SA wants state-based royal commission into water

By Dairy News

A ROYAL commission into allegations of widespread water theft from the Murray- Darling Basin is set to begin in South Australia next year.

South Australia has also announced it will not support any changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan until its integrity can be assured.

But the Victorian Government and a number of water industry commentators have cast doubt on how effective a state-based royal commission will be.

South Australian Water Minister Ian Hunter said South Australians had lost all confidence in Mr Turnbull’s ability to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on time and in full.

“South Australia calls on all Federal Members of parliament to stand up for the River Murray and vote in support of a disallowance motion to block moves by the Commonwealth Government to make any amendments to the basin plan.

“We don’t want the chaos and crisis engulfing the Commonwealth Government to filter into the basin plan.”

Mr Hunter and the Federal Government have a history of locking horns over the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, with tensions boiling over last year after Mr Hunter directed expletive-riddled criticism at then Water Minister Barnaby Joyce over the plan.

Mr Hunter has called on federal parliament to not support the sustainable diversion limit adjustment package that would see 605 Gl returned to basin communities.

The 36 proposed projects require parliamentary approval in order to be implemented.

National Irrigators Council chief executive officer Steve Whan slammed Mr Hunter for his comments and accused him of trying to prevent the basin plan from progressing.

“Urging the federal parliament to disallow these amendments is essentially saying they don’t want the basin plan to proceed. If they knock back the 605 Gl in SDL projects, that is a really serious blow to rural irrigation communities,” he said.

“Instead of making public statements and trying to get votes in South Australia, he should travel to NSW and Victoria and speak about the level of commitment they are showing and work through these things and all achieve a result, rather than just essentially blowing it up.”

VFF water spokesman Richard Anderson urged Mr Hunter to take a breath, saying it was too late and too far into the process for a “dummy spit”.

“We know there’s a few issues but you shouldn’t be holding a gun to anyone’s bloody head. He is part of that process and he should be sticking to it,” he said.

Victorian independent MP Suzanna Sheed has called for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be paused until allegations of large-scale water theft could be investigated.

Ms Sheed believed confidence in the basin plan was at an all-time low following a review that was highly critical of compliance levels in NSW and Queensland.

However, Ms Sheed questioned how effective a South Australian-based royal commission would be.

“To have a single state running a royal commission will eventually be seen as partisan,” Ms Sheed said.

Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Forum co-chair David McKenzie believed the plan should be paused for two years.

“Almost everyone thinks it is not working properly,” Mr McKenzie said.

He said the several reviews, the South Australian royal commission and calls for judicial inquiries showed the basin plan’s implementation was “in almost complete disarray”.

“If the public think that it’s not got credibility, then it is a real problem for everyone,” he said.

The release of the Murray-Darling Basin Water Compliance Review last month highlighted problems of weak compliance and a lack of transparency across the system.

Mr Whan said irrigators had zero tolerance for water theft and they supported strong action.

“But this report does not, as the South Australian Premier has claimed, show documented theft,” Mr Whan said.

“There are (according to the ABS) 9200 irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin. This report details five unresolved complaints.

“It shows the overwhelming majority of environmental water goes where it is intended. The report highlights challenges in unregulated rivers.”

Mr Whan said the report does not justify South Australia’s attempt to stop the plan by reneging on its agreement to a process that includes the Northern Basin Review and Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment.