Independent review of water theft inquiries

Independent review of water theft inquiries


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Water Ministers have agreed to appoint an independent person, to review the multiple inquiries into allegations of water theft, in the Murray Darling Basin.

An independent person has been appointed to examine the multiple inquiries and reviews into allegations of water theft in the Murray Darling Basin.

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CAUTIOUS WELCOME: Lisa Neville, Victoria's Water Minister, has cautiously welcomed the decision to appoint an independent person to look at water theft allegations.

CAUTIOUS WELCOME: Lisa Neville, Victoria's Water Minister, has cautiously welcomed the decision to appoint an independent person to look at water theft allegations.

The agreement was secured at the Ministerial Council Meeting in Albury – the first meeting of Basin Ministers since allegations of water theft were revealed by Four Corners in July.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville last week told State Parliament she would be calling for a high-level independent review.

“We have been doing that consistently; we have been asking the Commonwealth to do this because we do need to get to the bottom of what has occurred,” Ms Neville said.

Following the Albury council meeting Ms Neville said Victoria ultimately wanted an independent national inquiry.

“But this independent person will allow us to know the facts, investigate serious issues and get on with delivering what is critical for regional communities,” Ms Neville said.

The inquiry would assess and review all the investigations currently being undertaken about the Basin, to ensure they addressed the serious allegations made about water theft and determine if further compliance and enforcement measures were required.

Independent Shepparton MP Suzanna Sheed said the plethora of inquiries had led many in her community to believe the plan was a “shambles.”

She told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry it was time to pause the plan until reports from the 11 inquiries and investigations, currently being undertaken into it, were concluded.

“It’s not doing what it’s meant to do - the 11 different inquiries that are going on at the moment, I think, are really strong evidence of that. It may be the Murray Darling plan needs a reset.”

Ms Sheed said she was disappointed there hadn’t been an overarching judicial inquiry, rather than many different organisations looking into the plan.

In June, all Basin Ministers agreed to sign up to the MDBA’s 605 gigalitre (GL) adjustment package of projects, which Ms Neville said were helping Victoria reach the 2,750GL target without further Commonwealth water buybacks.

Ms Neville said Victoria made it clear during the Albury meeting delivering any further on-farm efficiencies to achieve the extra 450GL being requested by South Australia would severely impact the economic and social viability of communities along the Basin.

Victoria was not willing to put Basin communities at risk, but offered to pursue opportunities for off-farm water savings that contributed to the 450GL – a proposal rejected by South Australia.

 Ms Neville said South Australia was threatening the delivery of the environmental offset projects critical to achieving the 2,750GL, which could potentially result in further water buybacks or a 2,100GL plan.

“It’s disappointing that South Australia is now seeking to block the 605GL of offset projects – this is bad for communities, the environment and could see further water buybacks by the Commonwealth,” Ms Neville said.”

“Our own assessments and reports show that the delivery of the extra 450GL cannot be achieved without negative impact on communities who are already at tipping point.”

The state would continue to push for the triple bottom line outcomes envisaged by the Plan -- balancing the social, economic and environmental needs of the Basin.

Victorian communities had already done the heavy lifting – achieving a 30 per cent reduction in consumptive water.

An early meeting will be called in April for further discussions between the states. 

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