South Australia’s Commissioner for the River Murray
A healthy, living and sustainable River Murray is vital to the future of South Australia. Long described as our lifeblood, the Murray is key to the social, economic and environmental well-being of the State and to the people, the communities, industries and the natural habitats and species that rely on it.
Despite flooding across the Murray-Darling Basin in 2022-23, long-term issues still need to be permanently addressed – such as the over-allocation of water, barriers to environmental flows getting into floodplains and wetlands and almost continual dredging of the Murray Mouth.
As part of its March 2022 election commitments, the South Australian Government promised to appoint an eminent jurist as Commissioner for the River Murray. On 23 August 2022 Mr Richard Beasley SC commenced in this role.
Mr Beasley is an experienced and highly-regarded barrister, selected by his peers for inclusion as one of The Best Lawyers in Australia in the fields of Government Practice and Planning and Environmental Law.
He has assisted numerous Royal Commissions and Public Inquiries as Senior Counsel, including the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission in 2018-2019 and the Inquiry into the Ruby Princess.
In addition to his extensive legal career, Mr Beasley is a noted author of five fiction novels. He also authored the non-fiction work Dead in the Water – a very angry book about our greatest environmental catastrophe … the death of the Murray-Darling Basin. This book has been described as provocative and a personal battle cry to save the Murray.
As Commissioner, Mr Beasley will:
- Advocate for the health of the Murray, the Lower Lakes and the Coorong. This may include engaging with media, key stakeholders, jurisdictional ministers and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority Board.
- Assist in securing the delivery of the final 450 gigalitres of water recovery required to achieve an Environmentally Sustainable Level of Take as proposed by the Water Act 2007 and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
- Assist the South Australian Government in improving the transparency of information provided about the management of the Murray and the communication of River Murray-related outcomes, directions and issues.
- Provide strategic advice to the South Australian Government on matters relating to the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
Reports delivered by the Commissioner
In November 2022, Mr Beasley provided an interim report summarising his activities to date, providing insights from his engagement with stakeholders and reporting on: the importance of recovering the final 450 gigalitres to Basin Plan outcomes; criticisms regarding the 605 gigalitre offset to the Basin Plan sustainable diversion limits (SDLs); and the importance of incorporating climate change projections into future Basin Plan modelling.
In May 2023, Mr Beasley provided a summary of the key arguments and reasons in favour of recovering the Basin Plan’s final 450 gigalitres of water for the environment, particularly in the southern basin. This includes the important contribution that the 450 gigalitres makes to the environmentally sustainable level of take, obligations under international law, and why the reasons commonly proffered against pursuing this water recovery are false.
Under the Water Act 2007 (Cth), the Productivity Commission is required to undertake an inquiry into the effectiveness of the implementation of the Basin Plan and water resource plans every five years. In July 2023, Mr Beasley provided a submission to the Productivity Commission in response to its key inquiry questions.
In September 2023, Mr Beasley provided a submission to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee about the Water Amendment (Restoring our Rivers) Bill 2023. The Bill was introduced into the federal House of Representatives in September 2023 following an Agreement reached between the Australian Government and the Governments of South Australia, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and Queensland to amend critical Basin Plan implementation deadlines.
On 15 September 2023, the South Australian Government published its response to the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission Report which was prepared in consultation with the Commissioner for the River Murray. This response outlines the South Australian Government’s expectations and requirements for full delivery of the Basin Plan.
Later in 2023, Mr Beasley will provide his annual report for 2022-23 that describes the health of the River Murray in South Australia, achievements from the reporting period, key priorities for the coming period and key activities undertaken.
The Department for Environment and Water is supporting Mr Beasley in this part-time role.
Mr Beasley’s contract can be viewed here
Any enquiries for Mr Beasley relevant to the Commissioner’s role can be directed to DEW.RiverMurrayCommissioner@sa.gov.au