The Murray-Darling Basin Plan: from the past into the future

A panel session to inform and engage the South Australian community, including the Premier and other speakers

The Hawke Centre logo

Wednesday 14 March 2012, Allan Scott Auditorium

Podcast available here
  (MP3) 40Mb (or right click and select 'save target as' to download)

Panel Chair: Professor Chris Daniels, Director: Barbara Hardy Institute, University of South Australia - an ecology specialist, author and broadcaster well known for his 'citizen science' commitment.

Feedback, comments, photos and stories may be posted at:

Comments from the Panel on what MUST be included in the Plan:

  • Awareness of historical, environmental and cultural heritage
  • Good indicators of the ecology system and how much water to attain
  • Healthy river system based on science
  • Equitable contributions
  • Compliance key outcomes of Water Act
  • Security for water licences
  • Position of Aboriginal people

and what must NOT happen:

  • Over-emphasis on Northern Basin
  • Omit climate change
  • No further burden
  • Plan that locks in future failure
  • Remove water


This forum will bring together a panel of experts representing a range of interests - irrigator, environment and government - to discuss the critical issues surrounding the draft Basin Plan and to engage the community in furthering the development of a State position.

Draft Basin Plan with explanatory notes - pdf format:

Panel members:

Event Program:

Short presentations will be made as indicated below.

  • Historical underpinnings of the Murray Darling Basin debate
    Presented by Dr Susan Marsden
  • Ecology of the Murray Darling Basin - what are the elements of a healthy river system and how are these related to the draft Basin Plan? 
    Presented by Dr Tony Minns
  • Building a State position on the Basin Plan
    The State Government and Opposition present their views
  • Stakeholder comments 
    Presented by Professor Diane Bell, Mr Ben Haslett and Associate Professor Daryle Rigney

Matters informing the discussion:

We strongly suggest reading the proposed Basin Plan prior to the event on 14 March.

The past drought painted a very clear picture of the fragility of the Murray Darling Basin and the need for a national approach to managing the Basin based on sound science. The Basin Plan is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-set the rules of the River in a way that builds resilience and ensures the long-term health of the entire river system.

Being at the end of the Basin, South Australia suffers the worst impacts of the over-allocation and diversions that occur upstream and is most deeply aware of the many threats posed by an ailing system.

While South Australia may be the State with the most at stake with regard to the Plan, it could be argued that it is also the State that has to work hardest to be heard amongst the larger economies of NSW and Victoria, which are distant from the concentration of impacts that occur at the end of the system and driven by the strength of their irrigators.

Even within South Australia there are a range of interests connected to the Basin Plan, but general agreement that even diverse interests can find enough common ground to support a united position that gets the best deal for the State.

But, what are the issues that the State must grapple with in forming this position and what are the compromises that are worth making? Is the draft Basin Plan that has been released for consultation better than no plan?

There are some big issues at play surrounding the draft Basin Plan:

  • Is accepting a less than optimal starting point in favour of updates over time, an acceptable strategy?
  • Will the environmental objectives of the Water Act - to protect, restore and ensure resilience of the Basin's water dependent eco-systems - be met through this Plan?
  • Is it a problem that climate change has not been included in the modelling behind the draft Plan?
  • What are the issues surrounding the constraints in the system that are preventing additional environmental flows and can these be addressed earlier than 2015?
  • How much water does the River actually need to remain healthy? Is 2750GL enough?

Speaker biographies:

Dr Susan Marsden is a professional historian who works throughout Australia on commissioned histories, heritage studies and oral histories. She has written and co-authored over 40 publications, including Heritage of the River Murray. Recent work includes: the website SA 175/Celebrating SA; and books, Vintage MelbourneBusiness, charity and sentiment Part two: the South Australian Housing Trust, 1987-2011; and My home in Onkaparinga. She is a former SA State Historian and a National Conservation Manager in Canberra. She is a member of the State Records Council and of SA Heritage Council's Register Committee. She interviews eminent Australians for the National Library and is writing several new books, including her own, titled The Proclamation.

Dr Tony Minns is Director of the Goyder Institute for Water Research. The Goyder Institute for Water Research was established in 2010 to support the security and management of South Australia's water supply and contribute to water reform in Australia. The Institute brings together South Australia's leading universities and CSIRO, into a single, comprehensive $50M, 5-year research program aimed at providing expert, independent scientific advice that informs good policy decision-making, identifies future threats to water security and assists in an integrated approach to water management.
After graduating from the South Australian Institute of Technology in 1982, Tony moved abroad to pursue a career in water at IHE-Delft (Netherlands); the University of Idaho (USA); Delft Hydraulics (Netherlands) and Deltares (Netherlands) before returning to Adelaide and the Goyder Institute in 2011.

Hon Jay Weatherill MP - Premier of South Australia and Minister for State Development
Jay Weatherill is South Australia's 45th Premier. Jay was born and educated in Adelaide's western suburbs, completing his secondary education at Henley High School. He is a lawyer with an economics degree, establishing his own law firm in 1995 and practicing until he was elected as the Member for Cheltenham in 2002. Jay was subsequently re-elected as Member for Cheltenham in 2006 and in 2010. He has previously held a range of senior Cabinet portfolios including Education, Early Childhood Development, Environment and Conservation, Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Minister Assisting the Premier in Cabinet Business and Public Sector Management, Families and Communities, Housing, Ageing, Disability, Urban Development and Planning, Administrative Services, Local Government and Gambling.

Mitch Williams MP - Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Water Security River Murray Energy Mineral Resources
Growing up on a family farm in the lower South East, Mitch was educated locally before attending Adelaide University, beginning to study engineering and economics.  Three years working with Telecom (now Telstra) preceded his return to farming in the mid 1970's.  During the 1980's he became involved in local Government serving as a councillor from 1981 to 1989 and Chairman of the former Beachport Council from 1985 to 1989. He served as an elected landholder member of the South East Water Conservation and Drainage Board during 1996 and 1997.  Water politics encouraged him to run at the 1997 State election where he won the South East seat of MacKillop. His parliamentary work has included service on standing and select committees.  Since April 2004 Mitch has served in the Opposition's Shadow Cabinet in various portfolio areas. On the 6th of April 2010 Mitch was elected Deputy Leader of the Opposition and he currently holds the position Shadow Minister for Water, River Murray, Energy and Mineral Resources.

Professor Diane Bell, author, anthropologist, river advocate, ran as an Independent in the 2008 Mayo by-election and continues to campaign for environmental justice through her work with various groups, currently as Chair of the Water ESC at the Conservation Counsel SA. Diane is Professor Emerita of Anthropology, George Washington University USA; Writer and Editor in Residence, Flinders University; Visiting Professor, Adelaide University. Diane has published some 10 books and numerous articles. Her next book will offer an anthropological analysis of the 'Water Tribe'.

Associate Professor Daryle Rigney is Ngarrindjeri and an Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies/Education. For many years he has worked with Ngarrindjeri leaders and the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority Inc to develop relations between Indigenous nations internationally on matters of mutual interest, including cultural and scholarly exchange. Daryle is Co-Chair of the United League of Indigenous Nations (ULIN) and Chair of Ngarrindjeri Enterprises Pty Ltd.

Daryle is a citizen of the Ngarrindjeri Nation, the first peoples of the lower Murray River, Lakes, Coorong and southern Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia.