Water cop promises enforcement
The Murray-Darling Basin's new ‘top cop’ has vowed to restore trust in the $13 billion basin plan.
Interim inspector-general for the Murray-Darling Basin, Mick Keelty, has toured the southern basin after being appointed to role by Federal Water Minister David Littleproud.
Mr Keelty says a string of high-profile scandals and revelations concerning water in the basin has undermined public faith.
“When I started this role we had a royal commission running in South Australia, we have a current investigation by the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that is yet to be completed, and there are prosecutions underway in Queensland,” Mr Keelty said.
“I think there are problems around corruption.”
He said there are no effective processes for handling complaints at the state or federal level/
“The interesting thing for me is that none of the matters that are currently underway, that I'm aware of, were actually commenced because of whistleblowers coming through departments,” he said.
“It's actually been through investigative journalism, and that says to me that departments don't have the right structures in place to bring forward complaints.
Mr Keelty said the complexity of the system created compliance challenges.
“If you look at the number of laws and policies, and even the number of little departments inside bigger departments, who have some sort of role or responsibility here, it actually sets itself up for poor compliance,” he said.
“We have to improve that.
“Thirteen billion dollars was invested by the Commonwealth, and we've spent about 80 per cent of that.
“We've also got a significant investment by the basin states, so this is taxpayer's money that has to be properly managed and properly looked after.
“And just like it does in every other field of government or private enterprise, [that large amount of money] does provide a chance for corruption or fraud to take place.”
New South Wales set up the NSW Natural Resource Access Regulator last year to boost compliance. The independent body has investigated 900 cases of non-compliance so far, and launched nine prosecutions.
Mr Keelty says this makes NSW the strongest state for enforcement.
Water Minister David Littleproud says water sharing will be the source of more controversy this summer, with supplies dwindling and no big rain in sight.
“This summer is shaping up to be even worse than last summer,” he said.
“It is crucial that people abide by the rules that have been allocated to them, abide by the allocations they've been given.
“But is it also important to ensure that we continue to let the environment exist — we have to think past this summer, and this is what the plan is about.”