Short­falls in Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin man­age­ment: In­quest

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - Lucy Knight [email protected]­ral­weekly.com

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.”

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

IN­QUEST: The Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin par­lia­men­tary in­quest has shown short­falls in man­age­ment.

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