Basin probe still needed

Minister renews call for wide ranging Murray Basin inquiry


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Victorian Water minister Lisa Neville has expressed concerns about the postponement of the next ministerial council meeting.

Victorian Water minister Lisa Neville spoke with Stock & Land about the postponement of the Ministerial Council meeting, inquiries into the Murray Darling Basin plan and the Connections project.

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Q: What effect will the postponement of the Ministerial Council of Water ministers have on finalising outstanding issues?

I’m a bit concerned about the delay as we don’t appear to have a Water Minister.

We’ve got the Prime Minister acting as minister, so I suppose it is difficult to have a meeting

But we would have preferred to have an early MinCo for a number of reasons. We’ve had an Ombudsman’s Report in New South Wales that’s indicated some serious issues, but also because I am very keen to have had an opportunity to have an outline of the Ernst and Young report, as to where they are up to, with their review.

There has been a lot of community concern around that.

I would be hoping we could have a meeting, before Christmas, because otherwise we are going to face South Australia potentially being in an election. At that point, it does start to materially affect us, if we don’t have one sooner rather than later.”

We are working towards pushing for a December date, for a MinCo, to at least ensure these issues aren’t falling off the agenda, because they are very critical issues for these communites.”

Q: There have been a number of inquiries into the Murray Darling Basin and the allegations, have there been to many ?

MINISTERS MEET: Lisa Neville, Victorian Water Minister, has renewed calls for a judicial inquiry, with wide ranging powers, into the Murray Darling basin. PHOTO: Andrew Miller.

MINISTERS MEET: Lisa Neville, Victorian Water Minister, has renewed calls for a judicial inquiry, with wide ranging powers, into the Murray Darling basin. PHOTO: Andrew Miller.

The Ernst and Young is specifically on the socio-economic work, in terms of the 450 gigalitres (GL environmental water) - it’s actually one of the really critical bits of work and we want to get that right.

I’ve met with them, because I remain concerned that it’s going to be too narrow a focus, in terms of the socio-economic impact. That report will go critically to the issue of the 450GL and whether any more productive water is taken out of the system.

I am still convinced we need to have a proper judicicial, or independent inquiry, looking at the role of the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), compliance across every state, and what actually happened as to how did the systems all break down.

Are there too many? My worry is they are not the right ones, so there’s a lot, but they are not the right ones and they won’t rebuild confidence amongst communities.

Q: What is the right one and who should carry it out?

It should be independent, whether its judicial, or a Royal Commission, really to make sure that it was not only looking at NSW but all states water compliance, it would (have to be able) to subpoena documents, so that we could get to the bottom of what happened, and was able to review the MDBA and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder  (CEWH) as well, to ensure their oversights are appropriate as well.

It should be independent, whether it's judicial, or a Royal Commission, really to make sure that it is not only looking at NSW but all states' water compliance. - Lisa Neville, Victorian Water Minister

Who, at the end of the day, is responsible for this system – that’s what the inquiry needs to get to, and how did it fail?

Q: There are still issues with Connections, what is happening with that?

Most of the individual issues we have been able to resolve, I get a regular update, on how those issues are going to be resolved. The big issue is still around the technology, and it’s only in Loddon, it’s not anywhere else. We are trying to get a resolution on that with Rubicon.

Q: Is it a technology or an an infrastructure issue?

This is the outstanding and one of the key priorities and I know (project director) Frank Fisseler is trying to work that through, with the company. 

I get a report every week, so it’s on the top of my list to find a solution, I can’t speak for Rubicon, but I would encourage them to move, as quickly as possible, to find a solution.

Q: Will Connections still be completed on time, and on budget?

Yes.  All the work that was done by Mike Walsh suggested it can be done, within that budget, and it will achieve the outcomes for both what we need to do for irrigators, and what we need to do, under the Murray Darling Basin plan. Nothing in that has changed. In fact, if anything we’ve been able to do more works for the money, in terms of Winter Works. We have over achieved, in terms of that, so while we are doing that, it gives me great confidence we can definitely do this, within the budget.”

Q: What is the reason behind the committee, set up to assist Goulburn Murray Water (GMW)? 

We have Connections rolling out, (but) what’s the future of this region ? All this money is going in, what’s going to be the cost of the infrastructure, the running costs, the cost of water in the future, how do we sell the region, how do we position this region for future investment?  GMW started a little bit of that work, but my view was we needed some additional expertise to come in to really look at those cost pressures.

I want to make this an affordable system, for the long term, that people want to invest in.  We know, if we get this right, modernisation can mean you’ve got water security and people can, and do, want to invest and it’s a growing region

That’s the work I have asked that committee to do, quite quickly. By January, I would hope to have something back – it’s about giving confidence to the community.”

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