South Australian Water Minister Ian Hunter is ramping up his campaign for a Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Mr Hunter is calling on federal politicians to block passage of any changes required to implement the Basin Plan.
He has withdrawn his support for key suite of infrastructure and engineering projects known as the Structural Adjustment package, which would reduce the amount of water recovered from irrigation to deliver the environment more water - up to 605 gigalitres of so-called downwater.
What good this does remains to be seen, given the Ministerial Council of Basin States has given the package of projects the necessary approval to send it to parliament.
But that is the point.
The package of projects can be tabled by the Assistant Water Minister Anne Ruston from December 15 and Mr Hunter is hoping MPs in Canberra propose disallowance motions to block it.
Mr Hunter’s calls for a Royal Commission follow a series of scandals in irrigation compliance in NSW.
The bad news kicked off with allegations of water theft and bureaucratic undermining of the Basin Plan in ABC’s Four Corners investigation and continued with last week’s shock report from the NSW Ombudsman highlighting failures in the state’s water administration.
Mr Hunter said today SA did not trust the Commonwealth and NSW governments’ commitment to the Basin Plan, which is designed to recover water from consumptive use and return it the environment.
“South Australians have lost all confidence in Mr Turnbull’s ability to deliver the Murray Darling Basin Plan on time and in full,” Mr Hunter said.
He claimed a Royal Commission was required to investigate allegations of water theft and corruption.
“SA calls on all federal members of Parliament to stand up for the River Murray and vote in support of a disallowance motion to block moves by the Commonwealth Government to make any amendments to the Basin Plan,” Mr Hunter said.
National Irrigators chairman Steve Whan said Mr Hunter’s attitude was “extremely disappointing”.
“It appears he is trying to force the collapse of the Basin Plan. I urge him to engage constructively with the other states.”
The Structural Adjustment projects would remove the need for further reduction to irrigation capacity.
“SA Riverland irrigators need to know that if the full 605GL is not recovered they will be in line to lose 38GL, which would would be a huge blow,” Mr Whan said.
Rejection of the Structural Adjustment projects would also block recovery of a second tranche of water through on-farm and other water efficiency projects, also known as upwater.
Following allegations of bureaucratic failings, NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair referred the matters to Independent Commission Against Corruption, instructed Water NSW to address allegations, and ordered independent Matthews Review, which is due to report by November 30.
Meanwhile, the National Audit Office has been instructed to investigate and the Senate is conducting an inquiry.