PM remains firm on Murray-Darling

Lauren Wilson From: The Australian December 09, 2010 12:00AM

JULIA Gillard has declared the Water Act does not need revisiting, amid calls from Coalition ranks to consider amending the legislation.

A day after outgoing Murray-Darling Basin Authority chairman Michael Taylor announced his resignation, declaring that it would be a “significant challenge” to balance the requirements of the Water Act with the social and economic effect of water cutbacks on communities, the Prime Minister said there was “no need to reform” the legislation.

Ms Gillard said it was an independent authority, “but the Water Act enables the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to produce a draft plan for consultation and then a plan for the minister”.

She said the Water Act legislated under former water minister Malcolm Turnbull was designed to optimise a healthy river system, food production and viable regional communities.
Opposition water spokesman Barnaby Joyce has called for the legal advice relied on by Mr Taylor to be released and the ambiguities of the Water Act explored by NSW independent Tony Windsor’s inquiry into the social and economic impacts of the basin plan.

Senator Joyce said failing to do so would leave a final basin plan open to High Court challenge. “It is absolutely untenable for the minister to continue to disagree with a respected senior public servant who has been working on the basin plan for 18 months,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the MDBA yesterday said it was unlikely the authority would release the subsequent legal advice sought by Mr Taylor at any point in the future.

Mr Windsor yesterday said the parliamentary inquiry would not be expanding its terms of reference to investigate the interpretations of the Water Act.

After the MDBA released its controversial guide to the Murray-Darling Basin plan in October, which recommended cuts to water allocations of between 27 to 37 per cent, Water Minister Tony Burke sought legal advice from the Australian Government Solicitor.

Mr Burke told parliament the legal advice declared the environment should not take precedence over the needs of communities.

But Mr Taylor said on Tuesday he received additional legal advice from the AGS.

“The authority has sought, and obtained, further confirmation that it cannot compromise the minimum level of water required to restore the system’s environment on social or economic grounds,” Mr Taylor said in his statement of resignation.

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