'IF it ain’t broke, don't fix it’: SA Senator Simon Birmingham should mark these words.
The work of ensuring the sustainable future of Australia’s major river system has been years in the making.
Plans started under former Prime Minister John Howard and after a lot of stuttering and finally cemented by the Gillard government, are now being turned on their head by the same man who once (in opposition) championed the cause of the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP).
Senator Birmingham’s announcement earlier this week that water-saving infrastructure would allow a reduction of buybacks by 200 billion litres has left many river communities gobsmacked.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Minister says the government is “reprioritising”.
In plain-speak this means funds will be spread over six years – rather than four – while $2.3b is spent on infrastructure, requiring only $458 million to be spent on buybacks above previously contracted purchases.
The federal government reasons that it can achieve 1300 gigalitres of buybacks (200gL less than the 1500gL cap) for the environment, of the 2750gL originally set under the MDBP, with the remaining savings coming from infrastructure investment and efficiencies.
The 2014-15 federal budget has confirmed the closure of the National Water Commission at the end of this year, saving the government about $20m.
While Senator Birmingham obviously believes everything will just fall together without the NWC, others are less confident.
And if he really believes “it makes no difference to the delivery of the basin plan...we will ensure every single drop required is delivered on time in 2019”, why is he moving the furniture around?
NWC chairwoman Karlene Maywald says the commission will deliver on its remaining work program commitments during the next six months, presenting a comprehensive view of progress of National Water Initiative implementation, including subsequent COAG reforms “and make recommendations on actions that governments should take to better achieve national water reform objectives and outcomes”.
Senator Birmingham continues to blame the former Labor government for wasting $1.5b on water-saving infrastructure projects.
But if his also fail – with drastically reduced commitments to the MDBP – what is broke will never be fixed.