The 2012 Basin Plan is a $13 billion reform to reset the balance between environmental and consumptive use of water and to establish a new sustainable water management system.
Significant progress has been made.
- About 20 per cent of the water that was available for consumptive users a decade ago is now dedicated to the environment. About $6.7 billion has been spent to recover about 2000 gigalitres (GL). Water recovery is within five per cent of the July 2019 target.
- The arrangements for managing environmental water are working well, with evidence of improved ecological outcomes at the local and system scale.
There is still $4.5 billion to be spent and the next phase is challenging.
The package of supply measures to achieve equivalent environmental outcomes using 605 GL less water recovery is highly ambitious. Failure of key projects would delay environmental benefits and could cost taxpayers about half a billion dollars for further water recovery.
- To manage the risks, Basin Governments need sound governance arrangements for integrated delivery. Before implementation, projects need to be independently reviewed to give confidence that they will deliver the predicted environmental outcomes and offer value for money. For some key projects, realistic implementation timeframes are likely to extend beyond 2024.
The Australian Government’s program to achieve enhanced environmental outcomes with an extra 450 GL of water recovery through efficiency measures needs to be adaptive to new information. These outcomes are at risk as key program assumptions have changed.
- The Murray‑Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) should update its modelling to reflect current information. The Australian Government should recover water in line with the ability to use it effectively. The 2021 legislated review of the budget appropriation for efficiency measures should be used to check the likely environmental benefits and the cost of achieving them.
The development and accreditation of Water Resource Plans is behind schedule. Basin Governments should agree to extend the 2019 deadline for those plans where complex changes are required and there is a material risk to the quality of the plans.
The MDBA should substantially revise the Basin Plan Evaluation Framework and Governments should develop a monitoring strategy. This will enable the impacts of the Plan to be effectively evaluated in 2020 and 2025, and provide information for the review of the Plan in 2026.
The complex challenges ahead have been made more difficult because of the way Basin Governments have approached the implementation of the Plan.
- The process has lacked transparency and candour with stakeholders.
- It has been unclear who is responsible and accountable for leading implementation.
In the Commission’s view, the significant risks to implementation cannot be managed effectively under current institutional and governance arrangements. Reform is required.