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Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Australia's report to the UNCSD - 1995

Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1995
ISBN 0 6444 3152 0

Case Study - The Murray-Darling Basin Initiative

A case study of an integrated approach to the planning and management of natural resources

Significance of the Murray-Darling Basin and degradation issues

The Murray-Darling Basin comprises about one-seventh of Australia's land mass and crosses four State boundaries (South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland) and includes the Australian Capital Territory. The Murray-Darling Basin's river system drains a region some 1450km long and 1000km wide. The Darling River is the longest in Australia stretching 2740km. The Murray River is over 2500km in length. The Basin produces about one half of Australia's total output from its natural resource- based industries, valued at some A$10.6 billion annually. It holds three-quarters of the nation's irrigated farmland which produces 90% of the nation's irrigated food crop. In addition to agricultural industries, the Basin supplies sixteen cities with water and has around 140 conservation areas, internationally significant wetlands and is rich in Aboriginal cultural heritage sites.

Since European settlement, human activities have resulted in the degradation of many of the Basin's resources. Many parts of the Basin are now suffering from problems such as soil erosion, dryland and irrigation salinity, water pollution, rising water tables and the loss of native flora and fauna. Due to an improved understanding of the inter-relationships between soil, water and vegetation, it is recognised that no part of the Basin can be managed in isolation and that natural resource management problems are often too large-scale or complex to be tackled by a single government.

History of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission

After forty years of negotiation, legislation was passed creating the River Murray Commission in 1915. This Commission established a cooperative framework for sharing the waters of the River Murray between New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. It also provided for the construction and ongoing operation of the necessary works for water storage and distribution to the States. These arrangements were based on using the skills and resources available in the States to construct and operate the works under the strategic direction of the River Murray Commission.

In 1985, the role of this Commission was broadened to include all natural resource issues in the Basin, and the Commission became known as the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. The change reflected the acknowledgement that water issues cannot be successfully managed in isolation from land use and other environmental matters. The Commission continues to provide the strategic framework for coordinating the efforts of governments across the Basin.

The Murray-Darling Basin Initiative

The Murray-Darling Basin Initiative was established in 1985 jointly by the Federal Government, the Governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia and the community as a cooperative intergovernmental approach to addressing land, water and environmental management issues in the Murray- Darling Basin. The Queensland Government joined the Initiative in 1992. The Initiative has a legislative basis through the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, which forms a Schedule to the Murray-Darling Basin Act 1993. Since the launch of the Initiative, member governments have put in place an institutional framework for improved resource management, including a Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and a Community Advisory Committee. The Ministerial Council, comprised of relevant Ministers from each participating Government, has responsibility for providing strategic policy direction for the Initiative. The Murray- Darling Basin Commission has responsibility for developing and implementing Council initiatives. The Community Advisory Committee enables community participation in natural resource management issues in the Basin. It includes representatives from catchment groups, local government and industry organisations and provides Ministers with community views on Basin issues.

Responsibilities of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission

The Commission develops and advises on policies, measures and programs relating to the waters of the River Murray and to the natural resources of the Basin; coordinates the construction, maintenance and operation of the dams, weirs and other structures for which the Commission is responsible; arranges distribution of the River Murray waters to the States; administers and oversights programs under the Natural Resources Management Strategy and the Salinity and Drainage Strategy; publicises the Basin as a significant national resource; and encourages and provides mechanisms for community involvement in natural resource management in the Basin. The Commission works with State and Commonwealth Government agencies and with community groups to coordinate and accelerate efforts in land, water and environmental management within the Basin. Priority is given to issues where cooperative action between Basin governments and the community is required, or where actions in one State may affect other parts of the Basin. Such issues include algal blooms in the rivers of the Basin, management of the irrigation sector, off-site effects of land management practices, wetland management, and management of the River Murray flood plain.


The Murray-Darling Basin Initiative has had many achievements. For example, it has developed the Natural Resources Management Strategy which supports community groups to take responsibility for coordinating natural resource management action within their regions. It has developed a comprehensive and innovative Salinity and Drainage Strategy which provides the framework for coordinated management of River Murray salinity, land salinisation and waterlogging in the Murray-Darling Basin. The Initiative has also developed an Algal Management Strategy, instigated community education programs, carried out groundwater and salinity modelling and developed the Barmah-Millewa Forest Water Management Plan. The Initiative's effectiveness depends on the cooperation and support of agencies of the participating governments and the Basin community. Decisions are based on the needs of the Basin as a whole.

For further information contact:

Murray-Darling Basin Commission
GPO Box 409
Ph (06) 279 0100
Fax (06) 248 8053