Rob Freeman, CEO of the MDBA, has appeared before the Senate Estimates Committee. He was asked a series of questions, including why the MDBA is only now releasing the scientific report that underpins the recommended cuts to water entitlements of between 3000 and 4000 GLs.
This delay is unforgivable – the MDBA has been working on these issues for ages and has in fact delayed the release of the Draft Plan, which had been promised mid-year. I am completely baffled about the reasons for a Guide, as well as the Draft Plan and the Plan. All sounds quite Orwellian – the Guide to the Draft of the Plan.
And why would modelling be included in the Guide that the Chairman describes as seriously underestimating the financial and employment impact of the cuts? This does not inspire confidence in the rest of the report.
Freeman was forced to admit to the Senators that the prime consideration driving the proposals for the water cuts is the environmental health of the basin. (This is after all what the legislation directs.) In addition, the figure of 3000 GLs was seen as the barest minimum and therefore not subject to negotiation. He does make the concession that if ‘works and measures’ can be identified – environmental infrastructure that can replace additional environmental water flows – this may reduce the required cuts to water entitlements, but this would need to be assessed on catchment by catchment basis.
But if the 3000 is essentially non-negotiable, why bother to commission additional work on the economic and social impact of those proposed cuts if the cuts are locked in. If these studies point to considerable economic losses and grave social impacts, so what?
I understand that the MDBA has commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed Plan (to be undertaken by CIE) but again why bother if nothing hangs on the outcome? It will also be an extraordinarily difficult exercise which will require lots of assumptions about the value of environmental benefits associated with the recovery of water.
And where does the findings of the Parliamentary Inquiry fit into this process? Does the MDBA take them into account? This would seem unlikely given the expected timing of the release of the Draft Plan.
All up, a complete mess.