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Progress Review of Living Murray Initiative.

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PW 244/08 2 December 2008 PROGRESS REVIEW OF LIVING MURRAY INITIATIVE The Murray-Darling Basin Authority will commission an independent review to verify water recovered under the Living Murray Initiative and its capacity to protect icon sites along the river. Announcing the Progress Review of the Living Murray Initiative today, the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, said it would be completed by March 2009. “In announcing this review, I am mindful of the existing measures to verify all water returned to the river under The Living Murray initiative, including the continuing work of the Independent Audit Group,” Senator Wong said. “However, in the transition to the new, independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority, I welcome the examination of existing safeguards in order to ensure public confidence in the process.” Senator Wong said that the review will cover: the transparency and efficiency of The Living Murray initiative; the integrity of environmental water entitlements recovered under the initiative; the appropriateness of the existing Living Murray Business Plan moving forward, particularly as it relates to new Murray-Darling Basin governance arrangements; opportunities to streamline the initiative - including independent auditing arrangements - in the context of new governance arrangements; opportunities to strengthen co-operation and collaboration on the use and management of environmental water with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and state-based environmental water managers; and opportunities to accelerate the delivery of environmental water to icon sites. Senator Wong said the main priority was to confirm the transparency and effectiveness of The Living Murray initiative in returning real water to the Murray. “Without question, the current drought and the effects of climate change have seriously curtailed the amount of water available for all uses, including for return to our stressed rivers and wetlands. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to note that some 547 billion litres of existing and proposed water recovery measures are now listed on the central register for the initiative.” In 2004, Murray-Darling Basin First Ministers agreed to return 500 billion litres in permanent water entitlements to the River Murray under The Living Murray by June 2009. Despite very dry conditions and only small allocations of water being available, good ecological outcomes were achieved through targeted environmental watering at localised sites during 2007-08 including wetlands in Gunbower Forest and Lindsay-Walpolla floodplains. “While existing auditing measures are rigorous, and recovered water is already being put to good use, it is timely to review progress against all Living Murray objectives, and to review arrangements as we move into a new era of reform,” Senator Wong said.