Former MP set for MDBA role

17 Jan, 2015 03:50 PM
Former South Australian federal Liberal MP Neil Andrew when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2000.
Next time we go into a big drought things will be more resilient, and resilience will last longer
Former South Australian federal Liberal MP Neil Andrew when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2000.

FORMER Liberal MP Neil Andrew is set to be named the new head of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) according to speculation, with an announcement imminent on incumbent chair Craig Knowles’ replacement.

Late last year Mr Knowles advised the government he wouldn’t seek an extension to his four-year term as MDBA chair when his tenure expired on January 31.

Government and industry sources say Mr Andrew’s appointment was due to be made public near the end of the year, but a formal announcement was delayed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s ministry reshuffle in December.

Changes to the Coalition cabinet saw NSW Liberal MP Bob Baldwin appointed the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Minister, replacing South Australian Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham. This position holds responsibility for water in the Coalition’s streamlined ministry after the new government abolished water as a portfolio post-election in September 2013.

Senator Birmingham is believed to have recommended Mr Andrew’s appointment as the new MDBA chair before the changeover.

Mr Andrew declined to comment to Fairfax Agricultural Media, saying he wasn’t in a position to confirm or deny any final decision on his appointment, and had been overseas on holiday for the past few weeks.

It’s understood several key water policy stakeholders are aware of Mr Andrew’s appointment but are also remaining tight-lipped ahead of a formal announcement. Mr Baldwin also declined an interview request this week.

Mr Andrew represented the SA seat of Wakefield in federal parliament from March 1983 to October 2004 and is 70 years old. He was a horticulturalist before entering federal politics and appointed Speaker of the House of Representatives after the October 1998 election.

Mr Andrew currently has an interest as a citrus grower in the SA Riverland region, according to his LinkedIn profile, and also remains engaged in high-level agricultural work while maintaining links to key government and industry stakeholders.

In December 2013, Mr Andrew released a report detailing the benefits of Australia’s work in international agricultural aid programs, written by a taskforce he chaired for the Crawford Fund.

Mr Knowles became MDBA chair in early 2011, replacing Mike Taylor, when water reform controversy dominated national headlines over the flawed formation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Mr Taylor resigned shortly after the MDBA released its guide to a draft Basin Plan in October 2010, which proposed 3000 to 4000 gigalitres in sustainable diversion limits (SDLs). That initial proposal suffered enormous backlash at community consultation meetings throughout the Basin amid fears irrigation water for farm production would be stripped to meet expanding environmental demands.

However, former NSW Labor Minister Mr Knowles was praised for overseeing implementation of a final Basin Plan that passed parliament with bipartisan support under the previous Labor federal government, and gained general stakeholder approval for a more balanced and realistic SDL target of 2750GL in late 2012.

Last November Mr Knowles indicated he wanted to spend time working with his replacement, prior to handing over the reins at the end of this month. However, Mr Knowles said then he didn’t know who would replace him, stressing it was a decision for the Environment Minister to make, “in good time”.

Mr Knowles said he would continue working on his personal commercial and charitable interests after his MDBA stint concluded and would “happily keep an eye on the world of water”.

“I thank everyone for the opportunity and privilege to serve in a job for four years that I’ve enjoyed every minute of,” he said.

Mr Knowles said he would also leave behind a landscape for the MDBA and the Basin Plan that’s “fundamentally better than the landscape I inherited”.

“I think in the world of water, like many other worlds, there’s nothing wrong with leaving with people wanting a bit more, which is probably the right time to go,” he said.

“But I’m very satisfied that the next time we go into a big drought or severe conditions things will be more resilient and that resilience will last longer.

“Can we prevent droughts and floods and all the challenges that nature throws at us? No, of course we can’t.

“But the insurance policies we take out, like the Basin Plan, will stand us in good stead, I would think, for generations to come and I’m very comfortable in that,” Mr Knowles said.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


18/01/2015 7:00:57 AM

"I find your lack of faith disturbing" - Darth Vader Sorry Darth. Yes the MDBA has this one in the bag.
angry australian
19/01/2015 7:01:31 AM

Just another political appointment to an organisation that arguably should not exist. When are our governments going to rid us of these expensive retirement homes for ex pollies? The MDBA,along with the EPBC Act, must rank as one of Howard's worst disasters. When do we say it hasn't worked and scrap it? We have spent $ billions on trying to get the management right in the MDBA, and all it has turned into has been a gravy train for ex pollies, researchers and bureaucrats. Are the communities along both rivers better off with this monster, the answer would have to be a resounding NO!
Bim Joyd
19/01/2015 12:31:47 PM

If you grow up in SA the driest state and you live on the bottom end of your only decent river, you are going to have a prejudice. From the time you are in short pants you are told that those awful people in Queensland, NSW, and Victoria take all OUR water. You are never told of the environmental disaster of the Barrages and the wicked waste of fresh water by way of evaporation from the Lower Lakes. Will Neil Andrew be any different?


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Why do they forget the small producers they are the backbone of the industry. What. Did this
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Good these guys will be able to help the farmers they are treating like second class peasants.
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Lets' hope Troy Grant doesn't Delforce's website or it will be yet another NSW