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Confronting a 'post-truth water world' in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia

R. Quentin Grafton
Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University; quentin.grafton@anu.edu.au

Matthew J. Colloff
Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University; matthew.colloff@anu.edu.au

Virginia Marshall
School of Regulation and Global Governance and Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University; virginia.marshall@anu.edu.au

John Williams
Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University; jwil3940@bigpond.net.au

ABSTRACT: Several independent findings about the current state of the environment and water management in the Murray-Darling Basin were released in early 2019 by the South Australia Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission, the Australian Productivity Commission, and the Australian Academy of Science. We review these findings in relation to: an environmentally sustainable level of water diversions, as mandated in the Australian Water Act 2007; Sovereign Indigenous water rights and interests; the economics of water recovery to increase stream and river flows; and water governance. After reviewing the independent findings and the responses by government agencies, we propose the following actions to respond to post-truth: (1) instituting greater transparency in measurements of water use, consumption, storage and return flows and also of water values (market and non-market); (2) using deliberative democracy, engaging in more effective and inclusive participation in decision-making in terms of water planning and allocations, especially of those who have been long excluded such as the First Peoples of Australia; and (3) giving primacy to the environmental goals of the Water Act 2007 and supporting this through the establishment of an independent standing commission which reports to the Australian parliament and has audit and oversight powers in relation to land, water and the environment.

KEYWORDS: Scientific integrity, deliberative democracy, regulatory capture, Indigenous water rights, Murray-Darling Basin, Australia