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Is Australia just draining taxpayer money in the Murray-Darling Basin?

A case for improved transparency for Basin reforms

Tony Webster

Infrastructure projects in the Murray-Darling Basin have raised concerns over how taxpayer money is being spent, Tony Webster writes.

The government has announced some recent reviews into aspects of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) reforms but has not yet provided a substantive response to the recent Four CornersCash Splash’ report, which highlighted some problems with the flagship of the Commonwealth’s water recovery programs in the MDB.

Its key message was that around $4 billion of taxpayer money has so far been spent on irrigation infrastructure upgrades, but that these funds underpinned an expansion in irrigation for mostly private gain.

To the casual observer, this might seem an unlikely outcome for a program with an environmental objective. Yet poor transparency around the infrastructure program and a lack of water accounting make it difficult to independently conclude differently.

Experience

Tony is Managing Director of Policy Partners Pty Ltd.

He specialises in public policy and economics, impact analysis, complex reform frameworks, policy and program evaluation, and policy advising capabilities in public sector agencies. He also conducts professional development training in policy advising, policy writing and the management of policy projects.

Previously, Tony was a Commonwealth public servant for 24 years, principally as an economist and policy adviser in the Commonwealth Treasury. He was also Chief Economist at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, where he played a key role in the Basin Plan being adopted in 2012, by redefining the socioeconomic evaluation framework to acknowledge the agricultural impacts of reform and adopting a participatory approach to the management of stakeholders.

Tony brings a broad experience to bear on complex economic and policy issues. His expertise covers diverse subjects such as revenue and expenditure aspects of Commonwealth budgeting, federal finances, competition policy, financial and performance frameworks, regulatory economics, taxation design, comparative economics and information systems. In 2008, Tony designed the current federal financial relations framework, including the system of financial transfers to and through the States and the associated performance framework, and he led the financial and budgetary aspects of the wider COAG Reforms.

Tony provides management consulting services to public sector and not-for-profit organisations. He is also Non Executive Director and Treasurer of the Molonglo Catchment Group, an NRM not for profit business operating in the wider ACT region, where he has been reforming business planning, governance systems and business processes.

Tony Webster

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