Water theft allegations spur calls for Murray-Darling Basin Plan investigation
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) is taking heat following allegations that water has been harvested by NSW irrigators out of accordance with MDBP water allocations.
A Four Corners investigation revealed that billions of litres of environmental water – bought with taxpayer money – were reportedly pumped out by Barwon-Darling irrigators, who might have tampered with meters to mask their water volumes.
It also revealed that NSW water bureaucrat and eWater Director Gavin Hanlon allegedly conspired with irrigation lobbyists, offering confidential information, and that the NSW Government is actively considering plans to drop the MDBP.
SA Water Minister Ian Hunter has called for an independent review of the NSW Government’s Murray River water management.
“If the allegations are correct – that at a very senior level in the public service in New South Wales people have turned a blind eye to this – then that is very concerning,” Hunter said.
“There needs to be an independent judicial review, independent of government [and] independent of politics.”
NSW Water Minister Niall Blair said the NSW Government is not considering abandoning the MDBP, and clarification has been sought regarding Hanlon’s conduct.
“The NSW Government remains committed to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan while seeking the best deal for NSW communities within that framework,” he said.
“I have directed the secretary of the NSW Department of Industry to provide an urgent overview of all the compliance matters raised in the program.”
Indigenous groups such as the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MILDRIN) and environmentalists have also lent their voices to calls for a judicial inquiry.
Meanwhile, Senator Nick Xenophon has called for an investigation by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), arguing that the allegations are far too severe to warrant lesser action.
“These allegations are so serious, going to the heart of issues of enforcement, if there was any attempt to interfere with the enforcement of the plan to deal with issues of water meter tampering, then that ought to be looked at by the ICAC,” Xenophon said.
“Effectively what we have seen here is an attempt to sabotage the MDBP, but the sabotaging appears to be happening at the highest levels of a state government. This must be dealt with as a matter of urgency.”