A New South Wales investigation into allegations of water mismanagement, particularly in the Barwon-Darling River, has ruled there was no corrupt conduct but found the State Government had been “overly favourable” to irrigators when forming policy.
- The ICAC has released its report after a lengthy investigation into Barwon-Darling water mismanagement
- The commission was not satisfied any person had engaged in corrupt conduct
- The investigation did find the system had been “focused on the interests of the irrigation industry”
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) launched Operations Mezzo and Avon in August 2017 to investigate complaints about alleged misconduct.
The allegations were referred to the ICAC following the airing of a Four Corners episode entitled Pumped.
The program investigated allegations NSW ministers had intervened with legislation to benefit western NSW irrigators.
The ICAC ruled it was not satisfied that the evidence established any person had engaged in corrupt conduct in any of the matters it investigated.
But it did find there has been “improper favouritism” towards the irrigation industry in the policymaking process, in which “environmental perspectives” were “sidelined from policy discussion”.
The investigation found that over the last decade the NSW Department of Primary Industries had failed to give “proper and full effect to the objects, principles and duties of the Water Managing Act and its priorities for water sharing”.
It said the NSW Government had failed to fully implement water sharing plans and ensure they are audited.
It identified public officials as being “sidelined” when undertaking environmental roles within the Government, as well as regulatory failures in the State’s water market and a lack of transparency and accountability in water account information.
The ICAC made 15 recommendations to help address the corruption risks it identified.
Water Minister Melinda Pavey said the report was a “relief” to the Government and impacted communities.
“There are no corrupt conduct charges to be laid,” she said.
“I am glad this episode will be put behind us.
“It has caused a lot of concern in our communities — it’s hurt the reputation of our irrigators and the farming sector.”
“We’ve learnt from it and made changes.
“I think NSW is now leading for transparency and accountability.”
Ms Pavey said the report was about the state of water management “four years ago” and said she thought its findings were outdated.
“We should be proud of our irrigators, they do a good job,” she said.
“We shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
“Those two things can go together — it’s not one or the other.”
“We’ve made changes since the Matthews report, we have metering, we have the National Resource Access Regulator.
“We should be proud.
“We respect the needs of each group and I think we’re much better at that now than we were in the past.”
Independent NSW MP Justin Field said the report was “scathing of a decade of water mismanagement from the National Party”.
“While the Commission did not make findings of corruption, the report found the water management system in NSW is broken, open to abuse of power and has often been implemented in a way that is at odds with the law and for the benefit of a few vested irrigator interests,” he said.
“What has happened here may not amount to corruption in the eyes of ICAC, but does not absolve the ministers responsible and the Government in general.”
“The consequences of favourable treatment for some irrigators in the Northern Basin have been record low flows in the Barwon Darling, the disconnection of the Darling from the Murray, the death of millions of fish and a massive mistrust in water management in NSW that will take years to rebuild.”
He is calling for the NSW Premier to remove the water portfolio from the National Party.
“Mismanagement of water to benefit some irrigators in the Northern Basin will be impossible to correct while the National Party holds the water portfolio,” Mr Field said.
“This report shows the National Party has had their fingers in the mismanagement of water for the past decade with no attempt for serious reform.
“The NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, must immediately step in and remove the Nationals from the water portfolio.”