Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has downplayed the need for a federal inquiry into allegations of water theft and meter tampering in the Murray-Darling Basin.
It comes as the NSW Government faces increased pressure over its ability to independently investigate the accusations aired on the ABC’s Four Corners program last Monday.
It would make ‘‘abundant sense’’ for NSW to organise its own inquiry, Mr Joyce said last Wednesday.
‘‘We’ll see if there’s an authentic and ardent process to deal with this issue and then we’ll make our decision about whether further actions are required.’’
Mr Joyce, who is also Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister, stressed the allegations were only that, at this stage.
‘‘Just like there are cattle thieves, just like there are sheep thieves, there are car thieves, there are people who break into your house, there are people who steal water,’’ he said.
‘‘And if you break the law — and that is an allegation, not a fact, it’s an allegation — if you break the law, then you are going to be dealt with in the same process as any other.’’
NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair defended his government’s ability to run an external, independent investigation, saying it was in the best interests of NSW and the other states.
‘‘What people are failing to understand is that when we talk about the impact on the southern part of the basin, a large part of that basin falls within NSW,’’ Mr Blair said last Wednesday.
‘‘We will be getting an eminent person that will be able to stand up and say we’re not marking our own homework.’’
NSW is under attack from the South Australian and Victorian governments over accusations senior officials helped irrigators undermine the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and failed to properly investigate alleged water theft.
Downstream states have called for a judicial inquiry into NSW’s dealings, while the NSW Opposition has referred the matter to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.