New Murray-Darling Basin Authority chairman Craig Knowles has acknowledged the long-held belief that his appointment symbolised the end of the guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in its current form.

“I have very little ownership of the guide. If there’s anything useful in it to salvage, I’ll use it… But by and large, I think both symbolically and I would hope to think practically, the appointment of me as the new chairman is designed to send some messages into communities right around the basin and indeed right around the nation.”

This week shock jock Alan Jones spoke about the frustrations of farmers with the guide in its current plan and interviewed Knowles, where both slammed the current guide to the plan.

Knowles criticised former chairman MDBA Mike Taylor and the much-maligned community consultations, saying “you wouldn’t have wanted to see a big shemozzle if you tried”. Jones commented on the large number of rain and flooding throughout the Murray-Darling region and questioned why water buying was needed. “Some of it [the science the guide was based on] was against the backdrop of one of our most severe droughts in generation” noted Knowles, adding “but there will be another drought.”

“I don’t want to air too much dirty linen in public if necessary” Knowles told Jones, as both questioned the numbers of fish stock levels mentioned in the guide and other apparent issues with the science in the plan.

“My pathway ahead is going to have greater respect for localism,” said Knowles, as he noted the role of local communities in future discussions about the Murray-Darling Plan. “Of course you need good environmental management, but you need to do it in the context. It’s a healthy, working basin.”

It’s going to be a difficult balance for Knowles to negotiate the environmental and economic issues.

Meanwhile, head of the federal parliamentary group examining the Murray-Darling Basin plan, MP Tony Windsor, has called for calm, saying that misinformation is making regional communities hysterical.

“The message I’ve been trying to deliver to them particularly — we were in Griffith in New South Wales and people were actually frightened into believing that someone was going to come along and remove their livelihoods from them — that’s not possible, no-one has any intention of doing that”

Board member Dr Diana Day announced her resignation several weeks ago, after Knowles told board members that if they didn’t support his intentions, then they should leave. As the press release at the time read:

“Developing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a critical role undertaken by the Authority. As is well known, following my appointment I asked all Authority members to support the development of an effective Basin Plan in consultation with States, Territories and communities within the framework of the Water Act. I have appreciated Authority members considering my request. The remaining Authority members have committed to progressing further development of the Basin Plan to ensure a healthy working basin for the future.”

Day was one of only two women on the board. She was introduced by the Murray Darling Basin Authority as:

Dr Diana Day is a physical and social scientist with extensive academic, board and public administration experience. She has expertise in water and catchment management and futures, hydrology, water quality and erosion processes, cultural and environmental water issues, community participation in water planning, and agribusiness research strategies for natural resources sustainability.

A search is currently on for her replacement.

But is it back to square one for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?

UPDATE

Adelaide Advertiser has an interesting story today, discussing the CSIRO’s submission to the MDBA, which criticised the science used in the guide to the plan:

“…the CSIRO has highlighted a lack of rigour in the analysis leading to an overstatement of the environmental benefits of increased water flows and an underappreciation of the negative economic impacts of taking water from irrigators.

The critique is contained in correspondence from Ian Prosser, science director of the CSIRO’s Water for a Healthy Country Flagship, to MDBA chief executive Rob Freeman on December 17 last year.

It states: “There are a number of areas where our view is that what is documented in the guide either does not represent best available science, or does not represent appropriate application of best available science in the context of the Basin Plan and the wider context of the National Water Initiative.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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