Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce should stand aside from the water portfolio after his conspiratorial comments to a crowded Shepparton pub last night talking down the seriousness of alleged water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has declared.

Despite saying earlier this week there should be an investigation following the deeply troubling revelations on Four Corners, Mr Joyce apparently instead told the pub it was more about them trying to take more water off you.

More worryingly Mr Joyce reportedly went on to add: "I am glad it's in our portfolio, the National Party portfolio, so we can go out and say no, no, we’re not going to fold on that, we’re not going to be scared of you."

"These comments show the fox is in charge of the hen house,” ACF Campaign Director Paul Sinclair said.

"Compromises were made under the historic Basin Plan by all involved in order to end decades of squabbling and return water to the river to ensure the long-term viability of the wildlife, communities and farmers that rely on it."

"How can the Australian public have confidence that the plan is being fully and fairly implemented when the Minister in charge is making these kind of borderline conspiratorial claims."

Mr Joyce’s comments come only a day after it was revealed he was trying to appoint an irrigator lobbyist and critic of the Basin Plan to the board of the Authority overseeing the river system.

"The allegations aired on Four Corners are extraordinarily serious and should be treated as such with a independent national inquiry, alongside another that should be instigated by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption," Mr Sinclair said. 

ACF Media Enquiries

Journalists with enquiries may contact Tom Arup on 0402 482 910. For all other enquiries please call 1800 223 669 or email action@acf.org.au.