Today the Auditor General has released the first of two reports which will relate to my request on 25 July 2017 following the allegations of water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin that have been aired on the Four Corners program.
Today’s report raises further concerns about the Government’s lack of commitment when it comes to delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The report notes the concerns of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, including that they: 

  • expressed considerable uncertainty as to the effectiveness of proposed actions and commitments by the Basin States, particularly NSW. In April 2016, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder wrote to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources outlining concerns ‘that the work being undertaken by the States to support delivery of environmental water through State managed systems, including on Pre-requisite Policy Measures (PPMs) and the amendment of Water Resource Plans, is simply not progressing’, and that the ‘direction and quality of this work to date gives me little confidence that I will be able to fully and effectively meet my obligations to manage environmental water in a way which delivers Basin-wide environmental objectives’. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder also stated that:
in the northern Basin, there appears to be a failure, if not active disinterest by officials in the NSW DPI Water (DPIW) to develop or implement operational arrangements, such as water shepherding and piggybacking, that support the effective delivery of environmental water to achieve agreed Basin Plan objectives. DPIW are not properly managing licensing regimes which allow the crossborder and cross-catchment ‘re-regulation’ of environmental water.
  • advised the Australian National Audit Office that it did not believe that the issues raised in its April 2016 letter had been adequately addressed by NSW at the time the state’s performance was being assessed by Department of Agriculture and Water Resources in November 2016. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder considered that NSW still had little interest at that time in supporting the effective delivery of environmental water and that the proposed actions would do little to achieve agreed Basin Plan objectives.
  • noted that there was a lack of evidence and explanation to substantiate the Department of Agriculture and Water Resource’s positive assessment of NSW’s progress under Milestone 8 of the Murray-Darling Basin NPA in light of the serious issues raised by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. Importantly, there was little in the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ submission to the Minister for 2015–16 to suggest there were risks that NSW was not delivering environmental water consistent with the Basin Plan. These factors indicate that Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has had limited effectiveness in assessing the performance of NSW against the milestones in the Murray-Darling Basin NPA.

This is the latest of a long line of audits and reviews that have shown that there is no leadership by the Government on the Murray-Darling Basin.

We know that Barnaby Joyce and the Nationals are white anting the Basin Plan.

Labor will not be put in a position where we agree to support changes that reduce the return of water to the river, without a commitment that the plan will delivered on time and in full.

With South Australia initiating a Royal Commission it is time for the Government to take this issue seriously and for all jurisdictions to fully cooperate.

Tony Burke