Senate Estimates: Environment and Communications Legislation Committee (Murray-Darling Basin Authority)
Monday, February 24, 2014
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Chair. Dr Dickson, I would like to move on to some of the international work of the authority. I understand there are memorandums of understanding with Mekong River Commission and the Yellow River Conservancy Commission in China. When do those MOUs expire? What is the annual budget allocated to them?
Dr Dickson : I will have to get back to you on when they expire. We do not have any budget allocated to them in the annual budget. The work we do with the Yellow River Conservancy Commission is where we have been involved in either a conference there or a meeting over here, but I cannot remember the last occasion we might have done that. I can certainly provide you with the latest advice on that. On the Mekong River, we did host a delegation about this time last year that came to Australia to explore a lot of the way that we undertake water planning, particularly in an integrated basin. The budget for that was supplied by AusAID, so they were supported by the aid budget. We supplied our staff and organised the program for them. This is part of our general communications and engagement budget. We do not have an allocation on the activities. Beyond this couple of events, there is not any particular work program at the moment that has a budget tied to it.
Senator RHIANNON: So there is no exchange of personnel with the MRC anymore?
Dr Dickson : I think you are going back a fair way beyond my time, on the background to this. But no, we do not have an exchange program with them.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. The website says: 'The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is an integral element of the federal government program Water for the Future which has four priorities.' The first one of these listed is 'tackling climate change'. Could you outline what activities are undertaken to tackle climate change both in terms of a policy approach as well as practical measures?
Dr Dickson : The basis for the Basin Plan, which was to improve the resilience of the environment of the Basin, is effectively one of the strongest capabilities in responding to climate change. That statement goes back some time to what the overall rationale and conception of the Basin Plan was.
Senator RHIANNON: As it is listed as the first of the priorities, does that mean it is a top priority? Is that what you take from it when you read it on the website?
Dr Dickson : That is right. Those priorities were priorities of the government that introduced the program—the former government. That is a quote from their priorities, so it is not the basis on which we sit. That website explains the context in which the authority was established over that time and the broad program, which the department might want to talk about more broadly, and where we sit within that program.
Senator RHIANNON: That is on the authority's website under 'About MDBA'. That is where I picked that up from.
Dr Dickson : That is right. It is explaining the context in which we work.
Senator RHIANNON: I got the impression from what you were saying that it was the previous government. Are you saying that this is—my website has just died—more historical; it is not how it is now?
Dr Dickson : I am not saying anything about historical. All I am saying is that the creation of the authority and the context were within that overall program. It is not for me to say beyond that.
Senator RHIANNON: Did you want to comment, minister?
Senator Birmingham: I do not have in front of me the exact words that you used, Senator, but it struck me that you were reading from a part of the authority's website which did indeed say in a contextual way that the authority has a role as part of the Water for the Future plan. The Water for the Future plan has several priorities to it, or is aligned with several government priorities, one of which is addressing climate change—which remains a priority of this government.
Senator RHIANNON: But it was listed as the first priority on the key part of the website that you come to about the MDBA.
Senator Birmingham: From the way you read it, Senator, it did not sound as though it was listed as the first priority of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. I am quite confident that the first priority of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is not addressing climate change. It is an important contribution the authority makes through the implementation of and work on the Basin Plan.
Senator RHIANNON: I did clarify that. So you are saying it has not changed?
Senator Birmingham: Addressing climate change is absolutely a priority of this government.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Chair, I have finished my questions for this section.