Showing posts with label Murray-Darling Basin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Murray-Darling Basin. Show all posts

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Problems with the Murray-Darling Basin plan just keep mounting and the NSW Northern Rivers needs to make sure these problems don't become ours


When it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin river systems there is never any really good news - we go from reports of town water shortages, pictures of permanently dry river beds and allegations of widespread water theft to the possibility of a fundamental legal error in the master plan circa 2012.

The Guardian, 2 May 2018:

One of Australia’s foremost lawyers has issued an extraordinary warning that the Murray-Darling basin plan is likely to be unlawful because the authority overseeing it made a fundamental legal error when it set the original 2,750-gigalitre water recovery target in 2012.

Bret Walker QC, who chairs the South Australian royal commission into the Murray-Darling basin plan, issued the warning in a second issues paper. He also spelled out the far-reaching implications of the plan being unlawful.

Not only does it mean that the original water recovery target of 2,750GL was likely to have been set too low to deliver the environmental goal of the Water Act and could be challenged in court, but it also means that amendments to the plan now being debated by the Senate are likely to be invalid as well.

These include a plan to trim 70GL from the northern basin water recovery targets and a suite of projects, known as the sustainable diversion limit adjustment projects, which would be funded in lieu of recovering 605GL in the southern basin.

Both are being strongly criticised by scientists and environmentalists because they believe that they further undercut the environmental outcomes of the plan. 
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) says it has relied on the best available science in recommending the changes.

The new uncertainty over the validity of the amendments will make it difficult for crossbenchers to support them as the Coalition government has urged.

Walker has provided a roadmap for environmental groups or an individual affected to challenge the plan in court.

At the heart of his advice is his view that the Water Act directs the MDBA to ensure environmental outcomes are achieved when it set the environmentally sustainable level of take (ESLT) from the river system. This is the flipside of setting the water recovery target.

But instead of considering the environmental outcomes only, the MDBA applied a triple bottom line approach, giving equal weight to social and economic impacts of water recovery.

“The MDBA also appears to have approached the word ‘compromise’ in the definition of ESLT in a manner involving compromise between environmental, social and economic outcomes rather than in relation to the concept of ‘endangering’ or ‘putting in danger’ environmental criteria such as key environmental assets, and key ecosystem functions,” the SA royal commission said.

 “The commissioner is inclined to take the view that this approach to the word ‘compromise’ in s4 of the Water Act is not maintainable, or alternatively that he is presently unable to see how it is maintainable,” the paper says.

“There is also evidence that recovering an amount of water for the environment of 2,750GL does not, as a matter of fact, represent an ESLT in accordance with the definition of that term under the Water Act.”

Walker pointed to numerous reports, including a 2011 CSIRO report which said modelling based on a 2,800GL recovery target “does not meet several of the specified hydrological and ecological targets”.

There is also evidence that the MDBA received legal advice on more than one occasion, consistent with the commissioner’s concerns.

The issue of water sustainability in the Murray-Darling Basin affects not just those living in the basin and the economies of the four states this large river system runs through – it also affects the bottom line of the national economy and those east coast regions which will be pressured to dam and divert water to the Basin if its rivers continue to collapse.

One such region is the Northern Rivers of New South Wales and in particular the Clarence River catchment area and the Clarence Valley Local Government Area.

Almost every year for the past two decades there have been calls to dam and divert the Clarence River – either north into south-east Queensland or west over the ranges into the NSW section of the Murray Darling Basin.

The latest call came last month on 18 April from Toowoomba Regional Council in south-east Queensland:



The response came on 24 April via NBN News and it was a firm NO:

However, because communities in the Murray-Darling Basin have for generations refused to face the fact that they are living beyond the limits of long-term water sustainability and successive federal governments have mismanaged water policy and policy implementation, such calls will continue.

These calls for water from other catchments to be piped into the Basin or into SE Queensland are not based on scientific evidence or sound economic principles. 

They are based on an emotional response to fact that politicians and local communities looking at environmental degradation and water shortages on a daily basis are still afraid to admit that they no longer have the amount of river and groundwater needed to maintain their way of life and, are wanting some form of primitive magic to occur.

The Clarence River system is the most attractive first option for those would-be water raiders, but experience has shown the Northern Rivers region that once a formal investigation is announced all our major rivers on the NSW North Coast become vulnerable as the terms of reference are wide.

The next National General Assembly of Local Government (NGA) runs from 7-20 June 2018.

If Toowoombah Regional Council’s motion is placed on the assembly agenda it is highly likely that a number of councils in the Murray-Darling Basin will announce their support of the proposal.

Northern Rivers communities need to watch this NGA closely.

Monday, 30 April 2018

What the Australian Government didn’t want the UN to publish



During Nationals MP for New England Barnaby Joyce’s disastrous sojourn as Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources the federal government began a successfull campaign to have the United Nations delete all criticism of Australia’s $13bn effort to restore the ailing Murray-Darling river system from a published study.

It seems the Turnbull Government did not want the world to know, or Australian voters to be reminded, that it had placed long term water sustainability in four of its eight states and territories in jeopardy.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations draft report in question was the following:

C.J. Perry and Pasquale Steduto, (25 May 2017), DOES IMPROVED IRRIGATION TECHNOLOGY SAVE WATER? A review of the evidence: Discussion paper on irrigation and sustainable water resources management in the Near East and North Africa

Abstract
The Near East and North Africa (NENA) Region has the lowest per-capita fresh water resource availability among all Regions of the world. Already naturally exposed to chronic shortage of water, NENA will face severe intensification of water scarcity in the coming decades due to several drivers related to demography, food security policies, overall socio-economic development and climate change. Irrigated agriculture in the Region, which already consumes more than 85 percent of renewable fresh water resources, will face strong challenges in meeting augmented national food demand and supporting economic development in rural areas. Countries of the NENA Region promote efficient and productive irrigation as well as the protection and sustainable management of scarce and fragile natural resources, particularly water, in their national plans. Through the Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity, FAO is providing support and focus to efforts in confronting the fast-widening gap between availability and demand for fresh water resources. A key question to address is: how can countries simultaneously reduce this gap, promote sustainable water resources management and contribute effectively to food security and enhanced nutrition? The traditional assumption has been that increasing irrigation efficiency through the adoption of modern technologies, like drip irrigation, leads to substantial water savings, releasing the saved water to the environment or to other uses. The evidence from research and field measurements shows that this is not the case. The benefit at the local “on-farm” scale may appear dramatic, but when properly accounted at basin scale, total water consumption by irrigation tends to increase instead of decreasing. The potential to increase water productivity— more “crop per drop”—is also quite modest for the most important crops. These findings suggest that reductions in water consumption by irrigated agriculture will not come from the technology itself. Rather, measures like limiting water allocation will be needed to ensure a sustainable level of water use. The present report provides the evidence needed to open up a discussion with all major stakeholders dealing with water resources management on the proper and scientifically sound framework required to address jointly water scarcity, sustainability and food security problems. A discussion that has been disregarded for too long.

C.J. Perry stated at Research Gate on 25 April 2018 that:

Government representatives from the Australian Embassy in Rome disagreed with the research findings for the Australia section summarised in the original report. FAO, in response, welcomed the opportunity to improve the report. Dissemination was put on hold and the report was removed from the FAO website pending inclusion of additional material relevant to the Australian section. In a series of exchanges, no empirical evidence was presented to support the Australian authorities’ claim that the investment program in the Murray Darling Basin has generated substantial water savings and environmental benefits. This left the global principles and conclusions set out in the original report unchallenged, while the results from Australia remained contentious. Therefore, it was decided that the best solution to the matter was to withdraw the Australian section from the publication and let the Discussion Paper to be available again on the web. The original and current versions of the report both invite submissions of additional case studies, information and analysis to WSI@fao.org.  Cases documenting technical or policy interventions where irrigation water has been released to environmental or other uses will be particularly valuable.

The suppressed section in the original draft of this UN report would have been identical or very similar to this version of the text:

4.1 AUSTRALIA

Document(s)
System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for Water (SEEA-Water) (United Nations Statistics Division, 2012); Water Account Australia 2004–05, (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006); Droughtand the rebound effect: A Murray–Darling basin example (Loch and Adamson, 2015); Understanding irrigation water use efficiency at different scales for better policy reform: A case study of the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia (Qureshi et al., 2011); Water Reform and Planning in the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia (Grafton, 2017)
…………………………………...........................................................................................
Context

Australia has led the world in the introduction of water rights in a context of extreme resource variability.
This in turn has provided the basis for managed trading between sectors and locations, and valuable lessons regarding potential problems as previously under-utilized entitlements are sold and used, and of “stranded assets” if significant volumes of water are traded out of an area. More recently, evidence suggests that subsidy programmes to “save” water seem to have been ineffective, poorly conceived and un-prioritized.
…………………………………...........................................................................................
Highlights

The Murray Darling Basin (MDB) is widely recognized for its advanced standards in water resources management—in particular the system of tradable water rights that allows transfer of water on short term or permanent leases subject to evaluation of third party impacts by the regulatory authorities.

Australia participated in the formulation of the United Nations (UN) System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for Water. This framework accounts for water withdrawn from “the environment” (rivers, aquifers), use of that water in various sectors, including transfer between sectors (for example a water utility supplying a factory or town), consumption through ET, and direct and indirect return flows to the environment and to sinks. Trial implementation of the framework was planned in Australia, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics had already in 2006 issued guidelines referencing the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for Water (UN- System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for
Water (SEEAW) system), which was to be applied to the reporting of the 2004-5 national water accounts.

However, the following statement from the introduction to Chapter 4 of the 2004-5 National Water Accounts for Australia5 is apparently at variance with one critical element of the SEEAW approach—namely the distinction between consumptive and non-consumptive uses:

This chapter examines the use of water within the AGRICULTURE industry in Australia. Water used by this industry includes livestock drinking water and water applied through irrigation to crops and pastures. Since the AGRICULTURE industry does not use water in-stream, or supply water to other users, total water use is equal to water consumption.

Elsewhere in the Accounting Standards it is stated that:

It is believed that leakage to landscape from surface water resources such as rivers and storages occurs in the MDB region; however, reliable volumes are not available, and currently there is no suitable quantification approach to estimate these volumes.

Does this assumption of zero return flows matter? Indeed it does: Australia is now embarked on a massive (AUS$ 10bn) programme to save water for the environment, including subsidies to farmers for hi-tech on farm investment. Savings are estimated on the basis of typical application efficiencies (e.g. flood irrigation 50 percent, drip 90 percent), so a farmer with a water entitlement of 100 water units, switching from flood to drip would be assumed to consume 50 units at present, which would require a delivery of only 50/0.9 (55.5) units after conversion. The “saving” of 44.5 units are then divided between the farmer and the environment. Of the 22.25 units going to the farmer, he consumes (with the new technology) approximately extra 20 units. So on-farm water consumption is expected to increase from 50  units to 70 units (and return flows are diminished by approximately the same amount), in apparent direct contradiction to the programme objectives. In some cases, such return flows will be non-recoverable outflows to saline groundwater; in other cases, where irrigation is close to rivers or where groundwater is usable, the return flows are recoverable and cannot be counted as “savings”. However, the current evaluation of investments includes no apparent basis for assessing whether subsidized introduction of hi-tech systems will actually release water to alternative uses, or simply increase consumption by the extra amount allocated to the farmer. A more comprehensive implementation of UN-SEEAW—where return flows to the environment are specifically accounted for—would have addressed this problem.

Other authors have identified the issue. Qureshi et al. (2011) point to the problem of ignoring return flows, and the danger of focussing on local “efficiency”, while Loch and Adamson (2015) go on to identify the “rebound effect” whereby when water deliveries to the farm are more valuable, the demand for water actually increases.

Most recently, writing in a Special Issue of Water Economics and Policy that addressed many of the complexities of managing water scarcity in the Murray Darling basin, Grafton (2017) made the following key observations regarding the Australian experience with providing subsidies for on-farm improvements in irrigation technology:

* About USD 2.5 billion of taxpayers’ funds used for improving farm irrigation has primarily benefitted private individuals;
* These investments have had no discernible impact in terms of reduced water use on a per-hectare basis, or release of water to alternative users;
* The buyback of water rights from willing sellers was the most effective use of taxpayer funds to release water to alternative uses;
* Investments in irrigation to raise “crop-per-drop” productivity had failed to deliver water savings on a basin scale.



Friday, 13 April 2018

Alleged irrigator water theft heading for the courts?


A cousin by marriage of the current Australian Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud, John Norman, finds his agricultural business practices under scrutiny.....

The Guardian, 9 April 2018:

Fraud charges are expected to be laid against one of Queensland’s biggest cotton irrigators, John Norman, within a matter of weeks.

If the trial of the owner-operator of Norman Farming, and former cotton farmer of the year goes ahead, it is likely to draw attention to the links between the irrigator’s family and that of the federal minister for agriculture and water resources, David Littleproud.

If the charges are laid, they will also throw the spotlight on the Queensland government’s failure in administering a key plank of the $13bn Murray-Darling basin plan, how it withheld critical information about the alleged crimes, and how it raises queries as to whether it lied about its own investigation.

For the past 18 months, an expanding team of undercover detectives, cybercrime experts and forensic accountants have been investigating Norman’s business on the Queensland/New South Wales border, an irrigated cotton aggregate stretching 45km north from the McIntyre river.

The investigation has focused on whether Norman Farming misused upwards of $25m in Murray-Darling basin infrastructure funds that were supposed to make the irrigator more efficient and deliver water back to the ailing river system downstream.
The plan for the basin is funded by the commonwealth and administered by state governments. But allegations that the $150m Healthy Headwaters Water Use Efficiency projects in Queensland, part of the MDB plan, lacked any genuinely independent checks on projects, means it may have been left open to corruption.

“It’s been a loosey-goosey slush fund helping irrigators get richer,” according to Chris Lamey, a dry-land farmer who’s seeking compensation from Norman, his neighbour. “It’s achieved the opposite of what was intended. There’s a lot of water not getting into NSW now and it’s backed up in dams next door to me.”

Queensland’s covert police investigation into Norman Farming went public in October 2017, when dozens of major crime squad detectives holding multiple subpoenas fanned out from Goondiwindi in early-morning high-speed convoys, heading across the floodplain to the irrigator’s properties and several of its contractors in and around the border river town…..

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Just because Nationsls MP for New England Barnaby Joyce is now sitting on the backbenches in disgrace doesn't mean the Turnbull Government can ignore all those dodgy water deals he made


Example of a dodgy water deal par excellence where a Cayman Islands corporation can pocket $78.8 million from a suspect water sale in the beleaguered Murray-Darling Basin........

Eastern Australia Agriculture Pty Ltd (EAA) was incorporated in 2007 and is based in St George, Australia. It operates as a subsidiary of Eastern Australian Irrigation Limited.

According to The Courier Mail on 21 March 2018; the company is based in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands.

The Land reported on 19 October2011 that; EAA shareholders are based in Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Its directors include former Ridley Corporation managing director Matthew Bickford-Smith and former Colly Farms's grower services manager Peter Cottle.

EEA’s portfolio comprises two properties - “Kia Ora” (7km south of St. George) and “Clyde” (10km south-west of Dirranbandi) totalling 37,590ha made up of 12,800ha of cotton producing irrigation land with further areas of development potential.

These properties are close to the notorious water harvester,“Cubbie Station”, in the Condamine-Balonne Valley.

EAA’s entire properties, including the water licences were reported to have been independently valued at est. $107m in 2017.

In 2017 the Turnbull Government agreed to purchase over 29 gigalitres of water for $80,041,455  from EEA, which originally insisted on $2,200 per megalitre. But after negotiation, the Government paid a higher price - $2,745 per megalitre.

Then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Water, Barnaby Joyce, approved the final purchase of 29,159 megalitres of OLF licences in May 2017 - 14,969 ML from “Clyde” and 14,190 from “Kia Ora”.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) due diligence later reduced the total volume to 28,740 megalitres and the price paid to $78,891,300.

The water purchased was for Over Land Flow (OLF) licences, which cannot be traded between irrigators, because they are attached to land. They have no legal status or any recognition at a location other than where they were originally purchased. That is, there appears to be no legal basis for the Commonwealth to ensure it gets to the places it is intended to be used. [The Australia Institute, March 2018, “That’s not how you haggle”, p.3]

The sale of EAA’s OLF licences represented 74% of the value of both EAA properties.

EAA recorded a $52m gain on the sale in their 2017 Annual Report. [ibid, p.8]

The purchase appears to be in breach of the Commonwealth Procurement Rules because it was not made available to all licence holders in the valley…. [ibid, p.3]

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The mess that Barnaby left





EDO NSW, on behalf of its client the Inland Rivers Network, has commenced civil enforcement proceedings in the NSW Land and Environment Court in relation to allegations of unlawful water pumping by a large-scale irrigator on the Barwon-Darling River.

The two water access licences at the centre of these allegations allow the licence holder to pump water from the Barwon-Darling River in accordance with specified licence conditions, as well as rules set out in the relevant ‘water sharing plan’. The conditions and rules specify – amongst other things – how much water can be legally pumped in a water accounting year (which is the same as the financial year) and at what times pumping is permissible (which depends on the volume of water flowing in the river at any given time). 

Our client alleges that the holder of these licences pumped water in contravention of some of these conditions and rules, thereby breaching relevant provisions of the Water Management Act 2000 (NSW) (WM Act). The allegations are based on licence data obtained by EDO NSW earlier in 2017 from Water NSW, a state-owned corporation charged with the responsibility of regulating compliance with the WM Act. 

Analysis of this data, along with the relevant rules and publicly available information on river heights, indicates that the licence holder may have pumped significantly more water than was permissible on one licence during the 2014-15 water year, and taken a significant amount of water under another licence during a period of low flow when pumping was not permitted in the 2015-16 water year. Despite being made aware of these allegations by EDO NSW on two occasions, in April and August 2017, and having had access to the data since at least July 2016, Water NSW has not provided any indication that it intends to take compliance action against the licence holder.

Both allegations concern the potentially unlawful pumping of significant volumes of water, which may have had serious impacts on environmental flows in the river and downstream water users. However, our client is particularly concerned by the alleged over-extraction in the 2014/15 water year, as this period was so dry that the Menindee Lakes – which are filled by flows from the Barwon-Darling River – fell to 4 percent of their total storage capacity. This in turn threatened Broken Hill’s water security and led the NSW Government to impose an embargo on water extractions during part of that year in order to improve flows down the Barwon-Darling into the Lakes and Lower Darling River. 

In these proceedings, the Inland Rivers Network is seeking, amongst other things, an injunction preventing the licence holder from continuing to breach the relevant licence conditions. In addition, and in order to make good any depletion of environmental flows caused by the alleged unlawful pumping, our client is also asking the Court to require the licence holder to return to the river system an equivalent volume of water to that alleged to have been unlawfully taken, or to restrain the licence holder from pumping such a volume from the river system, during the next period of low flows in the river system. Failure to comply with a court order constitutes contempt of court, which is a criminal offence. 

EDO NSW is grateful to barristers Tom Howard SC and Natasha Hammond for their assistance in this matter.

Brendan Dobbie, Senior Solicitor at EDO NSW, has carriage of this matter for IRN.


In 2008, then Senator Joyce criticised the Labor government’s purchase of water in the Warrego valley: that is going to have no effect whatsoever in solving the problems of the lower Murray-Darling, and especially the southern states.

Despite the now Deputy Prime Minister and Water Minister’s own fierce criticism of that purchase, he approved the $16,977,600 purchase of another 10.611 gigalitres of water in the Warrego valley in March 2017 at more than twice the price paid by the Labor government. Questions should be raised about what changed the Deputy Prime Minister’s mind and whether that purchase was value for money.

This purchase also has serious implications for the recent amendments to the Basin Plan that was disallowed by the Senate on 14 February 2018.

This purchase was not required to meet the water recovery target in the Warrego under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Instead, it was intended to count towards the water recovery target in the Border Rivers. This swap required an amendment to s6.05 of the Basin Plan, which was tabled in parliament and disallowed by the Senate. Yet, the Warrego purchase was not reflected in the Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) put to Parliament as part of the amendments.

Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is required to base its recommendations to change SDLs based on best available science, but the proposed amendments allowed MDBA and States to subsequently change the SDLs in a valley without any consideration of the science.

While MDBA was seeking public submissions on changes to valley SDLs, based on science; the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) was in negotiations to change those valley targets, not based on science.

Parliament was asked to pass an amendment to the Basin Plan with SDLs that would have been changed based on a deal agreed over a year earlier, if the amendment had passed.

Given that the new SDLs were known and agreed by governments, it is not apparent why the MDBA did not include the new SDLs in the amendment put to parliament.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

SA Royal Commission into Murray-Darling Basin management and alleged water theft


The NSW Berejiklian Government will not be happy with this………

ABC News, 30 November 2017:

Allegations of water theft upstream in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) have prompted South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill to launch a state royal commission to identify any perpetrators.

New South Wales and Queensland were slapped with a scathing assessment of compliance with the MDB Plan on Saturday, after a review found poor levels of enforcement.

The review also found a lack of transparency surrounding the states' water management, along with Victoria's.

Mr Weatherill said the report did not go far enough and announced a royal commission.

"The review that was handed down did not go into detailed findings of who committed water theft and who behaved inappropriately in relation to the river," he said.

"There have been no specific findings in relation to individuals or groups of individuals."

When asked whether a state royal commission could force bureaucrats from interstate to give evidence, Mr Weatherill said the royal commissioner would be given the powers of compulsion.

"And they will have no choice but to come forward," he said.

"A state-based royal commission does have the capacity to analyse things that touch on other states, provided there is a connection to South Australia.”

"That's our very clear legal advice and it's our intention to pursue this royal commission's power to their fullest extent, so we can get to the bottom of this water theft."…..

Despite labelling it "just another stunt", the Federal Government said it would cooperate with SA's royal commission.

Assistant water resources minister Anne Ruston said the issues in the basin were being addressed but the Commonwealth would not stand in the way of the commission, and neither should NSW or Victoria.

"I'd like to think they'd cooperate, certainly the Commonwealth will cooperate, we haven't got anything to hide," she said.

The Australian Government’s 25 November 2017 The Murray–Darling Basin Water Compliance Review can be read here.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

NSW Environmental Defender's Office has served irrigator and Nationals donor Peter Harris a summons demanding he return more than five billion litres of water he is alleged to have illegally taken from the Barwon-Darling River


The Australian, 14 November 2017:

The NSW Environmental Defender’s Office has served irrigator and Nationals donor Peter Harris a summons demanding he return more than five billion litres of water he is alleged to have ­illegally taken from the Barwon-Darling River.

The incidents of alleged water theft are the subject of ICAC, Ombudsman and Office of Water inquiries, which follow the standing down and resignation of former senior NSW water bureaucrat Gavin Hanlon.

It has also been revealed that NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair benefited Mr ­Harris, a cotton farmer, and other irrigators by changing the laws to pardon Mr Harris retrospectively for illegal flood works and that Mr Blair lobbied Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton to change the law to justify a decision to give Mr Harris more water trading rights.

In their action in the Land and Environment Court, the plaintiffs demand “the return of water, up to the equivalent of the total volume ... (to) occur immediately after the water is extracted from the water source and has passed through metering equipment” to measure it, but before it is stored.

Alternatively, the defender’s office is seeking orders so that Mr Harris forfeits his entitlement to the equivalent amount of water in ­future to replenish the river.

The summons was served on Peter James Harris and Jane Maree Harris and the matter is listed for December 8.

The amount of water allegedly taken would fill more than 2000 Olympic swimming pools.

Office chief executive David Morris said the action was being taken because the NSW government was not moving quickly enough to penalise Mr Harris.

“On two occasions EDO NSW has written to the NSW government outlining concerns about potential breaches of the Water Management Act 2000 (NSW) and informing the government of intention to commence civil enforcement proceedings,” he said.

“No adequate response has been received from the government. In the face of government inaction, our client (the Inland Rivers Network) has seen no other choice but to commence proceedings in the Land and Environment Court.”

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Independent Investigation into NSW Water Management and Compliance - interim report concerning theft and corruption allegations published 8 September 2017


It took a public airing of the issues by ABC TV “Four Corners” in its Pumped: Who is benefitting from the billions spent on the Murray-Darling? program on 24 July 2017 to force the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Australian National Audit Office, Commonwealth Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and the NSW Berejiklian Coalition Government into investigative action.
The NSW Government has now published its initial 78-page report into allegations of theft and corruption in the management of water resources in the Murray–Darling Basin.


On 11 September 2017, Ken Matthews issued a statement regarding the delivery of his Independent Investigation into NSW Water Management and Compliance. The focus of his interim report was to assess whether the department's policies, procedures and actions were appropriate, to recommend whether further actions should be undertaken, and to identify opportunities to improve the department’s future compliance and enforcement performance.

Download the Independent investigation into NSW water management and compliance – Interim report (2 MB PDF).


ABC News, 12 September 2017:
Yesterday, Mr Hanlon was stood down from the Department of Primary Industries pending a misconduct investigation: Four Corners had also revealed he had offered to share with them — via DropBox — internal departmental documents that had been "debadged".
His removal was announced as the Government released a wide-ranging report by Ken Matthews into the allegations raised in the program.
The Matthews report has turned out to be nothing of the whitewash many expected. What he has delivered instead is a grenade.
Among his recommendations is that the Government enforce a regime of "no metering, no pumping" which is sobering for no other reason than it is so obvious: the vast majority of people who pay water rates in this country will be aghast that this has not always been the case for water users who deal in billions of litres of water.
Most alarming for some government employees and businesspeople is the revelation contained in his report that the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has taken up an interest in the matter: including into whether the department has properly and fully pursued cases of alleged illegal water extraction.
As a result of its involvement, the fine details regarding "gaps in the case management record", and why cases were not pursued in the face of "prima facie evidence of substantive breaches", were not published. Instead, Mr Matthews handed these matters to the anti-graft commission.
From what I saw on the ground when we were filming this program, there will be many people sweating on what happens next. The Matthews investigation was clearly thorough, but it was done in a very short time, and with none of the powers of the ICAC.
A critical further point, that might otherwise be lost amid the hue and cry about illegal water take and meter tampering, is the question of so-called "environmental water".
This was made possible by a bizarre "water sharing plan" enacted in 2012 by which the NSW Government gave major water-users more reliable access to water — including by dumping restrictions on pump sizes and allowing fast, large-scale industrial extraction of water even when the river was running low.
Mr Matthews makes it clear that "this issue applies not only in the Barwon-Darling water system but elsewhere in NSW and the wider Murray-Darling Basin".
"Solving the problem will be critical to the success of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan," Mr Matthews found.
"It is a pre-condition if the anticipated environmental benefits of the plan are to be delivered.
"The issue is not new. Regrettably, it has continued without resolution for years ... there is a strong public expectation that arrangements should be in place already, and to the extent that they are not, a remedy is urgent."
This is a bombshell for the Commonwealth Government and this major economic and agrarian reform.
The South Australian Government has reacted to Mr Matthews' findings already, reiterating calls for a national judicial inquiry.
For Mr Le Lievre, and many others, this is where the significant changes need to be made. Communities like Louth will simply fade away without the water they once had flowing past.
Earlier this year, Mr Le Lievre told me someone in the NSW Government had to be held accountable for what had been done with the water.
The Matthews report goes some way to delivering precisely that, but, as the weathered farmer insisted at the time, "the only way to make them accountable and to stop them from pulling out legs is to do it under oath".
"Simple. They can't get out of it, they've got to tell the truth."
It is a power that was not available to Mr Matthews, or to the various other investigations now underway into the Four Corners revelations. It is, however, readily used in the ICAC's hearing room.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Trouble With Water: not a good look for the National Party of Australia



On 1 June 2017 former NSW Minister for Natural Resources, Lands and Water (23 April 2014 - 2 April 2015) and current Nationals MP for Barwon, Kevin Humphries, announced that he will retire at the next state election in March 2019.

In the wake of the 24 July ABC “Four Corners” revelations of large-scale water theft under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, Humphries has been referred to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) by the Labor Opposition.

Hot on the heels of this program came another announcement on 31 July 2017.

Former NSW Minister for Primary Industries (3 April 2011 - 2 April 2015) with responsibility for lands & water and current Nationals MP for Cootamundra, Katrina Hodgkinson, announced her retirement effective mid to late August 2017.

Hodgkinson denies any connection between her sudden retirement and those Four Corners revelations.

However it should be noted that it was on the joint watch of Humphries and Hodgkinson that the position of NSW Water Commissioner responsible for the overall management of the State’s surface water and groundwater resources was axed and the NSW Office of Water was reformed as part of the Dept. of Primary Industry maintaining overall responsibility for accepting and assessing applications to change water access licences and operating the Water Access Licence Register.

High volume water theft appears to have become easier on the watch of these two National Party politicians.

All that would be needed for a trifecta of retiring state politicians associated with water resource policy would be for the current NSW Minister for Primary Industry, Minister for Regional Water and Nationals MLC, Niall Blair, to announce an unexpected desire to spend more time with his family and pursue other interests.

Any further scandal surrounding the management water resources in the NSW section of the Murray-Darling Basin and this may well be a distinct possibility - or even more media coverage like this perhaps?

The Daily Telegraph, 2 August 2017:

A NATIONALS minister is pushing Cabinet colleagues to change irrigation laws to retrospectively justify a decision by his department to give a major political donor and cotton farmer more rights over the precious Barwon-Darling River.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal that Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair is behind a push to alter an element of the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan.

It comes after his department in 2016 overruled what it called “minor” error in the law to grant extra irrigation rights to Brewarrina cotton farmer Peter Harris.

A department briefing, seen by The Daily Telegraph, said the error was impacting on “some users wishing to trade between river sections covered by the plan”.

The briefing was written shortly after Mr Harris was given extra rights.

Mr Harris gave $10,000 to the National Party prior to the 2011 election in combined personal donations and those made by his company.

Its understood an internal Coalition fight has broken out between Mr Blair and current Water Minister Gabrielle Upton , who is resisting the changes. The revelations come as several inquiries have been launched into the alleged water theft on an industrial scale of precious resources across the basin…….

The Daily Telegraph has obtained another document showing that the retiring Ms Hodgkinson changed the water sharing plan to benefit irrigators after lobbying. She was water minister at the time.

In a 2012 letter to lobbyist and cotton farmer Ian Cole, Ms Hodgkinson wrote: “Following consideration of a number of WSP (water sharing plan) matter raised with me, I ­requested the Office of Water to make several amendments which I believe now present a fair and equitable outcome for all.”

The Minister for the Environment and Liberal MP for Vaucluse Gabrielle Upton's obvious reluctance may be due to her appreciation of a change in wind direction within the national electorate on the subject of Murray-Darling Basin water allocations.

The present Deputy Prime Minister and Australian Water Minister, Barnaby Joyce, is also in a somewhat precarious position – less to do with his manifest inadequacy as a federal minister and more to do with his stated motives for seeking to add the water ministry to his portfolio responsibilities.

Cartoonist David Rowe at Financial Review