Shortfalls in Murray-Darling Basin management: Inquest
A PARLIAMENTARY inquiry into water-use integrity and theft in the Murray-Darling Basin has highlighted significant shortfalls in management and oversight.
The inquiry found the strength and success of the basin plan – and ensuring the appropriate allocation of water between agriculture and the environment – hinged on basin states “implementing and enacting effective water compliance and enforcement regimes”.
The final report, tabled last week by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, said the Australian Government must separate the Murray- Darling Basin Authority into two entities and establish a new independent regulator, supporting an earlier recommendation of the Productivity Commission.
The findings come just days after a cotton grower from far northwest New South Wales pleaded guilty to three charges of water theft following allegations of water theft in the northern Murray- Darling Basin in an ABC Four Corners investigation.
The committee found the southern and northern basins of the Murray-Darling Basin were “considerably different”, with different regulatory oversight frameworks and “less regulation and development” in the northern basin.
While South Australia had the highest metering rate with 96 per cent of ‘take’ being metered, in the northern basin only between 25 per cent and 51 per cent was metered.
“With no more than 51 per cent of northern basin surface water metered, it appears to the committee as no surprise that such large-scale water theft is alleged to have occurred in that area,” the report says.
“The lack of proper metering and monitoring makes it difficult for authorities to determine if breaches of the water rules have occurred and, if so, to what extent.
“This in turn makes prosecution or other enforcement activity hard to instigate.”
The inquiry highlighted different approaches taken within New South Wales to compliance and monitoring regimes depending on the geographical area.
Evidence tabled by the National Irrigators’ Council stated its “zero tolerance” for water theft and the council’s support for enforced compliance activity and “best possible metering”.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud would not specifically comment on the findings of the Senate inquiry nor the cases of water theft currently before the courts in New South Wales but he insisted compliance was not something to be afraid of.
“Compliance is what shows the Australian people the basin plan has integrity and also that the vast majority of farmers do the right thing,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Those who do the wrong thing should be nailed.”
INQUEST: The Murray-Darling Basin parliamentary inquest has shown shortfalls in management.