“Royal Commissions have no magical powers, they are only as good as the information that goes in and the assumptions they make”, says Steve Whan, CEO of the National Irrigators Council, talking about today’s release of the South Australian Basin Plan Royal Commission.

Steve Whan said “unfortunately in this case one of the fundamental opinions, leading to a suite of very colourfully expressed conclusions, is based on the evidence of a small number of high-profile Basin Plan critics. 

“The Commissioner has given us an opinion that the Basin Plan is illegal because he contends it does not set an appropriate sustainable diversion limit.  Many of his recommendations stem from that conclusion.

 “In this case the Commission didn’t hear from the large number of scientists who are actually involved with the Basin Plan, many of whom are well respected academics working independently in research institutions.  

“One of the most disappointing aspects in this report is the Commissioner’s curt dismissal, with no justification, of the suite of scientific evidence showing that water buyback has negative impacts on communities.  Many years of intensive research has shown that there are significant negative impacts from water buyback on small communities. Ontop of that scientific research, is the on the ground evidence from the people affected – again dismissed by the Commissioner. 

“The report seems to pick and choose which science it accepts and the science it dismisses (which coincidentally seems to be those people and groups who didn’t appear). 

“The report is not all negative. In fact, it acknowledges the very good work done on compliance issues (the original brief for the Commission) and does make a point of acknowledging the ‘massive importance of irrigated agriculture’ to Australia.  NIC would also agree, as we have with many other reports, that better transparency is needed from Governments implementing the Plan.

“Unfortunately, the report has, as a fundamental premise for a range of recommendations, a giant hypothetical.  The question we ask is – if the Commission’s conclusions about legality and their recommendations to rewrite the plan were accepted – where would that lead us?

“NIC has made it very clear that we want to see real environmental outcomes from the Basin Plan.  We want a Plan that gives us healthy rivers, healthy communities and a continuing capacity to produce food and fibre for the nation.

“And as we suffer another drought, it should be clear that no plan could drought proof the Murray Darling Basin.

“The Australian people (and the Parliament on their behalf) didn’t vote for a Plan that would close down agriculture and country towns.  They expected balance, with a sustainable level of extractions from the rivers along with life in country communities.  The Plan received bi-partisan support because of that.

“As the Productivity Commission told us last week, the Plan has made a difference already where 20% of extraction has gone back to the environment.  Two-thirds of the water that goes into our rivers stays there; it is not extracted.

“Do the people of Australia really want to start again on the Basin Plan, with 10 years of argument, uncertainty and community turmoil? And would it be fair to the communities and industries that have participated in good faith, that all the targets they have been working toward are thrown out?

“The Basin Plan is just half way through implementation, it has been very tough going and it will continue to be so. Butthere is no Plan B.”

Media Contact:  Steve Whan 0429 780 883

Thursday 31 January 2019