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Knowles named MDBA chair

Craig KnowlesNEWLY appointed MDBA chairman Craig Knowles has not ruled out throwing out the controversial Guide to the Murray Darling Basin plan.

“I have the great luxury of being new to the job so I don’t have a big sense of ownership of the guide – if there’s any good stuff in it we’ll keep it,” Knowles said.

Mr Knowles planned to act swiftly to end the anxiety and uncertainty he said was hurting rural communities, and will hit the road from Monday to talk to residents.

“I intend to approach this in a bipartisan way. I’ll leave the politics aside and just get on with it as long as people are listened to and respected you can go a long way.”

He also said he “wanted to make it clear from day one that there is more than enough room in the Act to focus on a balance between social, economic and environmental outcomes”.

But installing former Mr Knowles to head the beleagured MDBA won’t address fundamental flaws in the Water Act that need to be fixed for meaningful reform to occur, according to the NSW Irrigators Council.

Council chief executive Andrew Gregson said Mr Knowles, who resigned from Parliament in 2005, faced an impossible task.

“He’s a bloke who knows the industry, knows the people, knows the issues, and, importantly, he was minister at the time the National Water Initiative was negotiated so he should understand what we are seeking in a true triple bottom line,” Mr Gregson told The Land.

Chief executive of the National Irrigators Council, Danny O’Brien, welcomed the announcement and urged Mr Knowles to do everything he could to deliver a triple bottom line outcome.

“One of Mr Knowles’ first jobs should be to scrap the Guide and commit to a new round of genuine engagement with Basin communities to get the Plan right,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Mr Knowles has an opportunity to help craft a Plan that provides the balance that all are seeking and we hope that he will understand that the MDBA can only provide part of the solution.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation also welcomed Mr Knowles, saying he was a good choice for the job.

The ACF’s healthy rivers campaigner, Arlene Harriss-Buchan, said the Authority needed to model benefits and not just costs of restoring the river system.

“In its next draft of the Basin Plan, we urge the Authority to examine scenarios from across the range of 3,000 to 7,600 billion litres of additional water for the Basin.”

Initial reaction to the announcement on Twitter was mixed.

The NSW Irrigators Council labelled him the “right man in the wrong job”, while SA Senator Simon Birmingham commented “former NSW Labor Minister Craig Knowles is new MDBA chair – Labor mate of Burke’s who couldn’t run hospitals now in charge of Murray-Darling”.

Former chairman Mike Taylor resigned in early December after facing a torrid time in Basin communities following the release of the guide to the Murray Darling Basin plan that foreshadowed dramatic cuts of up to 37 per cent for irrigators.

“As demonstrated by the resignation of Mike Taylor, the Water Act as it stands won’t allow for equal treatment of environmental, social and economic outcomes,” Mr Gregson said.

Mr Gregson said Mr Taylor quit after realising the MDBA could not deliver a triple bottom line outcome.

Mr Knowles’ political career was damaged over issues in relation to hospitals when he was Health Minister although he was cleared by a subsequent ICAC inquiry.

NSW Natural Resources Minister from 2003 to 2005, Mr Knowles has worked as a political consultant and lobbyist since quitting parliament.

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