The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has welcomed the South Australian Royal Commission into Murray-Darling water theft allegations saying a full-blooded investigation into the problems on the river is long overdue.

ACF Director of Campaigns, Dr Paul Sinclair, said that a disturbing series of allegations have emerged over the past six months. The allegations came to light thanks to the hard work of community members, environment groups and the media, while national and state regulators have been notably absent.

“We welcome the South Australian Royal Commission. This is a long overdue step towards understanding what is going wrong on our rivers and why some powerful vested interests are being allowed to undermine their health of the Murray-Darling,” Dr Sinclair said.

“It is disappointing that it has been left to a state government to convene such an inquiry. The Turnbull Government should have commissioned an independent national judicial inquiry into the Murray-Darling allegations and it raises the question about why they are avoiding public scrutiny.”

Allegations about the conduct of some officials and powerful industry interests on the Murray-Darling that have emerged since July include:

  • Water theft and gauge tampering on the Darling River as aired on ABC Four Corners;
  • NSW elected representatives changing river rules to make them more favourable for powerful irrigators in NSW as reported in the Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald;
  • Queensland irrigators altering their properties to capture floodwater at the expense of the environment and other downstream needs as aired on ABC Lateline;
  • The Murray-Darling Basin Authority knowing about problems on the Darling River through its Datacube project but doing little to intervene as reported by the Guardian Australia;
  • That water compliance teams in NSW have been gutted as reported by ABC Four Corners and the Guardian Australia;
  • Senior public servants in NSW offering confidential information to irrigator lobbyists as revealed by ABC Four Corners;
  • The Federal Government spending $78 million to purchase water rights from an agricultural company against the advice of its own experts as reported by the Guardian Australia.

Dr Sinclair said it was critical that the South Australian Royal Commission terms of reference are constructed so that the conduct of all Basin states can be interrogated in a public and open manner. 

“The Royal Commission must allow the thousands of concerned community members to have their voice heard. We must break the strangle-hold powerful vested interests seemingly have on the regulators who guard the health of our rivers,” Dr Sinclair said.

“The Murray-Darling is the lifeblood of hundreds of communities. It feeds the wetlands, wildlife and places we love across five states and territories.

“The Murray-Darling is too important to be left in the hands of the self-interested. The Basin Plan is the best chance we have to makes sure our rivers are being restored and the community must have confidence it is working.

“With the right terms of reference and a steady hand to lead this inquiry the South Australian Royal Commission could be a strong step in rebuilding community confidence in the Basin Plan.”

ACF Media Enquiries

Journalists with enquiries may contact Tom Arup on 0402 482 910 or Josh Meadows on 0439 342 992. For all other enquiries please call 1800 223 669 or email action@acf.org.au.