The stage is set for an intriguing hearing of the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin Plan on Monday.
The Commissioner Bret Walker SC has issued a summonses to the Secretary of the Federal Agriculture Department, the Murray Darling Basin Authority chief executive and senior staff at the agency.
The Department and MDBA have sought in injunction in the High Court to prevent their staff from being compelled to give evidence to the Royal Commission.
Mr Walker said he declined to comment on the injunction as it is before the Court.
However, he made a separate statement today in response to media published overnight that claimed the Commission does not have powers to force interstate witness to testify.
“It has been reported in the Press that the Royal Commissioner ‘will not be able to compel witnesses from other States to give evidence’,” Mr Walker said.
“This statement is regarded by the Royal Commissioner as being incorrect.”
Mr Walker, a high-flying barrister who has served the Commonwealth as an Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, will provide opening comments to next week’s hearing in Adelaide. His remarks will no doubt be heavily scrutinised by a range of interested parties.
Aside from the significant issues to be probed by the Commission, relating to development and implementation of the Basin Plan, the High Court’s ruling may set a precedent that empowers states to probe Commonwealth departments and potentially Federal Government policy.
The Agriculture Department and MDBA declined to comment on their injunction.
Federal Water Minister David Littleproud said the Government is considering its position.
“It is not appropriate to comment further on the South Australian Royal Commission. My priority is to continue to work to ensure that the Basin plan is delivered in full and on time,” Mr Littleproud said.
SA Water Minister David Speirs has been contacted for comment.