Joyce caught out on water
WATER USE in the Murray-Darling Basin will be scrutinised in an independent review following allegations of water theft in NSW, the Federal Government says. The basin-wide review of compliance with regulations governing water use follows allegations in an ABC Four Corners report that billions of litres earmarked for the environment have been diverted for cotton irrigation in NSW. The Turnbull Government says it will seek the basin states’ agreement for an independent examination by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority of whether state laws, water licence conditions and statutory instruments are appropriate and being met. It will also look at the adequacy of water measurement and monitoring arrangements, and whether governance arrangements are strong enough to prevent water theft or misuse. “Strong compliance regimes are just as important for irrigators as they are for the environment and basin communities,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said in a joint statement. Mr Joyce has been attacked for his description of the Four Corners television program in an informal meeting in Shepparton days after the program was aired. He described the program as part of a campaign to deprive irrigators of water. He also told the patrons of Shepparton’s Australia Hotel that the government had placed the water portfolio in the agriculture ministry to look after rural Australians and to wrest it back off “the greenies”. Mr Joyce stressed the allegations were only that, at this stage. “Just like there are cattle thieves, just like there are sheep thieves, there are car thieves, there are people who break into your house, there are people who steal water, “he said. “And if you break the law — and that is an allegation, not a fact, it’s an allegation — if you break the law, then you are going to be dealt with in the same process as any other.” Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) said it was concerned about the development of allegations made this past week regarding the misappropriation of water from the Murray-Darling Basin. Chair of the ADIC Water Taskforce, Daryl Hoey, said there are rules on water extraction and it is only fair to all irrigators and taxpayers that the rules are enforced. “The allegations on ABC’s Four Corner’s program are serious, and must be independently and transparently investigated to give everyone confidence that water is shared fairly and equitably according to the rules,” Mr Hoey said. “Notwithstanding the issues raised in the Barwon-Darling River catchment in the northern Basin, we believe the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, overall, is far from broken.” More than 2000 billion litres of water have already been recovered, mostly in the southern Basin, with improved environmental outcomes already evident five years only after the Plan was signed in 2012. However, while the Plan is on track to meet its 2750 gL target by 2019, communities are paying a high socio-economic cost as agricultural production declines across some regions. “The dairy industry is concerned that additional adverse impacts will occur if more water is recovered from irrigators,” Mr Hoey said. “Any failure to enforce compliance with the rules only adds insult to injury in adversely affected communities.”
Barnaby Joyce meets farmers and irrigators in Shepparton last month.