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Draft plan good starting point says MDBA chai -

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Draft plan good starting point says MDBA chairman

Alexandra Kirk reported this story on Monday, November 28, 2011 08:03:00

TONY EASTLEY: The man whose job it is to oversee the passage of the contentious Murray-Darling
Basin Plan is the former New South Wales Labor minister Craig Knowles.

The chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority stresses the draft plan is just "a starting
point" and Mr Knowles doesn't expect the final mechanism to be in place and underway until towards
the end of next year.

Mr Knowles says the most vulnerable communities will have years to adjust to the water cuts.

Craig Knowles is speaking here to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.

CRAIG KNOWLES: What we're doing is starting something, starting a seven year process where we can
measure and adapt and change the numbers if necessary. I think we have got a good starting point,
one which I think if people do take the time to look at the information, there is a fair bit in
there for them to take hold of and take ownership of.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Will the draft plan mark II guarantee a healthy Murray-Darling river system?

CRAIG KNOWLES: Well, I believe it will certainly dramatically improve the health of the basin. We
are comfortable that we have a sound starting point, a robust science base to start an adaptive
management process.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Even though it is much less than the water that was proposed to be saved for the
environment a year ago?

CRAIG KNOWLES: And based on the modelling that we have sufficient to deliver a large number of
environmental outcomes within the constraints of the system. We talk about in our plan over the
seven years to 2019 the need to have a look at a lot of those constraints and rules to see what
improvements can be made to ensure that we can continue to do better.

Adaptive management of a river system is about constantly learning by doing things, constantly
monitoring and evaluating what it is you are doing to continue to get more improvement in the
management of the system not just for the environment but of course, for production as well.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The last time round the release of the draft plan provoked a white-hot response
from irrigators. Do you expect a repeat of that?

CRAIG KNOWLES: Well, I do expect people to have their positions and they'll assert them vigorously.
That is a healthy democracy.

Everyone pulling in a different direction is nothing more than a tug-of-war that gets us exactly
nowhere and the people who lose are the people in the basin, the people of Australia who want a
healthy working basin and of course, the environment that needs to underpin that to nurture the
well-being of the communities and the economies that produce so much for Australia's wealth.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Irrigators Council says your plan will cost thousands of jobs and destroy
communities - do you accept there will be dire consequences?

CRAIG KNOWLES: I think there will be changes as a result of change. The truth is impacts on
communities and towns and indeed the basin as a whole will be entirely dependent on how the
remaining volumes of water still to be acquired through to 2019 are actually acquired.

The authority believes that they should be the focus of real attention by the government response
to this plan, not just the Commonwealth government but the state and territory governments as well.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So how much do you think the Commonwealth and the states will have to stump up in
the form of say a rescue package to help the affected regions adjust?

CRAIG KNOWLES: Well, I think we need to formally wait for the Commonwealth's response but let's be
clear, there has been a very large amount of money made available now for some years and is being
targeted, $10 billion in a range of programs from the Commonwealth alone and we saw the benefit of
that infrastructure spend just recently down in northern Victoria where a billion dollars has gone
into that area as the second stage of a project that will revitalise those big irrigation districts
and make them fit for purpose for years to come.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: You think that $10 billion is enough?

CRAIG KNOWLES: Well, I think it should be more than adequate frankly because of what's left to do.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The plan is to phase in the water cuts over seven years but if the environment
needs an extra 1500 gigalitres a year to recharge the stressed Murray-Darling river system, why not
do it now, straight away?

CRAIG KNOWLES: I think you have to take rivers through adaptive change. Managing the water that you
have is really more important than the actual number. I stress our numbers are a starting point to
allow communities and anyone else to be a participant in the management of the system going forward
and that, I think, is a critical component of our plan.

TONY EASTLEY: The chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Craig Knowles, speaking there to
Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.