One the hardest things to do in life is to admit that you have made a mistake, and yet when we do the result is incredibly liberating. It enables a fresh start, an opportunity to change direction or right the wrongs of the past.
The State and Federal Water Ministers have an opportunity next month to be honest with themselves and the Australian people and admit all is not well with how water reforms of the past 25 years are unfolding. Trust in the pathway we have been taken down, is at an all time low. It will be an opportunity to let go of the rhetoric that "while no one likes the result, it’s the best we are going to achieve and we must press on regardless".
Next month’s MinCo meeting can and must be a watershed moment for water reform in Australia.
The key principles of all water reform can be encapsulated in this extract from the Basin Plan,
• "Communities with sufficient and reliable water supplies that are fit for a range of intended purposes, including domestic, recreational and cultural use; and
• Productive and resilient water-dependent industries, and communities with confidence in their long term future; and
• Healthy and resilient ecosystems with rivers and creeks regularly connected to their floodplains and, ultimately, the ocean."
Notwithstanding the reality that we are experiencing a horrendous drought, I doubt many would deny that we are not achieving these outcomes, and some less than others. With more than 4,000GL of water recovery, environmental water agencies struggling to manage the additional water, a water market being investigated by the ACCC, the River Operator under enormous pressure to manage competing demands on a constrained system, a deeply unpopular Basin Plan with massive unresolved environmental and community risks, countless enquiries and reviews, we must surely ask... 25 years after starting on this journey, is this really where we wanted to be? Is this really the best we can do?
The reality is, if we think we can achieve the outcomes of water reform by trading off any one of these objectives to benefit another, we will continue to fail. We must adopt a truly holistic approach and empower communities to determine how we achieve the outcomes we all want without compromising the key principles.
Minister for Water, David Littleproud MP has recently announced an independent expert panel that is assessing social and economic conditions impacting communities across the Murray–Darling Basin. This assessment provides a framework to recapture the best of the community driven responses to whole of community challenges, Landcare being a prime example.
The first step can occur at next months MinCo meeting and ultimately CoAG.
A failure of Government to trust communities to determine what their future looks like will condemn them to a future that looks very much like the recent past. The next move is in the hands of those with the authority, they must have faith in the capacity of those they represent to take ownership of a future we can be immensely proud of, for decades to come.
President,Ricegrowers' Association of Australia