SA joins NSW in funding cuts to MDBA

SA joins NSW in funding cuts to MDBA

14.01.2013 - Posted by Kane Travis
The South Australian government recently cut $14.3 million in funding from 2014/15 for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which represents a 50% cut in the state's joint-funding contribution. The cut follows a similar move by the NSW government in June 2012 to cut $20 million from this year's contribution and a further $3 million cut next year, which equates overall to a 73% cut overall from NSW.

It seems likely the other Basin states will follow suit, as they may feel their contribution is subsidising NSW and SA. If this happens, the joint program budget could be reduced to about $27 million by 2014-15, down from this year's allocation of $110 million.

To put this in some perspective, NSW has a budget revenue of around $68 billion. The 2012-13 NSW budget overview documents the state's commitment of $941 million to duplication of the Pacific Highway (a further $1.5 billion will be invested as the NSW Government's contribution to complete the duplication by 2016), $472 million towards key regional highways, $248 million to increase capacity and improve travel times on roads in Sydney, and $30 million to plan for a future Sydney Motorway network. That’s around a whopping $3.2 billion on roads.

The Basin Plan is the most significant piece of water reform in Australia for the past century. It is designed to protect our rivers, wetlands and estuaries, and preserve their environmental value for the future. Personally I find it hard to put a value on that. If the other states follow suit, the level of funding will be insufficient to cover even basic river operations, resulting in limited funding available for any natural resource management programs in the Basin. Already we have seen the termination of the Sustainable Rivers Audit and the Native Fish Strategy as a result of the NSW cuts.

The finalisation of the Basin Plan has been an amazing hurdle to get over and we have been proud to have been closely involved in supporting the MDBA in the science of the Basin Plan. The production of the Basin Plan has cost millions of dollars and engaged with hundreds of thousands of people across the country. It has been a massive investment of time and funds to date. I am not suggesting NSW (and other states) don’t need to spend billions on roads, but I find it very hard to wrap my head around the decision to pull $23 million from a program that has come so far and has the potential to do so much for the health of our environment.

I don’t claim to understand the State Government mechanisms and the political environments that sit behind State budgets, but I think if we let this slip now, we have lost the opportunity to leverage all the hard work that got the Basin Plan over the line.