Better enforcements are required around the Murray-Darling Basin
Following a review into compliance matters across the Murray-Darling Basin, Queensland and New South Wales have been called on to do more to ensure regulatory enforcement of water use, in the wake of water theft allegations.
Furthermore, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has also been called on to be more assertive in its regulatory role, a recommendation put forward by the Independent Panel tasked with reviewing compliance alongside the MDBA.
MDBA Authority Chief Executive Phillip Glyde said the review notes a range of regulatory areas that need attention across the basin, and that it will take a concerted effort by all states, and the MDBA itself, to get back on track.
“Our review found that Basin states – particularly New South Wales and Queensland – must do more to increase the robustness, transparency and consistency of compliance and enforcement across the Basin,” Glyde said.
“Of particular importance is the implementation of a ‘no meter, no pump’ policy, more transparency of compliance activities, and a more comprehensive suite of penalties that are actually used rather than just sitting on the shelf.
“The Independent Panel says the MDBA needs to be more assertive. This starts today. We’re committed to acting on all of the recommendations and actions in the review that are within our remit.”
Glyde said that although Basin states will remain the primary regulatory authorities, the MDBA plans on exercising its compliance powers if action not was taken by state authorities.
“We know there are many irrigators across the Basin who do the right thing and abide by the rules, and they deserve to have confidence that their commitment to compliance is not being undermined by those who are breaking the law,” he said.
Independent Panel Member Allan Holmes said the group supports all of MDBA’s recommendations in the review, and has added some of its own.
“The 30 June 2019 deadline for revising state water resource plans must be kept, and these plans must ensure that rules are in place to ensure the adequate protection of environmental flows,” Holmes said.
“We can’t allow a situation where taxpayer funds are used to recover water for the environment only to have that water extracted further downstream because of a lack of resolve.”
Meanwhile, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has moved to launch a state royal commission, as he believes the review has not done enough to identify perpetrators responsible for theft against adjoining states.
"The review that was handed down did not go into detailed findings of who committed water theft and who behaved inappropriately in relation to the river. There have been no specific findings in relation to individuals or groups of individuals," Weatherill told ABC Online.
"A state-based royal commission does have the capacity to analyse things that touch on other states, provided there is a connection to South Australia. That's our very clear legal advice and it's our intention to pursue this royal commission's power to their fullest extent, so we can get to the bottom of this water theft."
The MDBA also recently released its interim Basin Plan Evaluation, which found that as of October 2016, water recovery programs administered across the southern Murray-Darling Basin have generated 224GL in water savings for farmers and the environment.