Government would be foolish to make major decisions based on a television program but the growing wave of anger since ABC Four Corners Pumped aired suggest water management in the Murray Darling system needs decisive attention.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has asked the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to conduct a basin-wide compliance review to be completed by mid-December – it was was an appropriate response at the time – but as more water flows under the bridge suggestions of murky irrigation arrangements across parts of northern NSW lead us to think more action is needed.
The Murray Darling Association – an organisation representing local government and communities across the Murray Darling Basin headed by Albury councillor David Thurley – has joined a growing chorus of voices calling for an independent inquiry into water.
Mr Thurley says there are association concerns the MDBA wouldn’t be sufficiently empowered to conduct a review, saying the MDA favoured an independent public inquiry and that an MDBA review could undermine community confidence in the Basin Plan.
NSW Water Minister Niall Blair has established an independent inquiry for that state.
The Victorian Government has called for a special Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting to be convened as soon as practicable to address the allegations of non-compliance raised by Four Corners.
Former MDBA advisor Mal Peters has gone further and insists a Royal Commission was the only way to end the stress and anxiety our law abiding farmers are facing over water use and misuse allegations.
Mr Peters has questioned the independence of the NSW inquiry given Mr Blair was formerly boss of the water department’s Gavin Hanlon, who’s recorded voice featured in the report and is now stood aside.
Mr Peters also featured on the program.
He believes there is “strong evidence NSW is not the only state with issues, as questions have been asked about both Queensland and Victoria. There are also major problems with some of the rules around the on-farm efficiency program and overland flow water licenses that need federal investigation.”
It is clear Mr Thurley and the Murray Darling Association are not alone wanting clarity in these muddied waters. The association would not be out of line also asking for more than an independent inquiry.