Will The Murray-darling Basin Plan Have Legs Or Teeth?

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7th October 2010, 02:21pm - Views: 945

Media Release

Thursday 7 October 2010


ABN 58 993 801 382

Level 27, Chifley Tower, 2 Chifley Square  Sydney  NSW  2000  AUSTRALIA

Will the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have legs or teeth?

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan might notmake it through Parliament, and even if it does it

may prove legally unenforceable or constitutionally invalid,Australia’s foremost expert in

water lawhas warned.

JenniMattila says, ‘Tomorrow’s releaseof the much-anticipated guide to the Murray-Darling

Basin Plan will fuel the ongoing debate between agricultural and environmental interest

groups, but the key issue is whether a Basin Plan will have any effect at all.’

The publication of the guide at 4pm tomorrow will foreshadow how the Murray-Darling

Basin Authority proposes to balance environmental and socio-economic objectives to create a

sustainable future for the food bowl of Australia when it releases its final Basin Plan next


‘Whether the final Basin Plan favours the environmental welfare of the rivers or the social

and financial welfare of the rural communities that rely on the rivers, enabling legislation will

have to be passed by both houses of Parliament. And that’s not a foregone conclusion.’

Even if the Basin Plan legislation were enacted, it would prove a major test of federal-state

relations. ‘How would the Federal Government enforce such a plan against a stategovernment

concerned about political popularityamongst its rural electorates?’

There is also a potential constitutional issue, Ms Mattila says. ‘The states may refuse to

implement the detail of the Plan if they believe it goes beyond the ambit of power they

referred to the Commonwealth. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that some states must

impose the reductions before others – and given the history of the buyback process, there is

genuine concern that one or more of the states may renege.’

Even if the federal and state governments reach consensus, it’s conceivable that farmers,

mining companies and other water-licenceholders may challenge a state government’s

implementation of the Basin Plan in their catchment area. ‘There are many requirements

under administrative law that impose obligations upon state governments to act reasonably

Misc Miscellaneous Mattila Lawyers 2 image

when making decisions – they do not have carte blanche. We’ve acted for several clients in

similar cases over the past 7 years.’

‘ManyAustralians may think the Plan will decide the fate of the Murray-Darling Basin. But

we’re still a long way from that.’

Media contact: Tim Haydon, phone 0422 532 531.

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