South Australia calls for judicial inquiry into Barwon-Darling allegations


The South Australian Government has called for a judicial inquiry into the misappropriation of billions of litres of water from the River Murray.

An ABC Four Corners report found that in the Barwon-Darling system — a critical link in the wider Murray-Darling Basin — the NSW Government water extraction rules have given irrigators more reliable access to water than prior to 2012 when the Basin Plan was signed.

The findings revealed that water purchased by taxpayers to save Australia’s inland rivers are instead being harvested by some irrigators to boost cotton-growing operations.

The SA Minister for Water and River Murray Ian Hunter expressed anger at the alleged complicit action of NSW public servants in undermining the state’s water laws and subverting the intent of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“We have been working in good faith with other governments on the Basin Plan with the aim of ensuring the long-term health of the river system for our communities and our economies”, he said.

“Therefore we demand an urgent meeting of COAG to commission a judicial inquiry. That inquiry should have terms of reference that will make recommendations about a new national regime of compliance and enforcement for the Basin Plan.

But Federal Water Resources Assistant Minister Anne Ruston — who is also a South Australian Senator — has resisted the push, saying she would prefer to see the results of a NSW Government review first.

“A strict regulatory regime is part of effective water management and any non-compliance should be reported to and investigated by the relevant authorities in each state,” she said.

"I understand that NSW Agriculture and Water Minister, Nyall Blair, has already issued a statement directing his department to provide an urgent overview of all compliance matters raised.”

Mr Hunter said the findings confirm “our deep suspicions about the level of commitment of New South Wales to comply with the Basin Plan.”

“What did the New South Wales Government know about this, and when did they know it? That Government has questions to answer.

“That inquiry should have terms of reference that will make recommendations about a new national regime of compliance and enforcement for the Basin Plan.

“I reiterate that it is critical to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full and on time, especially the 450 gigalitres of water we know is needed for the long-term health of the River Murray."