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NSW water grab: inquiry finds "ineffectual" enforcement

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NSW’s top water bureaucrat Gavin Hanlon is facing charges of misconduct after an interim report into allegations of water theft in the Murray Darling Basin was submitted to the state government.

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The report released today found an urgent fix is needed in NSW to repair an “ineffectual” water-compliance and enforcement system.

It comes after allegations of water rorting, including that Hanlon helped irrigators undermine the Murray Darling Basin Plan, were revealed in a ABC Four Corners program in July.

The NSW government appointed the former head of the National Water Commission, Ken Matthews, to investigate the claims and his team has since met with almost 40 people and received more than 3000 documents.

Matthews today recommended a set of reforms to help overhaul the system – which he labeled “ineffectual” and in need of significant and urgent improvement – saying no change was not an option.

“Despite the frequent discord about many water management issues, there is one thing that all parties agree on—non-compliant or illegal extraction of water should not be tolerated and should be dealt with firmly,” he said.

“Some of these reforms may not be welcomed by the current beneficiaries of an inadequate system. However, to rebuild public confidence will require more than incremental change – no change is not an option.”

Along with Matthews’ probe, the allegations of water theft had been referred to the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The ABC revelations led to outrage in South Australia, with the State Government demanding a judicial investigation into the allegations of water theft by some irrigators.

The report included a recording of Hanlon in 2016, in which he offered to secretly share internal government information with irrigation lobbyists to help them in their fight against the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The recording showed the NSW Government had been considering abandoning the plan altogether.

South Australian Water Minister Ian Hunter said today the Matthews report confirmed the need for a judicial inquiry.

“Mr Matthews’ investigation has been hampered by missing documents and his inability to interview key individuals who are alleged to have been involved in water theft,” Hunter said.

“He has even acknowledged that water theft and non-compliance may still be occurring and calls for further investigations.”

Hunter said the interim report was “a damming assessment of the NSW water compliance and enforcement system”.

“What we need to see now is an investigation with powers to compel these key witnesses, key individuals who are alleged to have stolen water out of the Basin system.”

– with AAP

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