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A change of course

Thursday, 31st March, 2011

MAKING PLANS: Murray-Darling Basin Authority chairman Craig Knowles in the city yesterday. MAKING PLANS: Murray-Darling Basin Authority chairman Craig Knowles in the city yesterday.

by Gina Wilson

The Guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan may be dead in the water but it's full steam ahead for a draft plan that will draw on local knowledge.

The chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), which is in charge of restructuring how we use the Basin's precious resources, said he hoped to have a draft plan available by the middle of the year.

Visiting Broken Hill and Menindee yesterday, Craig Knowles said he wanted the public to see the document as soon as possible.

"The work I'm doing is the preparation of a draft plan which will hopefully be available in public form by about the middle of the year," he said.

Controversy has surrounded the guide to the proposed plan since its release last year.

It caused anger in many irrigation towns that said not enough emphasis had been put on the socio-economic impacts of returning as much as 37 per cent of the water to the river.

A Parliamentary Inquiry followed as did an extended study of the same impacts by the MDBA.

In December, the MDBA's former chairman, Mike Taylor, quit saying there could be no compromise on environmental flows.

But with his appointment, and a new approach to dealing with communities, Mr Knowles said a basin plan had new hope.

"I think symbolically a new chairman suggests a fresh approach."

The former NSW Government Minister said making a plan work would require balancing the many aspects of the Basin.

"My job is to make sure the work I do incorporates the communities the best I can and try to strike a balance recognising that the environment, social and economic considerations are all part of the same story," Mr Knowles said.

"I think that's what Australians would expect of this sort of work and that's where we're heading."

The key to success was to allow communities to feel ownership of the plan, something that was missing before, he said.

"I'm a great believer in localism. I think local communities usually have a lot of the answers if people just take the time to ask them and that's what I am doing ... in the end you get the best solutions when it's not my plan but it's our plan," Mr Knowles said.

"Because in the end when people like me are dead and gone the work we do has to be lasting and the best way of making lasting plans is to allow people to own them so that when things get implemented they stay implemented."

He said recognising the complexities of the Basin was the way forward.

"We have to recognise the Murray-Darling Basin is about a healthy, working Basin that's home to hundreds of thousands of people, the supplier of lots and lots of jobs, and a great contributor to our national wealth," Mr Knowles said.

"And it's in that context that I think everyone wants a healthy environment to keep that going.

"Communities have a vested interest and a lot of history and knowledge in how to keep landscapes healthy so there's always something for tomorrow."

In the end, Mr Knowles said, his plan for the future of the Basin would be nutted out town by town.

"It's fine grained, it's horses for courses. There's no one magic solution here. It's dealing with people on their turf in ways they want to have their say and that's the way I choose to approach it."

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