Showing posts with label water policy politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label water policy politics. Show all posts

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Too little or no water in pivotal NSW state dams? Who do you blame?


So who should NSW voters blame for the fact that state dams were not prepared for the current severe drought? It appears the finger points straight to then NSW Minister for Natural Resources, Lands and Water & Nationals MP for Barwon Kevin Humphries.

Now in comfortable retirement he can no longer be held to account for the damage he did by aiding and abetting the irrigator lobby in 2014.

In this he was assisted by then NSW Minister for Primary Industries & Nationals MP for Burrinjuck Katrina Hodgkinson who has also retired from the NSW Parliament. 

The Guardian, excerpt, 15 October 2019: 

In New South Wales, where the current drought is centred, water is allocated to towns, irrigators and other users based on how much water is expected to flow into dams in the coming year. Prior to 2014, NSW allocated water based on calculations around the “worst drought on record” and ensuring that high security water licence holders would still have water during the driest years. 

The worst drought on record for NSW was the millennium drought..... Planning for such a long drought and holding sufficient water in the state’s dams was opposed by former NSW water minister, Kevin Humphries, who claimed: 

"[Water allocation calculations] currently require water to be set aside within a dam, to ensure full or near full allocations for high security licences can be maintained through the worst drought on record. This water-sharing rule was developed prior to the recent millennial drought. When the millennium drought is taken into account, implementation would result in significant quantities of water being taken out of production, and held in reserve just in case an equally severe drought occurs again." 

 Read that again if you have to. Keeping water in dams “just in case” of severe drought is not good for business. Water in dams is water that isn’t being used for irrigation. 

Humphries introduced legislation that removed the millennium drought from water allocation calculations, meaning more water came out of dams for irrigation which would otherwise be available for towns through the drought.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Water raiders drop the pretence and go for source of Clarence Valley's drinking water


Having degraded their own rivers and failed to adequately plan their own water security for times of drought, local governments in the Murray-Darling Basin are calling for damming and diversion of water from the Northern NSW Clarence River system.

Thus far the Maryland River and the Aberfoyle River have been identified as desirable options by these wannabee water raiders. 

This is the Clarence River Catchment.
via Blicks River Guardians

The Aberfolye River is shown in the left hand lower curve of the catchment boundary.

The river is approximately 115km in length with an annual average water flow of 19,482 ML.

The Aberfoyle River* empties into the Guy Fawkes River which in turn runs into the Boyd River which is a tributary of the Nymbodia River which itself is the greatest contributor of water to the Clarence River system and the source of at least 95 per cent of Clarence Valley drinking water.

The Nymboida River is also the source for water storage held in the 30,000Ml Shannon Creek side dam which supplies water security for a combined total of 128,198 residents (as well as local businesses and over 5 million tourists annually) in Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour City local government areas.

Ten years ago the Nymboida was supplying water for a population of 95,000 - in forty years time it is conservatively expected to supply 220,000.


This proposal appears to be based on one of fourteen Clarence River diversion schemes 'desktop' investigated in the early 1980s - specifically a proposed dam on the Aberfoyle diverting water to either Happy Valley, Boorolong or Teatree creeks to feed the Gwydir River, or alternatively an Aberfoyle dam to feed the Gara River. 

Drawing more water from the Upper Nymboida sub-catchment will in all probability raise hydrological and environmental stress on the entire Nymboida River and, may result in water levels at the Nymboida Weir falling below the 225Ml/D low flow level pumping cutoff up to est. 80 per cent of the time.

At the time of writing the Nymboida flow was 200Ml/D.

Indeed, given that rainfall decline has been occurring in the Northern Rivers region for around five decades, any further decline in available river water to supply daily use and long-term water storage has the potential to see intractable water scarcity develop in Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour City local government areas, as well as a sharp decline in the health of the Nymboida River.

The rest of eastern Australia needs to realise that the Clarence River system is not filled to the brim with harvestable water. The 500,000,000Ml of water annually discharging into the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Clarence River was a myth from the first time it was calculated.

Even Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour City councils will have to curb their desire for continuous development, as they probably have less than twenty years of water security remaining even if the wall of Shannon Creek Dam were to be raised.

Since the Millennium Drought Clarence Valley households have been on permanent low level water use restrictions as a precautionary measure, but as this current drought** may indicate that severe drought is no longer an anomaly but an everyday fact of life, we may be facing a higher level of permanent water restrictions very soon. 

Note

The Devils Chimney in the Aberfoyle River gorge was declared an Aboriginal Place on 8 August 1980. It is protected under under Section 90 of the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Act 1974 and can not be damaged, defaced or destroyed without the consent of the NPW Director-General. Unfortunately the NSW Berejiklian Government does allow for damage and destruction of such sites.

** The NSW DPI Clarence Valley Drought Map as of 24 September 2019:

CDI = Combined Drought Indicator. RI = Rainfall Index. SWI = Soil Water Index. PGI = Pasture Growth Index. DDI = Drought Direction Index
Data current to 24/9/2019 (AEST)

Friday, 27 September 2019

If anything marks this NSW National Party politician out as a foolish man it is this......


Sometime between 23 and 24 September 2019 NSW Nationals MP for Clarence and Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Roads and InfrastructureChris Gulaptis, told The Daily Examiner that those who want to dam and divert water from the Clarence River catchment for inter-basin and/or interstate transfer should raise the matter when the Clarence is in flood.

His exact words were; Let’s have that discussion when we’re in a flood”.

A statement which presumes that, with diminishing rainfall and increased evaporation rates being part of both the Clarence Valley's present and its future, drawing water for an additional 236,984 people, their farms and businesses is in anyway feasible even during a passing flood.

This water extraction would be on top of the current draw for the combined population of Clarence Valley LGA and Coff Habour City LGA - 128,198 people, their farms and businesses, as well as water for over 5 million tourists annually.

Indeed this entire article is typical Gulaptis, who more times than not has to be dragged metaphorically kicking and screaming to defend the Clarence Valley from the ignorance and avarice of a Coalition government of which he is a member.

The Daily Examiner, 25 September 2019, p.3:
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis has hit back at claims the government is secretly working on a plan to divert coastal rivers inland to drought-stricken rivers out west.
Mr Gulaptis’s comments come after The Guardian reported the NSW government was secretly exploring a plan to turn the state’s coastal rivers inland to provide more water for irrigators and towns in the west of the state.
According to The Guardian, WaterNSW documents obtained under freedom of information show significant work has been done recently on at least four projects involving pumping water from coastal rivers over the Great Dividing Range to replenish western rivers.
The Guardian said the main focus of work has been on turning the headwaters of the Clarence inland via a network of pipes and pumps into headwaters of the Border rivers.
Mr Gulaptis said he hasn’t heard of any plans being put into action.
My discussions with the water minister have been along the vein that they are outdated plans which are not a priority of the government,” he said.
It’s been on the books for a long period of time, and it gets rehashed every time there’s a drought.”
Mr Gulaptis said he would not support any such plans, especially due to the current vulnerability of the North Coast region.
The North Coast isn’t immune to drought – we’re in the grips of one of the worst droughts we’ve ever had and there isn’t any water for us to spare.”
Mr Gulaptis said he believes the plan is a “fanciful idea”.
Let’s have that discussion when we’re in a flood,” he said.
Despite Mr Gulaptis’s denial, The Guardian said the documents showed WaterNSW was discussing some projects with western irrigators last year and that it had commissioned hydrological analysis for some projects this year.

Monday, 15 July 2019

The national scandal that is the Murray-Darling Basin continues unabated


On the morning of Friday 12 July 2019 NSW Water's real-time records showed that much of the Murray-Darling Basin river systems where they pass through New South Wales are still recording less than 20 per cent water flows, with some sections of the Darling River still regularly recording zero flows and water levels as low as 0.16 of a metre.  

Water sustainability and environmental water flows have been in crisis for decades within the Basin and no solution is in sight.

Here is a snapshot of the latest information........

ABC News, 7 July 2019:

Australian taxpayers have given a huge corporation more than $40 million, enabling it to expand irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin under an environmental scheme that has been labelled a national disgrace.

Four Corners can reveal that more than $4 billion in Commonwealth funds has been handed over to irrigators, which has allowed them to expand their operations and use more water under the $5.6 billion water infrastructure scheme — the centrepiece of Australia's $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The scheme is intended to recover water for the rivers by giving farmers money to build water-saving infrastructure, in return for some of their water rights.

Some of the beneficiaries of the scheme are partly foreign-owned corporations that have used the money to transform vast tracts of land along the threatened river system, planting thirsty cotton and nut fields.

One of the biggest operators is Webster Limited, a publicly traded company that produces 90 per cent of Australia's walnuts and is 19.5 per cent owned by Canadian pension fund PSP.

Webster has received $41 million from the water infrastructure scheme to grow its empire in the Murrumbidgee Valley, in south-west New South Wales, where it has bought hundreds of square kilometres of land.

The funding covers more than half of an ambitious $78 million capital works program by Webster Limited to build dams to store more than 30 billion extra litres of water and irrigate an extra 81 square kilometres of land, developing much of it into prime, irrigated cotton country.

Maryanne Slattery, a former director at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, says it is horrifying that a scheme designed to help the environment is allowing irrigators to use more water.

"That program was supposed to reduce the amount of water that was going to irrigation, when it's actually increased the opportunities for irrigation … all subsidised by taxpayers," she said…...

Read full article here.

ABC Four Corners8 July 2019:

Taxpayer dollars, secretive deals and the lucrative business of water.

"It's a national scandal." Water economist

Two years on from the Four Corners investigation into water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin that sparked a royal commission, the program returns to the river system to investigate new concerns about how the plan to rescue it is being carried out.

"How extravagant is this scheme?... I'd just call it a rort." Lawyer

On Monday Four Corners investigates whether the contentious plan has become a colossal waste of taxpayers' money.

"The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a triple bottom line fail. It's a fail for communities, it's a fail for the economy and it's absolutely a fail for the environment." Business owner

The river system is the lifeblood of Australian agriculture but right now it's in crisis. It's experiencing one of the worst droughts on record, and with mass fish deaths capturing the headlines and farmers struggling to survive, many are saying the scheme is failing to deliver.

"I would characterise it as pink batts for farmers, or pink batts for earth movers. It all had to happen in a short space of time." Contractor

Billions of taxpayers' dollars are being poured into grants handed to irrigators in an attempt to save more water. Four Corners investigates exactly how the money is being spent.

"I'm a taxpayer. I don't agree with the scheme. I think it's actually too expensive." Farmer

Some irrigators say this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform their businesses.

"With a bold initiative, having the basin plan and the government investing in irrigated agriculture, you get an opportunity to basically reset... for the next 50 years." Irrigation CEO

Others question who is actually gaining the most from the generous scheme.

"We're degrading the rivers at the same time as we're handing out money to a few individuals to realise huge economic gains at public cost." Ecologist

For those with access to water, there are lucrative sales to be made. Water prices have hit record highs turning it into liquid gold.

"Anyone can come in and buy water. You don't even have to be a farmer...You're going to make money out of it, and that's what a lot of people are doing, unfortunately." Farmer

Others worry that the scheme is encouraging the planting of crops even thirstier than cotton, creating a potential time bomb.

"There's been an explosion in the production of nuts in the Murrumbidgee, and more broadly in the Murray-Darling Basin...This may well be a time bomb." Former water official

Four Corners investigates how the scheme is being regulated and whether water users and the authorities responsible are being properly held to account.

"We're talking about billions of dollars in taxpayers' money on a scheme that many, many capable and reliable scientists have said, this isn't going to work." Lawyer

Transcript of Four Corners 8 July 2019 episode Cash Splash is here.

Abc.net.au, 9 July 2019:

Two years on from Pumped, the Four Corners investigation into water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin that sparked a royal commission, Monday night’s report Cash Splash investigated new concerns about how the plan to rescue the fragile and vitally important river system is being carried out, probing the infrastructure grants scheme which is now the centrepiece of the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The investigation revealed tens of millions of dollars intended to restore the Murray-Darling Basin is helping big businesses expand irrigation and access huge volumes of water that would have flowed into communities and habitats downstream.

The aim of the story was to speak with people who have first-hand evidence of how the grants scheme is operating. It drew on a wide cross-section of the community affected by the scheme, including farmers and irrigators who have received the funding or been involved in its expenditure, scientists and economists who have gathered and analysed data on its effects, community leaders, former government officials and current and former Murrumbidgee Irrigation staff.

The interviewees on the program were:

Julie and Glen Andreazza, NSW Farmers of the Year
Brett Jones, CEO, Murrumbidgee Irrigation
Anthony Kidman, former Murrumbidgee Irrigation Project Manager
David Papps, former Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
Professor Richard Kingsford, Ecologist, UNSW
Richard Beasley SC, Former Senior Counsel Assisting the SA Royal Commission into the MDBP
Prof Sarah Wheeler, Water Economist, University of Adelaide
John Kerrigan, Earthmover and now irrigator and recipient of infrastructure grants
Maryanne Slattery, former Director of Environmental Water at the MDBA and now senior Water Researcher, Australia Institute
Kelvin and Glen Baxter, farmers
Prof Quentin Grafton, UNESCO Chair in Water Economics, ANU
Paul Pierotti, Vice President of the Griffith Business Chamber
Tony Onley, Business Development Coordinator, Murrumbidgee Irrigation
Emma Carmody, Senior Solicitor, Environmental Defender’s Office
Matthew Ireson, Grazier

Four Corners requested an interview with Environment Minister Sussan Ley, who is responsible for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office and is the Member for Farrer, which includes the Murrumbidgee Valley where the story was filmed.


Minister Ley declined to be interviewed and her spokesperson told Four Corners no-one from the government would comment for the story.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

First global assessment of the ecological health of the world's "wild" rivers has found only about one third of the longest rivers are still free-flowing


As the Queensland flood waters finally make it down the Dimantina and Georgina rivers and Cooper's Creek and spread out over the Eyre Basin and into Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, it is well to remember three things.

The first is that; The Lake Eyre Basin is one of the largest and most pristine desert river systems on the planet, supporting 60,000 people and a wealth of wildlife.

The second is the fact that the Morrison Government has a stated policy to dam and divert more water from Australia's river systems if it is re-elected. 

The third is that water sustainability into the future is dependent on wild rivers running free.

ABC Radio,“RN”, 9 May 2019:

The first global assessment of the ecological health of the world's "wild" rivers has found only about one third of the longest rivers are still free-flowing.

The report warns the disruption is harming ecosystems, with 3,700 new large dams either under construction, or planned.


Nature, 8 May 2019:

Gill,Gunter et al, (2019) Mapping the world’s free-flowing rivers

ABSTRACT

Free-flowing rivers (FFRs) support diverse, complex and dynamic ecosystems globally, providing important societal and economic services. Infrastructure development threatens the ecosystem processes, biodiversity and services that these rivers support. Here we assess the connectivity status of 12 million kilometres of rivers globally and identify those that remain free-flowing in their entire length. Only 37 per cent of rivers longer than 1,000 kilometres remain free-flowing over their entire length and 23 per cent flow uninterrupted to the ocean. Very long FFRs are largely restricted to remote regions of the Arctic and of the Amazon and Congo basins. In densely populated areas only few very long rivers remain free-flowing, such as the Irrawaddy and Salween. Dams and reservoirs and their up- and downstream propagation of fragmentation and flow regulation are the leading contributors to the loss of river connectivity. By applying a new method to quantify riverine connectivity and map FFRs, we provide a foundation for concerted global and national strategies to maintain or restore them.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

The Liberal & Nationals answer to all the water policy mistakes they have made in the past. Full speed ahead to make some more!



In 2006 the Howard Coalition Government’s then Minister for Water Malcolm Bligh Turnbull attempted an under-the-radar progression of a proposal to dam and divert water from the Clarence River system into the Murray Darling Basin. He was sprung and it lost his government the seat of Page in 2007.

When Tony Abbott was prime minister he was all gung-ho for damming east coast rivers, but was by then wary of the mood of Clarence Valley communities.

Despite a certain coolness on Tony Abbott’s part and Turnbull's silence once he followed Abbott as prime minister, the wannabee water raiders within the Basin have never given up on the idea of destroying the Clarence River in order to continue lucrative water trading for profit and inappropriate levels of farm irrigation in the Basin.

This is a mockup of what these raiders would like to see along the Clarence River. 

North Coast Voices, 1 March 2013
On 30 April 2019 Scott Morrison and Co announced the proposed creation of the National Water Grid which in effect informs communities in the Northern Rivers region that our wishes, being “political” because we are not their handpicked ‘experts’, will be ignored when it comes to proposed large-scale water diversion projects including dams if they are re-elected on 18 May 2019.

The Daily Examiner, 4 May 2019, p.10:

“Just add water” is the Nationals’ answer to “unleashing the potential” of regional Australia but it would come at a cost to areas flush with the precious resource.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack announced on Tuesday at the National Press Club that a returned Coalition government would establish an authority, the National Water Grid, to manage water policy and infrastructure.

“We know the key to unlocking the potential of regional Australia is simple – just add water,” he said.

The announcement of the National Water Grid has sparked fears the Clarence and Nymboida rivers may be dammed to irrigate drought-stricken areas of the country – a prospect the Clarence Valley community has faced before.

The Nationals’ Page MP, Kevin Hogan, said there were “no plans to dam the Clarence River”.

“There are proposals in other drought-affected areas of the country,” he said…..

The planned National Water Grid would ensure water infrastructure would be based on the best available science, “not on political agendas”, Mr McCormack said.

It would “provide the pipeline of all established, current and future water infrastructure projects and then identify the missing links”.

Mr McCormack said dams were the answer to “create jobs”, “back agriculture and back farmers”.

“While we are being bold and building big, we are often stopped at the first hurdle when it comes to short-sighted state governments that choose politics over practicality, and indeed science,” he said…..

Thursday, 10 January 2019

What did National Party federal ministers know about allegations of water theft & fraud and when did they know it?



Before unlawfully entering federal politics in 2004, Nationals MP for New England Barnaby Joyce was an accountant in St. George, Queensland just 119 km up the Barwon Highway from the extensive Norman cotton farming complex.

As a senator for Queensland he was Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Infrastructure and Water from 25.3.2010 to 14.9.2010 and Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Water from 14.9.2010 to 18.9.2013.

He became a Cabinet Minister in the Abbott Coalition Government and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia in the Turnbull Coalition Government.

From 21.9.2015 to 27.10.2017 and then from  6.12.2017 to 20.12.2017 he was also the federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources.

Lawfully elected to the Australian Parliament for the first time in the 2017 New England by-election, thereafter he has sat as a National Party backbencher.

Given what we now know about Joyce’s attitude to control of water resources and his favouring of the needs of irrigators over those of dryland farmers and the environment the question must be asked – what did he know about this alleged $20 million fraud and when did he know it?

The same question also needs to be asked concerning current Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources & Nationals MP for Maranoa David Littleproud’s knowledge of this matter.

ABC News, 9 January 2018:

Two senior figures in Queensland cotton conglomerate Norman Farming have been arrested over an alleged $20 million fraud involving federal funds earmarked for Murray-Darling water savings.

Norman Farming CEO John Norman, 43, and his chief financial officer Steve Evans, 53, surrendered themselves at the Brisbane watch house Tuesday morning with their lawyers at their sides.

The men appeared in the Brisbane Magistrates Court Tuesday afternoon and were granted bail.

Police are alleging the rural fraud operation involved the director of the company submitting fraudulent claims, including falsified invoices related to six water-efficiency projects on the southern border property near Goondiwindi, known as Healthy Headwater projects.

Mr Evans will face charges in relation to four of those projects.

Police said the sophisticated fraud spanned seven years.

It has taken the rural arm of the major and organised crime squad more than a year to conduct what Detective Inspector Mick Dowie called, "a very protracted, very complex investigation".

Inspector Dowie said they had to trawl through thousands of documents and call in forensics accountants because of the sheer scale of the activities.

"There has obviously been a significant amount of documentation that's had to be analysed, and the offences particularly relate to the modification of invoices from contractors or service providers to the farming community," he said.

"We'll allege the company contracted harvesters or machinery operators to prepare for farming.

"And [we'll allege] those invoices were modified to show it was actually for earthworks related to the improvement of water efficiency, modified to suit the needs of the claim, and, we will allege, purely fabricated claims for use of machinery to fulfil the needs of the claims."

Norman Farming, a large cotton operation near Goondiwindi in Queensland's southern border region, was raided last October as part of a major criminal investigation, after a long covert operation.

At that time, the ABC's Lateline program reported the agricultural conglomerate was on the market for more than $100 million.

It also reported local farmers' concerns the Healthy Headwaters scheme had failed because there was never any checking of invoices by department officials.
According to Lateline, the Federal Government was made aware of allegations Norman Farming was diverting floodwaters in late 2016.

But the $154 million Healthy Headwaters budget was being administered by Queensland's Department of Natural Resources.

Inspector Dowie said in the department's defence it did not have any power of compulsion like police.

"So they can't force people to hand over documentation like we can, so they can compare original against what is produced," he said…..

BACKGROUND

Excerpt from SA Murray Darling Basin Royal Commission Exhibit




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.

The first person police met at Norman’s main Kalanga property, according to a source close to the investigation, was a teenage office worker who, when asked where the financial records were kept, explained they had been cleared out only days before by backpackers hired by her boss through a local publican. She took police to a locked shipping container where they had been moved.....


Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has stoked the controversy over claims of water theft in NSW aired by the ABC, dismissing the report as a ploy to strip more water off rural communities.

The comments have prompted the South Australian government to call for his removal from the post of federal water minister.

Mr Joyce told a gathering in a pub on Wednesday evening in the northern Victorian town of Shepparton, that it was important the Nationals had taken control of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

"[We've got] $13 billion invested in it," Mr Joyce said, referring to the plan, according to a recording by the ABC. "We've taken water and put it back into agriculture [ministry] so we can look after you and make sure we don't have the greenies running the show, basically sending you out the back door."

Mr Joyce took aim at the Four Corners investigation broadcast this week that identified apparent rorting by some irrigators of billions of litres in the Barwon-Darling region of northern NSW.

The program stirred national concern and prompted NSW water minister Niall Blair on Wednesday to appoint a former head of the National Water Commission Ken Matthews to conduct an independent probe of the claims.

Mr Joyce downplayed the impact of the alleged water theft at a media conference in Canberra on Wednesday - likening it cattle rustling - before dismissing the claims further at the Shepparton gathering......