More community leaders are calling for a pause in the delivery of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan as a report has uncovered compliance failures in NSW and Queensland, and South Australia insists it will run its own royal commission.
State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed has called for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be paused until allegations of large-scale water theft could be investigated.
Ms Sheed believed confidence in the basin plan was at an all-time low following a review that was highly critical of compliance levels in NSW and Queensland.
A fresh round of interstate bickering broke out at the weekend, with South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill announcing his state would launch its own royal commission into allegations of water theft.
‘‘The Federal Government needs to take some immediate action and pause the plan while all these reviews into allegations of water theft are sorted out,’’ Ms Sheed said.
Allegations of large-scale water theft first surfaced this year after an ABC Four Corners investigation showed a senior NSW water bureaucrat offering confidential information to irrigation lobbyists.
Just how effective a South Australian-based royal commission can be into allegations of water theft in other states has been called into question.
‘‘To have a single state running a royal commission will eventually be seen as partisan,’’ Ms Sheed said.
‘‘(Water theft allegations) is creating such a sense of disharmony among the states,’’ she said.
Goulburn Murray Irrigation District Water Leadership Forum co-chair David McKenzie believed the plan should be paused for two years.
‘‘Almost everyone thinks it is not working properly,’’ Mr McKenzie said.
He said the several reviews, the South Australian royal commission and calls for judicial inquiries showed the basin plan’s implementation was ‘‘in almost complete disarray’’.
‘‘If the public think that it’s not got credibility, then it is a real problem for everyone,’’ he said.
The release of the Murray-Darling Basin Water Compliance Review on the weekend highlighted problems of weak compliance and a lack of transparency across the system.
National Irrigators Council chief executive officer Steve Whan said irrigators had zero tolerance for water theft and they supported strong action.
‘‘But this report does not, as the South Australian Premier has claimed, show documented theft,’’ Mr Whan said.
‘‘There are (according to the ABS) 9200 irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin. This report details five unresolved complaints.
‘‘It shows the overwhelming majority of environmental water goes where it is intended. The report highlights challenges in unregulated rivers.’’
Mr Whan said the report does not justify South Australia’s attempt to stop the plan by reneging on its agreement to a process that includes the Northern Basin Review and Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment.