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Royal commissioner promises full Murray inquiry

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A bid by the Federal Government to stop employees of the Murray Darling Basin Authority from giving evidence will not stop a full investigation into water use by a South Australian royal commission, the commissioner says.

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Bret Walker SC says while it’s not his place to comment on the High Court action by the government, the commission will fulfil its terms of reference.

“They will none the less not prevent me and my commission staff from addressing all the terms of reference and all of them in a substantial manner,” Walker said as he opened his first public hearings in Adelaide today.

The commission was established in January 2018 to inquire into the operations and effectiveness of the basin plan after widespread reports of water theft.

Its final report is due by February next year.

Walker has already consulted with communities across the river system, has visited key basin sites and has received more than 100 written submissions.

But SA-BEST MP Frank Pangallo said the investigation could be compromised by the commonwealth’s move to stop its staff and those at the basin authority from appearing.

“It is a disgrace that the royal commissioner Bret Walker may not be able to call for evidence from senior federal government and basin authority personnel, the very people he needs to hear from to get to the bottom of these serious allegations,” Pangallo said.

In a joint statement, the government and the authority said the inquiry did not have the power to compel witnesses.

“The commonwealth and MDBA’s view is that the royal commission cannot compel the commonwealth or the MDBA to provide documents or give evidence,” the statement said.

– AAP

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