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Scientists walk away from Murray Darling Plan -

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The Wentworth Group scientists have pulled out of discussions on plans for the Murray Darling


LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Late last year, the Gillard Government shelved plans for big cuts to water
users to save the Murray-Darling Basin Authority after a furious wave of protests from farmers and
rural communities. The Government directed the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to bring out a new
plan, this time taking greater account of social and economic impacts. It also appointed a new
person to head the process, former Labor minister Craig Knowles.

Now it's the environmentalists, not the farmers who are crying foul, and scientists from the
Wentworth Group have walked away from discussions. Paul Lockyer reports.

PAUL LOCKYER, REPORTER: The floodwaters from summer downpours are finally bringing relief all the
way down the Murray to the severely degraded areas around the river mouth in South Australia. But
it has done nothing to quell the debate over a new water sharing plan for the Murray-Darling Basin.

Now it's the scientists who feel aggrieved, fearing that the environment will be the big loser in
the long run.

TIM STUBBS, THE WENTWORTH GROUP: The Wentworth Group has worked tirelessly inside the tent. It's
raised these concerns. These concerns were not taken on board. I guess the Wentworth Group feels
there is no other option than to make these concerns public.

PAUL LOCKYER: Environmental engineer Tim Stubbs and others with the Wentworth Group of Concerned
Scientists have walked away from discussions about the new water sharing plan because they believe
the environment will be denied the water it needs.

TIM STUBBS: Now our concern is around this sudden change in the numbers that we're seeing. So,
we've seen proposed numbers that the volume will be reduced by over 1,000 gigalitres and that
number has been produced in less than four months.

CRAIG KNOWLES, CHAIRMAN, MURRAY-DARLING BASIN AUTHORITY: I think they may have thrown a punch too
early, but that's OK because I really do respect the fact that everyone in this game wants to
advocate their position.

PAUL LOCKYER: Craig Knowles, as the chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, has the job of
bringing the water sharing plane together.

CRAIG KNOWLES: I'm yet to land on any numbers. I'm yet to conclude my processes. Science is
important, but so are other things. This is not just about a science exercise for a whole lot of
academics and scientists. It's actually about real lives, real people, real economies.

PAUL LOCKYER: Craig Knowles is a former New South Wales Labor government minister, brought in as a
Mr Fix It after the first attempts at a water sharing plan went horribly wrong late last year.

Then it was the farmers who were up in arms, claiming that they would be driven out of business by
a huge redistribution of water to the environment.

PAUL LOCKYER: Matt Linagre, who spoke for the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, witnessed the deepening
anxiety and anger in the region. Now he represents the National Farmers Federation in Canberra.

MATT LINAGRE, NATIONAL FARMERS FEDERATION: It was shock firstly, anger and discontent secondly. I
mean, they could not believe that they were seeing a forerunner to public policy which essentially
said, you know, "Your communities and your industries will be decimated, will be damaged by this
particular piece of public policy."

PAUL LOCKYER: The Federal Government stepped in, directing that the water sharing plan be revised
to take more account of the economic and social impacts. The move was welcomed in the bush, as was
the appointment of Craig Knowles to manage the process.

CRAIG KNOWLES: I think the guide created an image last year that there would be a great big cut all
on one day and to devil with towns and communities and the productive capacity of the Basin. My
plan is going to be far more thoughtful than that.

MATT LINAGRE: Are we confident that that will recommend something that's more balanced than what we
saw in the guide? I think the chances are pretty good.

PAUL LOCKYER: But some scientists believe that plan will come at a great cost to the environment.
The Wentworth Group supported the original water sharing plan, which called for cuts to water users
are up to 4,000 gigalitres, about eight Sydney harbours, the water to go to the environment.

TIM STUBBS: I've been led to understand that the number the authority is looking at now is 2,800
gigalitres to be returned to the system.

CRAIG KNOWLES: If it was just as easy to say, "Let's pour 4,000 gigalitres down the river and
everything'll be right," they don't need me in the job. They probably need the chief scientist of
Australia. But I think Australia has said, that communities in the Basin have said this is more
than just a science exercise. This is about people, their lives, their hopes, their futures.

PAUL LOCKYER: Before the Murray-Darling Basin Authority releases its plan for public comment,
another important part of the jigsaw must come together.

TONY WINDSOR, INDEPENDENT MP: I think if we want to get somewhere with this debate, I think it's
important that everybody tries to paddle in the same direction rather than create political
differences where the whole thing could fracture and turn to dust.

PAUL LOCKYER: Tony Windsor, the federal independent MP, is chairing a parliamentary committee which
will release its water sharing plan for the Murray-Darling Basin next month.

TONY WINDSOR: It may need a little bit of compromise from a number of people who take up the
extreme ends of each debate. But we wanna get somewhere. We've been 100 years trying to wrestle
with this monster. If we wanna get somewhere with it, I think there's gotta be a little bit of give
and take in the procedural sense, rather than everybody going back to their corners and start the
fight again.

PAUL LOCKYER: There's little doubt that the political impetus has shifted towards the landholders
and the communities in the Murray-Darling Basin. They'll still face cuts, but there's still a huge
amount of money on the table for the Federal Government to contribute to water saving schemes and
purchase licences. But the Wentworth scientists will now question how much will really be gained.

TIM STUBBS: Worst-case scenario is that in five or six years' time when we have another drought
we'll be in the same situation as we are now, we'll be seeing the same impacts as we have seen in
the recent drought. We will have spent $10 billion. We'll have a hell of a lot more irrigation
infrastructure that we have to support and pay for. I don't think it's a good outcome for anyone.

LEIGH SALES: Paul Lockyer with that report.