The final report from the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin confirms the failures of the Basin Plan, its implementation, and institutional oversight.
The Royal Commission’s findings reinforce advice by Environmental Justice Australia and other Environment Defenders Offices in 2010 that the method for establishing sustainable levels of water diversions under the Plan was unlawful.
But the report also offers hope that with the framework for reform outlined by the Commissioner, the Basin Plan can be effective in sustainably and responsibly managing water for both industry and the environment.
Bruce Lindsay, Lawyer for Environmental Justice Australia said, “If we are to fix the ecological crisis in the Murray Darling River system, law and governance reform within the Basin Plan are critical.”
“With improved governance, good faith, conscientious attention to legal standards, and targeted legislative interventions, the Basin Plan can sustainably manage water in the Murray Darling and return life to the river system.”
The Commission’s findings and recommendations also recommend a stronger legal platform for the role of Aboriginal people in managing Basin water resources – a move that has long been called for by the Murray and Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and Environmental Justice Australia.
This would include amendment of the Water Act to ensure higher standards of recognition for Traditional Owners and protection of Aboriginal rights in water – aligning with international practices.
“The Commission has acknowledged the crucial role Traditional Owners have in management and restoration of the Basin. This now needs to be reflected in greater authority and status for Aboriginal organisations in Basin governance. When that is achieved we will know that a real paradigm shift in governance has occurred,” said Bruce Lindsay.