National Farmers' Federation

Keelty Report should act as a catalyst for long-term reform says NFF

Today’s release of the Impact of lower inflows on state shares under the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement report prepared by Basin Interim Inspector-General Mick Keelty AO APM, offers some good recommendations but no silver bullets and no hidden water.

“The NFF supported Mr Keelty in leaving no stone unturned in trying to identify the impacts of the changing distributions of inflows to the southern Basin,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.

“The report reveals and clarifies some truths which was much needed, but there is still no avoiding the fact that the key issue is a lack of inflows, due both to the drought and the seemingly obtuse water allocation rules that continue to adversely impact on especially General Security entitlement holders in NSW.

“While some would like to think that there might be an easy solution to the significant challenges of water management in this country, unfortunately that is not the reality.

“The methodology of the review sought to understand the issues and then test them with agencies and others. Pleasingly, some of this seems to have happened.”

Ms Simson said several recommendations from the report spoke to the need for better availability of information, better accountability and better engagement. 

“These are improvements the NFF has previously called for and we therefore welcome them. However, they don’t solve all the problems. 

“Time and again, the NFF has demanded a serious commitment to resolving issues in the Basin. 

“As a priority, there must be immediate action taken to implement the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s five-year review.

“Specifically, real, effective, inclusive, collaboration and the implementation of the water sharing plans is required. Bona fide consultation on efficiency measures that engage the community and provide the promised solutions is imperative.” 

Ms Simson also called for the reform of the Basin Officials Committee to give the forum real ‘spine’ to take a lead role in introducing serious, and seriously overdue reform.

“Most critically though is that we are seemingly on the cusp of a third year of low or no General Security allocations in the Murray. 

“The rules of allocation seem to be ever changing, and perplexing. 

“Every effort, from all Basin stakeholders, must be made to ensure that fairness and equity is provided, and a particular focus is made to get water back in the hands of entitlement holders. 

“The fact is that there is more water in storages now than when previous allocations were zero for General Security, but still poor prospects of an allocation. 

“General Security water holders continue to be victims of varying allocation rules. These rules must be made clear and easily understandable whilst also ensuring that the property right of the water licence is respected,” Ms Simson said.

“The NFF and our members continue to work towards long-term water reform. However, drought, uncertainty, flawed water law and opaque activity by river managers is becoming increasingly less tolerable. 

“This latest report, one of more than 45 reports to date, can’t be left to collect dust like so many others. Minister Pitt has said the time for more reports is over and the time for implementation is here, we agree.

“Once the Sefton and Keogh reports are delivered the NFF believes we need to develop a summit to take test a range of views and prioritise areas for implementation and reform.

“Let us use this report as a catalyst to commit to real and immediate reform. We have the blueprints, now let’s set about the build,” Ms Simson said. 

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