On July 24 ABC TV investigative program Four Corners screened an expose of rorts and illegal practices happening in water extraction in the Murray-Darling Basin in north-western NSW and elsewhere along the Basin. These actions are torpedoing the Murray-Darling Plan which was developed to improve the health of the river systemas well as ensuring a fair allocation of water to irrigators along the Basin. What is also of concern is that there is a strong stench of corruption about this matter.
The Four Corners program is Pumped:Who is benefitting from the billions spent on the Murray-Darling?
There have been very strong reactions to this expose around the nation as well as calls for an independent inquiry.
Following the program's screening, the peak NSW environment group the Nature Conservation Council of NSW issued the media statement printed below.
NATURE CONSERVATION COUNCIL OF NSW
Berejiklian must remove Nationals from resource portfolios and order an ICAC inquiry
The Nature Conservation Council and Inland Rivers Network are calling on Premier Gladys Berejiklian to remove National Party MPs from natural resources portfolios and refer the issues raised in last night’s Four Corners report to the ICAC for investigation.
Four Corners found serious maladministration by managers of the Department of Primary Industries (Water) in the allocation and enforcement of water licences in NSW, and of compliance actions in the state’s northwest.
“The rules governing water sharing in NSW have been manipulated to favour a few big irrigators at the expense of the environment and downstream communities,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said. “This is an absolute disgrace.
“The government has turned a blind eye to illegal behaviour like meter tampering water theft. This scandal has happened on the watch of National Party Ministers who must be held to account for their mismanagement of one of the key natural resource agencies in NSW.
“Premier Gladys Berejiklian should remove National Party Ministers from natural resources portfolios and refer these issues to ICAC for a full investigation.
“The ecosystems along the whole length of the Murray-Darling are declining because too much water is being extracted.
“Waterbird populations in parts of the Murray-Darling have declined by more than 80%, and we have lost 90% per cent of the Basin’s floodplain wetlands. This can’t go on.”
Inland Rivers Network spokesperson Bev Smiles said: “We’ve taken far too much water out of the Murray-Darling for far too long. Mismanagement and overuse of water revealed last night are damaging the Murray Darling’s life support systems and must stop.
“The National Party has overseen possibly the biggest theft of water in the state’s history. They have been captured by a small lobby of big agribusiness irrigators who are putting their commercial interests ahead all other users and the environment.
“Putting the National Party in charge of natural resource management portfolios was never going to end well. Now we have the proof that the irrigation industry in NSW has a powerful and unhealthy relationship with bureaucrats and political leaders. This has led to poor water management for the health of rivers and the weakening of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
“If this is not criminal, it is morally reprehensible. People want the government to bring our rivers back to health, not give public resources to large private companies.”