PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the SA government’s Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin Plan is picking an “expensive fight” with the federal government and upstream Basin States while examining ground that’s already been “very well tilled”.
Mr Turnbull - the acting Agriculture and Water Resources Minister in Barnaby Joyce’s absence - spoke to media yesterday after SA Premier Jay Weatherill and the state’s Water Minister Ian Hunter revealed they would forge ahead with the Commission inquiry into water monitoring and compliance issues in the $13 billion Basin Plan.
The move was welcomed by environmental groups but slammed by Assistant Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Anne Ruston as “a political tool for some re-election stunt”.
Mr Turnbull said there had already been five inquiries into the issue of (alleged) water theft that was reported on a few months ago including one by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority into compliance which he released a report on the day before.
“That (report) sets out what the problems were, consistent with all the other inquiries,” he said.
“It sets out what actions have got to be taken to ensure water is managed responsibly and in accordance with the law.
“We should get on and do that.
“Now if Jay Weatherill for purely political reasons wants to spend South Australian’s taxpayers’ money on a Royal Commission, he’s free to do that.
“Federal officials will attend and answer questions - we’re not going to stand in his way on that - but he is going overground that has been very well tilled.
“We know what went wrong, we know what we do to get it right, and what we should do now is get it right.
“But Jay wants to play politics - he’s got a state election coming up - so he wants to pick a fight with everybody else.
“He wants to pick a fight with the upstream states, wants to pick a fight with the federal government.
“It’s politics (but) it’s a very expensive way of going about it.”
Royal Commission into “widespread allegations upstream irrigators are stealing water from the Murray Darling River system”.
It said the Commission would have wide-ranging coercive powers to investigate breaches of the Murray Darling Basin Agreement.
“The Commissioner will examine the adequacy of existing legislation and practices and make recommendations for any necessary changes,” it said.
“The Royal Commission will also look into whether any legislative or policy changes since the agreement was signed in 2012 have been inconsistent with the purpose of the Basin Agreement and Basin Plan.
“There is currently ongoing work reviewing the Murray Darling Basin system, including a Productivity Commission Report, an independent investigation in NSW and a basin-wide compliance review by the Murray Darling Basin Authority.
“This work will be considered by the Royal Commission, which will begin its work early in the new year.”
Mr Hunter said “We are now at a critical stage of the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Agreement”.
“For the plan to work, we must ensure South Australia is getting the water flows provided by the plan,” he said.
“Some upstream irrigators appear to be flouting the agreement to the detriment of our irrigators who have always played by the rules.”