When it comes to problems with the management of the Murray-Darling Basin, Professor Graham Harris has seen it all before.
When he received a call from a former colleague to be a signatory for a declaration of change for the basin, he was initially reluctant.
“I didn’t want to step into the same river twice,” he said.
As founding chief of CSIRO Land and Water, Professor Harris was no stranger to water management issues along Australia’s most important and vital watercourse.
His boss then was Paul Wellings – a name familiar to all at the University of Wollongong – and his deputy (and successor in the job) was water scientist Professor John Williams.
Professor Williams, along with resource economist Professor Quentin Grafton, were the originators of the declaration.
“These problems with the Murray-Darling are nothing new, they tend to be precipitated by major droughts,” Professor Harris said.
“What we are looking at, at the moment, is the situation that goes back to the drought in the early years of millennium, and the response by the Federal Government, which lead to the national Water Act.”
The Murray-Darling Declaration, signed by an influential groups of 12 scientists and economists (including Professor Harris), was published on February 5.
It offers solutions to the crisis, but also calls for a freeze on funding for new irrigation projects until the outcomes of water recovery have been fully and independently audited.
The declaration also calls for the establishment of an independent, expert body to deliver the goals of the Water Act.
Following revelations by ABC Television’s Four Corners of possible fraud and criminal conduct around water allocations, Professor Harris says a review and audit is urgently needed.
“We are not saying abandon the plan, but let’s just stop what we are doing for the time being,” Professor Harris said.
“Let’s have a critical look at what’s happening and see if the policy settings are correct.”
Graham Harris is Honorary Professorial Fellow of Infrastructure and Environmental Systems in the SMART Infrastructure Facility.
He will be talking about the declaration this Tuesday, February 13, as part of the SMART Seminar Series being held at SMART, Building 6, room 105 at 10am