Troubled Waters

Troubled Waters

It was at a luncheon last Friday when one of my guests said “be sure to watch the ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday night.”

Naturally I asked why and he simply said “water”. So out of respect for my friend, I suppressed my usual concerns about the ABC and tuned in. I am so glad I did.

The program covered some of the irrigation practices in the Barwon-Darling basin and raised a number of questions about the efficacy and conduct of some of the most important players in this space – including government officials.

Some people for whom I have enormous respect raised their concerns by appearing on the program which, in my mind, confirmed there might be a serious problem or at the very least there are questions that need to be answered. We need to find out what the facts are and then turn our mind to fixing whatever has occurred.

There are some who are demanding a Royal Commission into the management of the Murray Darling Basin but I don’t think that’s the best response. It would take years and we need the facts much faster than that.

Others suggest a Federal parliamentary inquiry but the politics involved can sometimes ‘muddy the waters’ (forgive the pun).

It is worth noting that the NSW Government has already proposed a review but that is tantamount to a government investigating themselves. Whatever the result, the suspicion will be that it was compromised from the very beginning.

My Australian Conservatives colleague, Hon. Robert Brokenshire MLC has proposed a much more efficient solution. He has suggested that a retired judicial officer be appointed to conduct a brief but thorough independent inquiry to report back within 30 days. This would get the facts on the table quickly and depending on the findings, it would guide future actions.

Those actions could include a Council of Australian Governments meeting and if necessary a referral to corruption watchdogs like ICAC. 

This process is absolutely vital to ensure the integrity of the inquiry and the integrity of the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin agreement.

As a South Australian, being at the tail end of the river system, it is very easy to blame all our water woes on others. I have always tried not to do that whilst also acknowledging that the SA irrigators are some of the most efficient in the country. They have invested in infrastructure and implement best practice to keep them in the game when water allocations are under pressure.

I also understand why those upstream don’t want to disadvantage themselves. There are people in all the Basin states very unhappy about the allegations in the program. We all have an interest in ensuring the continuing viability of the waterway that enables the nation’s food-producing engine.

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