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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.


Jason has 30 years of experience in working at the intersection of research, policy and practice in environmental planning and natural resources management.

He has coordinated national research programs on vegetation policy and delivered numerous consulting projects including a collaborative policy development and planning project on climate adaptation for National Capital region; reviewing the Australian Water Partnership for DFAT, developing an irrigation RD&E strategy for Tasmania, and scoping opportunities for energy and water optimisation for the NSW Farmers Association.

Jason has completed over 120 research and consulting projects. These include coordinating and evaluating national R&D programs. His work developing a strategic plan for RD&E in Tasmania was nominated by the OECD as “a public sector innovation of international significance” due to its use of participatory engagement methods. Jason has published widely and many of his reports, papers and presentations can be found at Jason is an expert at facilitating multi stakeholder strategic planning processes.

Through participatory facilitation methods he builds shared understandings and consensus that enable successful ownership and adoption of project findings. Jason has delivered many multi-stakeholder strategic planning projects.

Jason Alexandra

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OECD recognises innovation

Stakeholder Engagement for Inclusive Water GovernanceOur work has been recognised by the OECD as an outstanding example of public sector innovation to provide practical advice to countries on how to make innovations work.

Jason Alexandra advised the Tasmanian Government on participatory fore-sighting for irrigation R&D planning. The project identified industry and community water needs and developed a strategy that would support the expansion of irrigation while improving economic and social benefits from water resource utilisation and supporting a wider socioeconomic policy agenda.

Jason AlexandraRead more on the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation website.



Irrigation in Azerbaijan

Spray irrigatorAzerbaijan is keen to support cotton producers to expand the industry—there is an aspiration for a ten-fold increase in cotton production. Improved irrigation water management, appropriate water policy settings and sound returns on investments, are central to modern cotton production and therefore to meeting this national goal.

We undertook water resource analysis for the project, considering water resources, irrigation infrastructure, water policy settings and cotton production.

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