Trickling towards stronger Murray-Darling water compliance
The Morrison Liberal-National Coalition Government introduced a Bill on Wednesday to establish the Inspector–General of Water Compliance that it says will ensure a strong and independent regulator to monitor and oversee water compliance in Australia’s largest water resource, the Murray–Darling Basin.
The Labor Opposition however says it has taken a protracted amount of time to get to this point, with shadow water spokesperson Terri Butler telling FlowNews24:
"The government promised an inspector two years ago. Murray Darling Basin communities deserve a genuine cop on the beat with real power.
"The government claimed in mid-2019 that they would create a statutory, independent cop on the beat for the basin, that would be able to refer to the national integrity commission. As everyone kows, the national integrity commission has still not come into existence.
"Two years later, the first interim cop has come and gone, and they're onto their second interim cop.
The government decided to appoint an independent investigator on water theft and misappropriation in the Basin under fire over allegations that donors to the NSW National Party were not vigorously prosecuted by the NSW Liberal-National Government.
While it prepared draft legislation, the Morrison Liberal-National coalition federal government appointed former NSW Nationals leader and deputy premier Troy Grant the second interim commissioner for water compliance. Mr Grant assured a feisty Senate hearing in February of his independence in the role.
Independent senator for South Australia Rex Patrick told FlowNews24 on Wednesday afternoon:
“Whilst I welcome the legislation finally being tabled in the Parliament today, it is well overdue.
“This is a really important piece of legislation. It establishes a Murray-Darling Basin policeman to keep an eye on Basin Plan compliance, with an ability to act when non-compliance occurs, and grants the Inspector General oversight of Commonwealth Authorities involved in the execution of the Basin Plan.
“With few sitting weeks and a Federal Election on the horizon, there is a real possibility that the delays to date will prevent it making it through the 46th Parliament. I hope I am wrong in this regard.”
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon that the government would provide Basin communities with the assurances they want on water management:
“The Inspector-General is all about ensuring strong and independent regulation of our largest water resource.
“No-one will be marking their own homework.
“Compliance is at the heart of a fair water-sharing system. This Bill significantly strengthens the compliance system in the Murray–Darling Basin.
“The Bill responds to concerns raised by stakeholders throughout the Basin by creating new water theft and illegal water trading offences and penalties. These new offences and penalties will act as a significant deterrent.
The government said it would appoint the first permanent statutory Inspector–General shortly.
Terri Butler says Labor will be focused on the legislation achieving its aims:
"We'll be scrutinising the bill carefully because it is crucial that trust and confidence can be rebuilt in the Basin."