Alarming Murray-Darling Water Theft findings require action

September 11, 2017

Australian Conservatives MLC Robert Brokenshire said today that he is appalled at the findings of the interim report into the theft of water from the Murray Darling Basin.

The ABC reported earlier today that New South Wales' water compliance and enforcement "have been ineffectual and require significant and urgent improvement."

Mr Brokenshire has called for not only the toughest penalties to be meted out to those responsible but also an urgent audit of each state’s legislation.

“Allegations of misconduct along with allegations of water theft and corruption by either bureaucrats or irrigators from any point along the Murray-Darling Basin is simply unacceptable,” Mr Brokenshire said.

“This report is confronting and the Australian Conservatives are calling for the strongest punishments to be imposed on those responsible for undermining the Murray Darling Basin Plan. A strong message must be sent to each state and to irrigators along the river system that compliance to the terms of the Basin Plan must be adhered to.”

“I call on the Murray Darling Basin Authority to impose the maximum fine of $100,000 to the responsible irrigators and they must look into the possibility of whether criminal charges can be laid. If the ICAC investigation confirms misconduct of a public official then charges must be filed against the person responsible.”

Mr Brokenshire said below standard monitoring, metering and extraction of water, alleged non-compliance and lack of transparency was simply not good enough for any state signed up to the agreement nor for the bodies they have overseeing it.

“This is why the Australian Conservatives are also calling for the Federal Government to audit all state legislation in order to identify and fix inconsistencies that are detrimental to the Murray Darling Basin Agreement.”

UPDATE: Speaking with FiveAA Adelaide and regional SA radio on Tuesday 12 September, Mr Brokenshire said: 

Australian Conservatives are writing to Barnaby Joyce again today because I’ve been toing and froing with him since this first came out. But the reality is that in good faith all states over a long time, remember this took 100 years to get this Murray Darling Basin plan together …

(Byner: Did Barnaby Joyce take these concerns seriously in your view?)

To be fair to him I would have to say publicly yes he has because … I called for a ministerial inquiry straight away with transparency and I wrote to him. He wrote back to me fairly quickly and said that action was occurring and … the interim report came out. So to be fair to Barnaby Joyce he did, I was cautious … because I was worried about the big numbers in the eastern states overriding and effectively undermining or even causing a revolt from states like South Australia who have done the honourable thing when it came to that water basin plan, but the proof will be in the pudding now because those allegations … are correct, they’re extremely serious because we’ve got

number one, one of the top bureaucrats in the public service alleged to have effectively been involved in corruption, and

number two, this confirms what you’ve spoken … about and we’ve been trying to delve into for some time which is … deliberate water theft and states like New South Wales turning a blind eye to it

(Byner: Who is going to watch the watchdog here?)

… you’ll find most Members of Parliament will be watching this … as well as obviously hopefully the Premiers of the states.

Remember there’s billions of dollars involved here and taxpayers from all states, including Tasmania and Western Australia … have contributed to this water buyback. So when everyone signed off, when state parliaments have done their legislative work, the Commonwealth have done theirs … and you find effective criminal activity occurring then we’re not going to sit back, none of us, no politician will sit back on this.

So we’ll wait and watch but I would expect there’ll be extremely serious court cases put on behalf of the corruption side of this and on behalf of the water theft side.

The final point with this … is it’s clear that there are some impediments in the integration between the state legislation and the federal intent and legislation in New South Wales. I’m asking Barnaby Joyce to do an audit of all of our states and if there are impediments we must fix them immediately at the same time …

your listeners in the Riverland in particular have been amazing at what they’ve had to put up with and still produce and they’re losing confidence … they’re saying to me … if we don’t see a result out of this that stops this water theft, stops the allegations of corruption, then why should we be the model citizens.

 

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