Conflict over the resources of the Murray Darling Basin is a constant feature of Australian politics. Even by usual standards 2017-18 has been a turbulent year in water. This guide to the scandals of the Murray Darling Basin takes as its starting point the July 2017 Four Corners expose of massive alleged water theft in the Northern Basin. This scandal spurred several investigations and national attention on the management of the Murray Darling Basin.

This report compiles more than a hundred media reports relating to different aspects of the maladministration of the Murray Darling. These articles are sourced from national, state, local and rural publications and are sorted under the following headings:

  • Water theft
  • Political and regulatory capture
  • Culture of non-compliance
  • Dodgy water purchases
  • A land of fraud and flooding neighbours
  • More cement, less water, no transparency
  • Cotton pickin’ pipeline
  • Unlawful laws
  • Watering down the numbers
  • Deals, cover ups and secrecy
  • Basin Plan performance and performances
  • The changing Basin: nuts and cotton

Many more reports can be found in rural and local publications.

While these reports may come as a shock to the general public, they are well known by governments and water agencies. Federal Labor recently announced a deal they struck with the government to get the Basin Plan ‘back on track’. In exchange, they supported an amendment to the Basin Plan to increase water for irrigation and reduce water for the environment by more than 20%. The deal is mostly undertakings to implement existing commitments by State governments in legislation, regulations, intergovernmental agreements and funding agreements. The Commonwealth has already paid many hundreds of millions of dollars to States for these specific commitments. This is briefly described in the ‘Policy Recycling’ section.

If these issues can’t convince parliamentarians to look closer at the Basin Plan’s implementation, it is hard to imagine a scandal that would. Without a major shift in political and regulatory will, Volume II of the Basin Files will be as disappointing reading as this initial volume.

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