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Lakes report not meant for public

Friday, 12th October, 2018

By Craig Brealey

The assessment of the “business case” for the Menindee Lakes was not released to the public last year because it was part of an internal review, according to the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

But although it had now been published, the document was unusual, said Maryanne Slattery, Senior Water Researcher for the Australia Institute. 

The department commissioned Jacobs Engineering to conduct the assessment of the case that was presented by the NSW Government and Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).

This week the BDT received an 80-page copy of the report by Jacobs which found that “in general, the business case does not represent an organised, comprehensive, consistent or persuasive case for the project.”

The DAWR was presented with the Jacobs report in October last year but did not make it publicly available until 11 months later, after someone lodged a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Asked why it took such a request to have it released, a departmental spokesman replied that it was under no obligation to publish it.

“While the Jacobs review is now publicly available, it was originally part of the internal due diligence process undertaken by the Commonwealth and was not produced as a public assessment of the future Menindee Lakes management plan,” he said.

“The department commissioned Jacobs to review NSW’s preliminary business case for the Menindee Lakes project to inform its assessment for the SDL (Sustainable Diversion Limit) adjustment mechanism.”

This was done because the NSW Government was seeking Commonwealth funding for the reconfiguration of the lakes, the spokesman said.

He said NSW would now have to address the shortcomings identified by Jacobs.

“Potential Commonwealth funding for the development and implementation of the Menindee Lakes project will require the NSW Government to address issues identified in the department’s assessment,” the spokesman said.  

The department would not say who had lodged FOI. 

Ms Slattery, a former Director of Environmental Water Policy for the MDBA, said the Jacobs report, as published, was unusual because of the way sections of it had been hidden.

“My understanding is that with redactions they are usually blacked out but in this case they are all white,” Ms Slattery said.

“That makes it less obvious that there have been redactions.”

Since resigning from the MDBA in 2016, Ms Slattery has been writing reports about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for the Australia Institute, an independent  policy think-tank in Canberra.

Today Ms Slattery will address a public meeting at the Musicians’ Club at 6pm.

 

FREEDOM RULES

It is called Freedom of Information (FOI) but rules are on.

The BDT tried to find the Jacob’s Engineering report on the Department of Agriculture and Water’s website to compare it to the report we received this week.

It directs you to its “disclosure log” where it states that one document is available with “deletions”.

To look at it you must then “contact FOI Officer”. This involves filling out a form with your name and reasons for wanting to read the report.

That done, you submit it and wait for a reply.

The BDT lodged its request on Wednesday morning. As at 5.30pm yesterday, no reply.

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