.
“The people we spoke to were incredibly well informed. They reinforced the views we’ve gained by reading the submission this region has already made to other inquiries.”
Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Gabrielle Coupland said having the Royal Commission in the area was fruitful and the group would follow-up with a detailed written submission expanding on other submissions it had already made to other inquiry bodies.