ACF has welcomed the findings of the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission and urged governments to fix the Basin Plan so it complies with the Water Act and takes account of climate science.

  • Basin Governments must urgently fix the Basin Plan so it complies with the ecological obligations of national water law, and implement it with greater transparency, actual enforcement of the rules, and so that a full complement of environmental water is recovered.
  • Reform of broader environmental law is also needed to strengthen protections for the ecological health of our wildlife, wetlands and floodplains.
  • Basin Governments must also start the revision of the Murray-Darling recovery regime to account for the impact of climate change on rivers, wildlife and communities.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has welcomed the findings of the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission and urged governments to fix the Basin Plan so it complies with the environmental obligations of national water law and takes account of climate change science.

ACF also welcomes many of the Commission’s specific findings to fix environment deficiencies in the Murray-Darling regime, including: reembracing buybacks; establishing a Commonwealth Climate Change Research and Adaptation Authority; properly funding the removal of system constraints; repealing the 70 billion litre reduction to the Northern Basin recovery target; and significantly reforming the compliance and transparency of water use and reform.

The Royal Commission’s recommendations to strengthen water rights for Indigenous Australians – including amending the Water Act, increasing funding, and ensuring greater participation – are also critical to a functioning water recovery program.

ACF Campaigns Director, Dr Paul Sinclair, said the Royal Commission had laid out clear evidence of mismanagement in the development and implementation of the Basin Plan and the recovery of water to protect our rivers, wildlife and wetlands.

“Despite the denials of some politicians, industry figures and regulators, the Royal Commission has detailed significant failures by those charged with restoring our most important river system,” Dr Sinclair said.

“The findings of the Royal Commission fit a consistent pattern of behaviour from Australian governments that has resulted in environmental disaster and the catastrophic loss of wildlife – more than a million dead fish in the Darling this January is stark evidence of this.

“Despite government rhetoric, Australia is failing to protect its unique nature and wildlife, including our precious inland rivers.

“Laws that are supposed to protect our rivers, wetlands and wildlife are not doing the job because government policy is captured by extractive industries and mismanagement by agencies responsible for implementing federal and state law.

“ACF notes Federal Labor’s welcome commitment to implement a new environment act and an independent Environment Protection Authority. ACF urges all parties to commit to similar reform and set out how new laws would be used to protect Australia’s natural values, including environmental water.

“Among other reforms, a new, independent and well-resourced national Environmental Protection Authority could oversee water user compliance in the Murray-Darling Basin, consistent with the recommendations from the Productivity Commission to break up the regulatory functions of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

“ACF also supports the Royal Commission’s call for the Basin Plan to take account of the impact of climate change on water resources in the Basin – bizarrely left out of this version of the plan.

“The Murray-Darling Basin has experienced a 41 per cent decline in streamflow over the past 20 years because of hotter and drier conditions. Under these conditions fish kills like those seen in the Darling River this January will become more common.

“Incorporating climate science will ultimately require a revision of the Basin Plan to address projected rainfall and water availability changes, particularly in the Basin’s south.

“The Federal Government should immediately draw up a timetable for revising the Basin Plan to make sure in fully complies with the Water Act and accounts for climate change.”

ACF Media Enquiries

Journalists with enquiries may contact Tom Arup on 0402 482 910 or Josh Meadows on 0439 342 992. For all other enquiries please call 1800 223 669 or email action@mail.acf.org.au