The South Australian Government announced on Sunday it will launch a royal commission into allegations upstream irrigators in NSW and Queensland are stealing water from the Murray Darling River.
MIA water advocates responded to this news by pointing the finger firmly back at the festival state.
SA Premier Jay Weatherill made the announcement after The Murray–Darling Basin Authority and Independent Panel released a review into compliance matters across the Murray–Darling Basin.
The review was critical of compliance regimes in all states, especially New South Wales and Queensland.
“The illegal take of water is theft—and both reports have found that state regulators must play a more active and assertive role in policing it,” MDBA chief executive Philip Glyde said.
“Our review found that Basin states—particularly New South Wales and Queensland—must do more to increase the robustness, transparency and consistency of compliance and enforcement across the Basin.
Mr Weatherill told ABC he thought the review did not go far enough.
"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".
MIA water advocates said one group that needs to be looked at more closely are South Australians.
Prominent Griffith residents made their views known at a ‘politics in the pub’ tour session hosted by NSW Senator Sam Dastyari at The Area Hotel on Sunday.
Griffith winery owner Darren De Bortoli said “[South Australia] blames the upstream irrigators for their own stuff ups”.
Mr De Bortoli said much of South Australia’s south east wetlands have been destroyed not by the MDB system, but by drains which flush the wetlands straight into the sea, which kills the sea grass.
“The science that underpins the basin plan is flawed… the assumption that the irrigation destroyed the [South Australia’s] Coroong was incorrect, no one disputes that, the flows from the Coorong came from the opposite direction ”.
Griffith business chamber president Paul Pierotti said, “we catch two farmers in northern NSW stealing water, which is like 1 gigalitre, and South Australia stole 45 giglitres the year before and nobody talks about that”.
“There should be a royal commission on the basin plan, as long as the terms of reference includes all of the issues we want to talk about [in addition to just water thieving in eastern states]”.
Binya farmer and Murray by-election candidate Helen Dalton agrees.
“I call on the NSW Government to head a royal commission. It should also cover the best known science on the Murray Darling Basin, South Australia’s self-inflicted mismanagement of its ecosystems and incorporate the recommendations of the previous Senate inquiry into the Murray Darling”.
A spokeswoman from the NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair, said the NSW Government does not support the calls for a royal commission.
“We have referred the issues to ICAC and the NSW Ombudsman, both of which have similar powers to a Royal Commission.”
“A Royal Commission would take years and would cost hundreds of millions of dollars which would be better spent on protecting and improving water management rather than lawyers and consultants”.
“The NSW Government is committed to the Murray Darling Basin Plan and strongly believes it is the most effective way to manage precious water resources across all of the Basin jurisdictions”.
“We need everyone at the table working constructively to make these plans work”.
“The NSW Government has taken these matters extremely seriously - we have already commissioned an independent report and last week passed legislation to implement the recommendations of this report”.
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