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Estimates: Environment and Communications Legislation Committee (Murray-Darling Basin Authority)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 23 Feb 2015

Senator RHIANNON: I wanted to clarify some of the processes associated with the Living Murray and the Water for Rivers projects as supply measures. I understand that the Living Murray projects were already completed and operational, and that their environmental objectives were set prior to the Basin Plan. So I was wondering, how is it claimed that the environmental outcomes of these projects-the ones set prior to the Basin Plan-are additional. I am trying to understand how they are additional to the 2,750 gigalitres environmental base line.

Dr Dickson : In the finalising of the Basin Plan, as part of the settlement of the details of the SDL adjustment process-which includes the aim to get the offsets as well as the additional water and the work on the constraints: the three elements of the adjustment process-the Living Murray projects were removed from the modelling that was done for the Basin Plan. The water that was recovered under the Living Murray, which was 500 gigalitres, was included in the previous estimates so that the 2,750 gigalitres built on top of that water. But, to enable to the adjustment mechanism to work, you really needed to have those works projects set outside the Basin Plan. So two things happened; one was that a new model called the benchmark model was developed, which has taken those projects out to enable them to be evaluated with the adjustment mechanism.

Senator RHIANNON: I am still trying to understand this.

Dr Dickson : It is a bit complex.

Senator RHIANNON: Could we bring the baseline diversion units into it, because I understand that the Living Murray projects are considered in the baselines for the Basin Plan. So how can they be considered potential supply measures?

Dr Dickson : There are two parts to the Living Murray. One is the water, which is 500 gigalitres that was recovered; the other is the whole series of environmental works such as Koondrook-Perricoota works, Chowilla works and Gunbower works. There are two different parts. The water, which is the 500 gigalitres, was included as part of the baseline recovery. So that did happen before the Basin Plan and is counted as happening before the Basin Plan. The projects or the environmental works, which are the ones being considered as potential supply measures, were taken out of the modelling. A new modelling run was done, and that is creating the benchmark to assess those projects.

Senator RHIANNON: So is it correct that the River Murray Increased Flows have not been delivered to date. That is correct, isn't it?

Dr Dickson : Yes. You asked that question last time, I recall.

Senator RHIANNON: So nobody is trying to pull it all together. How can the long overdue delivery be considered a supply measure?

Dr Dickson : I do not think that I have seen a proposal for the River Murray Increased Flows, which is the specific flow related to the Snowy Hydro. If they were to be a supply measure, they would be operating in a different manner than the current rules have dictated. So that would make them a supply measure. To be a supply measure, the rules would have to change to manage the water in a different way.

Senator RHIANNON: I will probably come back to that one. I also want to cover some of the issues to do with public scrutiny of the environmental outcomes of those proposed supply measures. I understand that they are to be assessed from 2015 onwards under this equivalence test. From what I can see, the only formal requirement for public consultation on the SDL adjustment mechanism is when you publish a draft determination of the amount of the proposed adjustment. From what I can see, that is not until the end of June 2016. Is the first time that the public can engage after the fact?

Dr Dickson : The states are responsible for developing the supply measures, and the states are responsible for doing the consultation with the public, which I understand they have done to quite some degree. So they consult with their local communities on the proposals that they are putting forward for assessment.

Senator RHIANNON: In terms of my question about the overall assessment using the equivalence test, the public scrutiny, from what I understood, is set out but it is after the fact; it does not kick in until 30 June 2016. Irrespective of what the states are doing, I am interested in how it works for you.

Dr Dickson : The MDBA's responsibility is to do the assessment using that method. We published that method on our website last year and we have also provided information material to people on it, so the test is there for public scrutiny. It has also had a lot of review by an independent scientific group who have reviewed the method. So the method that we use and our trial implementation of it has been reviewed not broadly by the public but by those experts who are best able to assess its robustness.

Senator RHIANNON: Will the environmental trade-offs resulting from the proposed supply measures be made public?

Dr Dickson : The assessment method itself identifies what the trade-offs are and what the limits of change are. That is all in the method and also in the method in the basin plan.

Senator RHIANNON: I am not sure if that was a yes or a no. I think it is important for this to be understood-about how the public can engage. If it was a yes, how and when will the public be consulted?

Dr Dickson : As I said, the method itself is available publicly, and we have also made that available to a range of peak representative groups. It is on the website for anyone to query or ask questions about. The projects themselves are the responsibility of the states, and that is their responsibility for consultation. Again, under the plan our key responsibility is in doing the assessments at the time we get all the proposals agreed to by the states. At that point we will be making a determination and having consultation with the public on that.

Senator RHIANNON: You said the method is available publicly on the website and that you can take queries on that. On the website do you actually invite people to give feedback, and do you then engage with that feedback? Or do people have to take their own initiative to do that?

Dr Dickson : The method as set out in the plan was in the plan itself; the process for the method was set out quite clearly. With the equivalence test you mentioned, the requirement is for that to be science based and independently reviewed, which it has been. It is put on the website for information. In terms of a test, we believe that the scientific rigour and the independence of the review are sufficient. We are very happy, as we always are, to have any discussions with the public on the nature of the method.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it correct that there will be no public consultation on the proposed supply measures prior to 30 June 2016?

Dr Dickson : As I said, it is the responsibility of the states to do the consultation on the projects.

Senator RHIANNON: So it is correct; therefore, the MDBA does not-

Dr Dickson : No, we are not responsible for the projects. We are responsible for their assessment.

Senator RHIANNON: If you are not responsible-

Senator Birmingham: Hang on a second, Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: I have got one more question.

Dr Dickson : Sorry, Senator, we were just confirming that what I said was correct.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. My final question is: is the MDBA proactively working to enhance public confidence in the rigour and outcomes of the environmental equivalence test?

Dr Dickson : Sorry, was that: are we undertaking any public activities?

Senator RHIANNON: Are you undertaking anything to enhance public confidence?

Dr Dickson : Yes. As I said, we have a long process in developing a science based method, which we had a CSIRO consortium do. We consulted throughout that period with basin states so the states were comfortable with the rigour of the method. We have had it reviewed by an independent review panel, twice, with a couple of stages there. We are currently completing a trial of the implementation of the method, with some examples of supply measures, to see if it works. When that is completed, and the final scientific review is done, we will release that publicly. We are doing it every step along the way to ensure confidence in the method.

Senator RHIANNON: Right. But are you saying that, in terms of the actual engagement with the public, whether it is the general public, community groups, environment groups or any types of users, it is all up to the states?

Dr Dickson : We have been having consultations, as I said, with a range of groups, including environmental groups, to bring them up to speed with the method, so that they can be confident in it, as well as engaging with different scientific groups outside the independent review panel to make sure they are comfortable with the method and that it is robust.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.


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