The Basin Officials Committee (BOC) met in Mildura on 1 June 2022 on the country of the First People of the Millewa-Mallee (Latji Latji/Ngintait).
The meeting coincided with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) River reflections conference which provided an opportunity for BOC members and other state agency officials to meet with community stakeholders from the Sunraysia region and across the Basin. The meeting also coincided with the announcement of the Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP as the new Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Water. Minister Plibersek delivered a virtual address to open the conference.
Before the formal meeting, the BOC met with the Basin Community Committee (BCC) and members of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), with the BOC reporting back on work undertaken to improve the transparency of joint government decision-making over the past 12 months. Members of the BCC also shared their priorities, concerns and hopes for the future of the Basin over the coming period of Basin Plan implementation and reform. Key issues included Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) delivery and managing any shortfall, the impacts of climate change, and the importance of Basin governments leading collaboratively in partnership with community, industry and First Nations groups.
In the spirit of collaborative leadership, the BOC agreed to seek feedback from the Basin Community Committee on a proposed Joint Government Transparency Plan for improving the transparency of joint government decision-making in the management of the Murray-Darling Basin. Feedback from the BCC will be considered at a future BOC meeting.
The BOC welcomed an update from Mr Daryl Quinlivan AO on his development of a water market reform roadmap by June 2022. BOC members thanked Mr Quinlivan for leading a constructive process, including ongoing engagement with Basin states and stakeholders.
The BOC also received an update from Professor Michael Stewardson and Dr Sharon Davis on the OneBasin CRC, established to develop policy, technical and financial solutions to support and reduce the exposure of irrigation regions to climate, water and environmental threats in the Murray-Darling Basin. The One Basin CRC has been successful in obtaining a $50 million grant from the Australian Government and will leverage contributions from 85 government, industry and university partners. The BOC requested they be kept abreast of future developments.
The BOC noted continuing work on SDLAM program delivery, acknowledging the likelihood of a Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) shortfall due to risks associated with the program. Work is underway on possible options and pathways to mitigate and respond to any SDL shortfall. The BOC emphasised the need for shared and clear public messaging on SDLAM progress and risks. In addition, the BOC agreed to update the Ministerial Council on this work at its next meeting.
The BOC also endorsed elements of the New South Wales Locks 8 and 9 SDLAM project being progressed to the next stage of approvals. Replacement of these existing Joint Venture River Murray Operating assets with better and more flexible infrastructure will be put to Ministerial Council for approval under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.
The Victorian BOC member presented a paper on opportunities to support Traditional Owner access to water entitlements through the Off-Farm Efficiency Program and other current, planned or future water savings projects. BOC members agreed that opportunities to return water entitlements to Traditional Owners, including through water saving projects, warrant further consideration and discussion at a future BOC meeting.
The BOC also received updates from the MDBA on water resource availability, the development of the 2022-23 Joint Programs Annual Workplan and Budget, the Capacity and Delivery Shortfall Project and the Barmah-Millewa Feasibility Study.
BOC members discussed options for holding the next Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting.
The next meeting of the BOC is currently scheduled for July 2022.
About the BOC
The BOC has 6 members – one senior official from each Basin jurisdiction including the Australian Government – and provides advice to both the MDBA and the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council on matters including Basin Plan implementation and Basin water management policy. The BOC also makes high-level decisions on River Murray operations. BOC’s workplan is aligned to deliver the priorities that Basin water ministers agreed in November 2020:
- Support Basin communities through the Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package
- Implement the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, including delivery of supply and constraints, efficiency and toolkit measures
- Consider reform to the water market following the ACCC final report
- Address deliverability risks in the River Murray system