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New MDBA boss says bias not an issue

Saturday, 24th January, 2015

Neil Andrew, the new chairman of the Murray Darling-Basin Commission Neil Andrew, the new chairman of the Murray Darling-Basin Commission

By Darrin Manuel

The appointment of a citrus grower from South Australia to lead the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has been met with caution by northern neighbours, but new chairman Neil Andrew says there will be no favouritism during his tenure.

Mr Andrew previously served the Liberal Party for over two decades as member for Wakefield (1983-2004) and as Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives (1998-2004).

He also worked in Waikerie as a horticulturalist and citrus grower, and served as a Grower Director on the board of Citrus Australia.

His new role with the MDBA begins next month with the departure of Craig Knowles, and will see him try to balance the environmental needs of the Basin against the demands of irrigators.

“I think it’s fair to say I’m a little apprehensive. It’s a huge responsibility but also a great opportunity to play a role in developing our most valuable and scarce resource,” he said.

Mr Andrew recently made headlines by stating that the Basin’s water was overcommitted and that tough decisions may have to be made in regards to water entitlements.

But he said the general prospect of water being returned to the Basin shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.

“I didn’t think that was all that newsworthy. It’s just what the Basin Plan obliges us all to face.

“But I don’t have a back pocket full of suggestions for new water restrictions... I’m still very much finding my way.

“And I think what Craig Knowles and the MDBA has done to date has been excellent, although not without controversy, but that’s just the nature of the resource.”

Mr Andrew’s appointment also caused some concern in NSW, with irrigators and environmentalists alike worrying that the body would look more favourably on the needs of those down south than the people of NSW.

NSW Irrigators Council chief executive Mark McKenzie and local Darling River activist Mark Hutton both fear that the direction of the MDBA may become too focused on SA.

However Mr Andrew said his life in politics had taught him the importance of taking a “national perspective”.

He vowed to be impartial and do all he could discourage any “parochialism” with the MDBA.

Further to that end, he said he has divested all his interests in citrus growing and has stepped down from his position on the Citrus Australia board.

“I want to be as unhindered as possible.”

Mr Andrew will officially take over as chairman on February 1, and he said he was eager to hear ideas on how to improve the Basin for everyone.

“I’m looking forward to spending as much as time as I can listening to the Basin communities and hearing their requests.

“Of course, I can’t promise they’ll all be met but I’m very keen to listen to what they’re saying.”

The new chairman also revealed a link to the Silver City - his mother and mother-in-law hail from Broken Hill.

“I won’t say I have a direct link, otherwise I’ll sound like one of those politicians who used to holiday in the country then say they know how dairy farms work,” he laughed.

“But we’ve passed through a few times. I’m certainly not unfamiliar with the place.”

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