Five state and territory Conservation Councils are calling for a judicial inquiry into water management in the Murray-Darling Basin and the implementation of the Basin Plan in response to revelations by the ABC’s Four Corners on July 24.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has asked the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to investigate allegations of maladministration and potential corruption raised in the report titled “Pumped — Who is benefitting from the millions spent on the Murray Darling?”.
But the Conservation Councils of South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, ACT and Queensland say they have no confidence that the MDBA can conduct an adequate review. In a letter to the PM they called instead for a fully independent judicial inquiry.
The letter said: “We are very concerned that the decision making and management of water in the Murray-Darling Basin, particularly the implementation of the Basin Plan, has fallen into the hands of vested interests …
“The MDBA is the body that has to accredit water resource plans, including in the Barwon-Darling, against Basin Plan requirements, and it is in negotiation with various jurisdictions over the proposed ‘toolkit’ measures as part of the Northern Basin Plan review. It cannot bring an outside perspective to the review.
“In addition, the current and proposed membership of the MDBA board, under the watch of Minister for Agriculture and Water, Barnaby Joyce, is not a balanced representation of expertise and interests … The Board will be without ecological, governance and indigenous expertise, as required by the Commonwealth Water Act.
“The close relationship of the National Party with the irrigation industry is a key concern for us. This relationship was exposed by recent public comments made by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce in response to the Four Corners program.
“The Conservation Councils are calling for a judicial inquiry into the water management in the Murray-Darling Basin and implementation of the Basin Plan, with the ability to call witnesses and provide protection for whistle blowers.
“We also call for the water portfolio to be removed from the National Party both federally and in NSW while they continue to demonstrate disregard for both the health of our rivers and the integrity of the Basin Plan.”