Government Must Release Murray-Darling Legal Advice

23 February 2019

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick has called on the Federal Government to make public the legal advice it has sought in response to the carefully considered view of the Murray-Darling Royal Commissioner that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is legally flawed.

"Royal Commissioner Bret Walker, a most eminent barrister and SC, laid out in detail in his report why he believes the Plan is unlawful. The basis of his claim is that the Plan was not based on the best available scientific knowledge and was done with total disregard for the principle of 'environmentally sustainable levels of take' and was therefore developed contrary to the requirements of the Commonwealth Water Act of 2007," said Rex.

"This finding must be properly addressed by the Federal Government. The Government cannot simply state that it has legal advice dismissing the Royal Commissioner's finding and then in the next breath state that they intend to keep that legal advice secret. They need to properly ground their claim and make their legal advice public, or have it treated by the public as a hollow claim."

"I respect the notion of Legal Professional Privilege that exists between a client and a lawyer, but in this case the client is the public and the invoices from the lawyer will be paid out of the public purse."

The Government has made the claim releasing the advice might prejudice the Commonwealth in some future hypothetical legal proceeding.

"If the Government has some legal 'knockout punch' why not put it out there so that costly proceedings are not initiated in the first place."

The Government's approach on this gives renewed force to the Royal Commissioner's claim of undue secrecy around the whole Murray Darling Basin Plan.

"This is not supposed to be cloak and dagger stuff," said Rex. "The Government must release its advice."

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