Reverberations continue over the ABC Four Corners TV report alleging corruption and mismanagement of the Murray-Darling river.
At a cost of around $13 billion, the Murray-Darling Plan aims to provide an equitable and sustainable management of the sensitive river system, which traverses four eastern states and the ACT.
As a result of the ABC TV investigation, the state government launched an independent inquiry, while the state’s most senior water bureaucrat Gavin Hanlon referred himself to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog ICAC after a recording of him offering to share confidential government information with irrigation lobbyists was made public.
Sydney rally held
Last Thursday, a rally was held outside NSW Parliament House in Sydney.
Rally organisers the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the Inland Rivers Network are calling for a full judicial review, which would look at the entire river system.
They also want the water portfolio to be taken away from the National Party, and the government instead to ‘appoint a Liberal minister to oversee implementation of the NSW elements of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.’
Nature Conservation Council’s James Tremain told The Echo, ‘The rally had a good turnout, with Labor MPs even joining in solidarity with farmers who are calling for a full judicial review.’
He says he has ‘no faith in an internal investigation.’
‘A judicial review would have royal commission powers, which could investigate any alleged corruption, and would also look at the entire plan rather than just NSW.’
Mr Tremain also criticised federal Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce for undermining the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and his ‘political deal’ made with the Liberals to move the water portfolio into agriculture. Water management is usually associated with the environment while agriculture is an economic-related portfolio.
Apart from federal-state tensions over the issue and his New Zealand citizenship fiasco, Mr Joyce is facing flak over off-record comments made in a Shepparton pub after the Four Corners show.
He said, ‘We’ve taken water and put it back into agriculture so we can look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show basically sending you out the back door.’
Local Nationals MLC replies
The Echo asked locally based Nationals MLC Ben Franklin if he supported a judicial review instead of the current investigation, but instead he said, ‘The NSW government is committed to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, while seeking the best deal for NSW communities within that framework.’
‘The Four Corners program raises very serious issues around the alleged improper water use in the Barwon-Darling system.
‘We take all breaches of the NSW Water Management Act 2000 seriously.
‘The independent investigation being run by Ken Matthews AO, former chair and CEO of the National Water Commission, will result in a preliminary report by the end of this month and the final report towards the end of this year.
‘Should he feel it necessary, Mr Matthews’s terms of reference allow him to refer any matters directly to NSW ICAC, which has the power to investigate the allegations of corruption referred to in your correspondence.
‘We will await the findings from Mr Matthews’s independent investigation and will cooperate fully with the MDBA’s review of compliance arrangements in the Murray-Darling Basin.
‘The secretary of Department of Industry has already referred the allegations raised in the ABC Four Corners broadcast to the NSW ICAC.’