Federal Government must act on Four Corners 'cash splash' exposé

8 July 2019

Shocking revelations on tonight's ABC Four Corners program about money from the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan being handed to irrigators to expand their operations and use more water, has led Centre Alliance to call on the Federal Government to take action to save Australia's most important river system.

“Revelations on Four Corners make it clear the Plan is simply not working the way it was intended,” said Centre Alliance environment spokesperson, Senator Rex Patrick.

“Positive action must be taken. Centre Alliance is calling on the Government to urgently tackle problems with the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.”

ROYAL COMMISSION:

“The Australian Government must initiate a Royal Commission into the Plan to deal with the many serious allegations that have piled up. These range from corrupt science being used to form up the Plan, rorting and thieving, dodgy water buybacks, alleged favours to large irrigators and now allegations of taxpayer dollars being used to do the opposite of what the money was intended to do - taking, rather than returning, water to the River,” Senator Patrick said.

“These allegations must be investigated by a Royal Commission with full powers to work across each of the Basin States and the Commonwealth, and to examine both officials and commercial players, including those operating within tax havens,” he said.

Centre Alliance Member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, asked: “If this Four Corners exposé doesn't prompt the Federal Government to establish a Royal Commission, what will it take?”

“Certainly, every SA Member and Senator must now stand up united for their state.”

FULL WATER AUDIT:

“It is abundantly clear from the latest Four Corners exposé that no-one is keeping track of the real effect of any water savings from water efficiency measures,” Senator Patrick said.

“No-one has a full understanding of who is taking what from the River and when, what water is being taken by flood plain harvesting, what the effects of climate change are and what is actually being returned to the River in terms of environmental and efficiency measures. This has to change. We need complete transparency over current and future diversions within the Murray-Darling Basin,” he said.

“There is an urgent need for a system-wide and transparent audit of the entire Murray-Darling water portfolio.”

SELECT COMMITTEE:

“It is obvious that there are problems with the multi-jurisdictional manner in which the Murray Darling System in being purportedly managed,” Senator Patrick said.

“With five states and the Federal Government with their finger in the management pie, it is not clear who is responsible for what, nor what the negative affects of different rules across each state are, nor how the different measuring, monitoring and compliance measures in each state impact the execution of the Plan, nor the effect of different enforcement approaches in each jurisdiction,” he said.

“Oversight remains poor and the mish-mash of federal, state and territory jurisdictions creates significant transparency issues.

“Centre Alliance will move for a Senate Select Committee to be established into the multi-jurisdictional management and execution of the plan when the Parliament returns.

“We need to get a solid understanding of the detriment that having multiple jurisdictions trying to manage the Basin has on the river system.”

CONSTITUTIONAL ALTERATION FOR A NATIONAL RIVER SYSTEM:

Centre Alliance introduced a Bill in the Parliament last week that proposes a change to the Constitution so that any water resource that crosses a state boundary is controlled by the Commonwealth. This would include both the Murray-Darling system and the Great Artesian Basin.

“It is clear that way too many chefs are spoiling the broth,” said Senator Patrick.

“The Parliament must actively and carefully consider this Bill in the coming months. The multi-jurisdictional nature of control over the Murray-Darling stems back to colonial representation during the Constitutional conventions. It is a control regime that is more than a century old and in desperate need of profound reform,” he said.

“Tonight’s Four Corners episode shows that we have reached the point where enough is enough.

“The Government has no choice but to take action or stand condemned for failing the communities that depend on the Murray-Darling and Australia's national interest.”

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