Australia is at risk of becoming a laughing stock in water management unless there is greater accountability around how we utilise this precious resource.
This is the only conclusion that can be made from an independent Ernst & Young report which had been kept under wraps until just before Christmas.
It was also the focus of an Australia Institute paper titled ‘Coorongs Don’t Make A Right’, amid concerns about “unique fraud risks” in the delivery of environmental water.
Speak Up Campaign spokesperson Doug Fehring said the release of the Ernst & Young report, as well as the Australia Institute paper, should be ringing alarm bells at the highest level of government.
‘‘We have a $13 billion Basin Plan which is riddled with flaws; the more evidence that is compiled through its implementation, the more we learn about its inconsistencies and inadequacies,’’ Mr Fehring said.
‘‘Our concern is that the political risk to governments of admitting they have another ‘pink batts’ on their hands is too great, so the issues are ignored.’’
Mr Fehring added these latest revelations indicate that water which was supposed to be sent to the Coorong as environmental flows has been held back to keep the Lower Lakes at a prime recreation height.
Additionally, in 2015-16 the South Australian Government deferred its entitlements replacing them with environmental water, but failed to deliver this water to the Coorong.
It has also failed to use its desalination plant to provide Adelaide with water, instead using Murray River flows, despite these coming at substantial cost to communities further upstream.
“While water is keeping the Lower Lakes at optimum level for boating, it is not being used to help the environment, and at the same time is significantly impacting the amount of water available for food production, especially in areas like the NSW Murray and northern Victoria.
‘‘This is reducing the amount of food available for Australian consumption, as well as what we can export to starving people throughout the world. Should we really be putting recreation for a minority above growing food and protecting the environment?
‘‘There should also be huge concern about the lack of transparency and accountability in water management, which is an issue that Speak Up has raised continuously for three years.
‘‘Why were reports which questioned the South Australian use of water not made public? Why were they not available for the vital meeting of Water Ministers in December, or other inquiries including a Royal Commission?
‘‘How much more damaging information is being withheld from the public, probably to protect politicians and bureaucracies?’’ Mr Fehring asked.
He said someone needs to step up and admit there are dire faults with the Basin Plan, and suggested the lead should be taken by Federal Water Minister David Littleproud, though he added ‘‘I doubt this will happen’’.
‘‘We need real, practical solutions that protect our environment and communities. From day one the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has refused to acknowledge shortcomings in the Basin Plan.
‘‘No-one is accountable, yet at the same time we are destroying rural livelihoods and communities. And what for? Just so a few South Australian boaters can enjoy their recreation.
‘‘It is time for a comprehensive review of the Coorong and Lower Lakes to make them part of the Basin Plan, and part of the solution that protects everyone across the basin, not an elite few.’’