Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has asked the MDBA to conduct the national basin-wide compliance review, after allegations over the misuse of irrigation water, in the northern section of basin.
MDBA chair Neil Andrew welcomed calls for a national review and said it was vital everyone had trust and faith in the compliance system. "Every drop of water is precious,” Mr Andrew said.
Mr Andrew said the review would consider the effectiveness of the current rules and laws, measurement and monitoring, and governance arrangements.
Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) water taskforce chairman Daryl Hoey said he had doubts about the MDBA carrying out the study. “I’m concerned - given the history of the MDBA and their engagement on a lot of the socio-economic work,” Mr Hoey said.
“(MDBA chief executive) Phillip Glyde admitted the authority hadn’t been keeping a close enough eye on the state jurisdictions. I’m not convinced it is the right body to be doing the review.”
And Shepparton Independent MP Suzanna Sheed also cast doubt on the independence of the MDBA.
I’m not convinced it is the right body to be doing the review.
Ms Sheed said the decision 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.
“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.
But Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia (RGA) president Jeremy Morton said he believed it was entirely appropriate the MDBA would carry out the investigation.
“I suspect what they’ll find is there is a pretty strong compliance across all Basin states; there’s probably a small number of people doing the wrong thing and they should be dealt with accordingly," Mr Morton said. He agreed with other irrigators that the integrity of the Basin plan was not under threat.
“I don’t want to play it down, but I think it’s a distraction from the implementation of the plan.”
There were important elements of the plan, which needed to be examined in the coming months, including the sustainable diversion limits and the reduction in water recovery in the northern Basin. “I hope that everyone can now let this process unfold, let the MDBA do the work it needs to do, and we can look at it again, once the MDBA has reported back.”
Murrabit dairy farmer Andrew Leahy said he was most annoyed about groups such as the Greens “making a song and dance about the Basin plan.“It’s a compliance issue, not a Basin issue,” Mr Leahy said. “If irrigators have broken the rules, that’s straight out theft.”
Riverina irrigators lobby group Speak Up spokesperson Shelley Scoullar said any review needed to be more widespread than just looking at compliance issues.
She said the alleged theft of water in the northern basin was “just a tiny blip”, when compared with the issues facing the Murray Darling Basin.
“Everyone is unhappy; the environmentalists are unhappy, food producers are unhappy, people living in the towns are unhappy, so we haven’t got it right. Let’s go about ways of finding some outcomes that can benefit everyone. That can be done, if we put politics aside.”