Independent Member for Shepparton District Suzanna Sheed says a full and independent inquiry into the allegations of water theft from NSW’s Barwon River is necessary to restore faith in the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Ms Sheed said the decision by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to direct the Murray Darling Basin Authority to initiate a review of the plan, which would involve a basin-wide compliance probe of the state-based regulations that govern water use, was insufficient and inappropriate.
“This is not an independent inquiry. It is being undertaken by the very organisation that was supposed to be monitoring the rollout of the plan and has clearly failed to do so,” Ms Sheed said.
Ms Sheed said she was shocked to hear the allegations of water theft by Northern Basin irrigators and the behaviour of department officials in the NSW government who were not only aware of the theft, but apparently stood in the way of proper investigations being undertaken.
“While the MDBA and NSW are within their rights to investigate these allegations internally, only a truly independent, basin-wide inquiry will restore confidence in our Southern Basin communities,” Ms Sheed said.
“These are serious issues and we simply cannot allow organisations and states to investigate themselves. That’s not a model I can support.
“I have heard on many occasions that the lobbying power of irrigators in the North with their political representatives has been much greater than those in the South. The success of water sharing in the Murray Darling Basin depends upon proper compliance by all participating states and water user residents.
“It is not good enough for New South Wales to conduct its own investigation into its own department and it is entirely inappropriate for the MDBA to be appointed to investigate its own deficiencies. These issues are too important to be swept under the carpet.”
“I urge all basin water ministers, including Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville, to support a truly independent, cross-state inquiry and not to agree to the proposal put by the Prime Minister and his colleagues for the MDBA to investigate these issues.”
Ms Sheed said while the allegations were disturbing, they should not pose a long-term threat to the plan.
“We’ve been working so hard in this region to find a balance between environmental needs and our community’s social and economic welfare, so it’s incredibly disappointing to see such a disregard for others who rely on the river system for their livelihoods,” Ms Sheed said.
“However, the actions of a few should not derail the investment already made in rolling out the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
“There are issues here that need to be investigated, but I am confident that if done properly, they can be addressed.”
Ms Sheed said she and members of the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Forum would be meeting with representatives from the Murray Darling Basin Authority on Thursday and would share their concerns.
Riahn Smith 0419 138 978│firstname.lastname@example.org