Governing the Murray Darling Basin

Understanding the value of enterprise modeling is best achieved through practical examples.

Here is an approach to applying enterprise modeling and governance thinking to an important national challenge in Australia – the Murray Darling Basin, a significant river system upon which a significant segment of our nation is dependent for positive economic, social and environmental outcomes.

What is apparent to me and I assume to some but not to others is:

  1. The Murray Darling basin is a significant area of economic, social and environmental activity in the life of our nation. I don’t have the statistics at hand, but it does contribute a recognisable amount to our GDP and it does support a significant population. It is a significant environmental asset. These figures have been quoted and are readily available.
  2. There are other significant communities beyond the bounds of the basin that rely on the continued viable operation of this river system. Typically this is a reliance on water supplies.
  3. If the communities that exist within this geographical area and those outside the area continue to behave as they currently are (and have for the last x decades), it is evident that the river system will collapse and all the communities will suffer. Hence, change is mandatory – there is no choice.
  4. There are many communities who are unwilling to make the currently proposed changes. They claim that the proposed changes will impact on them economically and socially, and reject the changes on this basis. Yet, if no change occurs then all will suffer economically and socially. So, the choices are between no change (unacceptable), insufficient change (unacceptable), some change (necessary but not yet acceptable). It appears that there is insufficient recognition of the degree of change needed, especially when that change impacts local communities – yet the local communities will be impacted even more by no change or insufficient change.
  5. It is in this context, that we need new thinking models to enable appropriate decisions to be made, lest we make no decision and all suffer the consequences.

One thinking model which might help to approach the problem from a different angle, entails the following:

  1. The Murrary Darling Basin is a signficant national asset
  2. The MDB needs to be more appropriately “governed” – the current model of partnership between State Governments is clearly not working – it is evidence of failed governance.
  3. A new governance arrangement would benefit from taking a “portfolio management” approach to this valuable national asset. That is, to manage the asset in a way which generates the greatest value to the asset owners, operators and those that rely on this asset. Portfolio management simply applies the governance concept to the defined resources involved in the portfolio.
  4. A little known fact (as I understand it) is that our national Constitution which creates a Federation of states (and territories) is designed in such a way that it makes it very difficult to reduce or remove any states. (This comes from thinking and reviewing our three levels of government, and asking whether we could remove the second level – the answer is that it is virtually impossible to do). However, it is designed in a way that makes it relatively easy to add more states.
  5. What if Australia was to create the new Murray Darling State? This state would have a geographical boundary that aligns with the Basin perimeter ie the primary area that is the source for the river system, and the communities that are within this boundary. The new state would involve excising these areas from Qld, NSW, Vic and SA. I imagine that ACT would remain a separate territory.
  6. Under these new arrangements, the Murray Darling State would establish a Parliament and Government to attend to the long-term sustainability of the state, and all those within the state who are dependent socially, economically and environmentally on the viable operation of the state and one of its most valuable assets.
  7. The MDS would have full rights to manage its assets, and would establish appropriate contracts with other states for the provision of products and services. Normal state trading arrangements would be established and operate.
  8. States reliant on products and services from MDS would need to adjust their thinking and their behaviour as a result of becoming a customer of the MDS and negotiate in good faith, consistent with the Constitution. Disputes would be referred to the High Court.
  9. MDS would have representation in the national Parliament, consistent with its composition and place in the nation, based on the normal rules for representation – population based for House of Reps and standard numbers for Senate. Future decisions might well still require an Authority which brings the States and the Australian Government together to make appropriate joint decisions.

This, to me, offers a new thinking model (and even perhaps a new operational model if it were decided to be implemented). It allows the problem to be tackled in a more holistic fashion, using conventional decision making tools and instruments. It allows the nation to come at this problem in a different manner, without all parties coming from the position of “everybody else needs to change but I won’t because it will be the death of me”.

Even if not implemented, I believe the thinking model allows for a different approach to the problem – and I would hope a more successful one in making the necessary decisions.

I am interested in comments on either of:

  1. the merits of this as an alternate approach to a major national problem
  2. the merits of finding alternative thinking models to intractable problems facing our Boards

One thought on “Governing the Murray Darling Basin

  1. Wendy Campbell July 13, 2012 / 1:06 pm

    I was amazed to read this suggestion, when the previous owners of our land worked exactly as you propose, using the river systems as the boundaries between self-governing territories!

    So your suggestion, then, is a most excellent one and perfectly suited to the land that is Australia:-)

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