Keelty Report misses the mark
The Interim-Inspector General (IIG) Mick
Keelty’s report on watering sharing fell short of what the former Water
Minister David Littleproud commissioned. ‘The Inquiry into the Management of
Murray–Darling Basin Water Resources’ now appears to be little more than a
political agreement to quash issues raised by our irrigation industries and
Basin communities. The RGA finds a large gap between the Terms of Reference and
what was delivered.While the inquiry saw that ‘stakeholders had
wide-ranging and often significant concerns’, the RGA doesn’t believe that the
report provided legitimate or adequate responses to those concerns. It has
missed an important opportunity to take an in-depth look at current water
sharing arrangements and allocation policies in the Murray-Darling Basin.
The RGA Policy
Team compared the Terms of Reference (ToR) with the actual report. The
following is a brief summary.
Terms of Reference(ToR)
- The impact of changing distributions of inflows to the
southern Basin on state shares under the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement; and
- Any consequential impacts on state water shares resulting from the reserves
required under the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement. This includes how these
interact with state water allocation policies.
final report inadequately represents what it was commissioned to achieve.
It appears to be little more than a political peace keeping report, rather than
the fearless evaluation delivering outcomes as promised to irrigation
industries and Basin communities. The report basically recommends all that’s
needed is better communication, so Basin communities and industries can
understand and accept the status quo. This assumes the status quo is
acceptable. It is not. Any reform on the scale of the Basin Plan inevitably has
unintended, perverse and unforeseen outcomes The Keelty inquiry was supposed to
take an in-depth look at these consistent with its terms of reference, but
instead only mentioned a few in passing.
- The report acknowledges that
the reduced inflows into Menindee may be due to a range of natural and
policy decisions, including record low inflows in northern NSW, lower
rainfall, higher temperatures, catchment modification (including farm
dams), increasing development, floodplain harvesting, changes in
extraction rules in water-sharing plans, and non-compliance. The report
says the relative influence of each of these factors is highly complex and
has not been established.
RGA has advocated for and supports Recommendation 1: The MDBA should undertake
further analysis of the causes of reduced inflows from the northern Basin and
the extent to which this is affecting State water shares.
Issues requiring investigation but only mentioned in
- Acknowledgement that the
water sharing arrangements decided in 1970 under the Murray Darling Basin
Agreement may no longer be relevant under a warming climate of the past 20
- Acknowledgement of the
legitimate concerns amongst stakeholders about whether too much water is
being lost in the operation of the River Murray system.
The report describes the arrangements to hold operators accountable,
but these are not transparent, and internal review reports (even
‘independent’ audit reports) are not publicly available. Importantly,
Keelty says further work to investigate the impact of pressures such as
expanding horticultural development downstream must be delivered quickly
to give greater confidence for the future.
- The report says the MDBA
provided information on water sharing arrangements. This information
had not been independently audited or validated. Further, information
on allocations of available water to the States is not readily or publicly
available. To date we have been asked to trust the States and MDBA have
got this right through internal review and self-auditing processes.
- The report says "There
is a sense that improved measurement would lead to improvements in water
availability … Measuring volumes of water at a Basin or valley scale,
relies on computer models that use climatic data and data taken from river
gauges (MDBA 2020, pers. comm. 11 February) … Different standards for
measurement and accounting are applied at different scales of water use or
management according to the accuracy of measurement that is technically
possible.’ The scope for compounding margins of error across the different
measurement standards and systems is a material issue for calculating
losses and therefore water availability. The report instead accepts the
status quo, as if it cannot be improved.