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New "tough cop" plan for Murray-Darling Basin

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A new independent umpire for the Murray-Darling Basin would hold governments and authorities to account for their management of the river system, under a proposal from the federal water minister.

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David Littleproud will ask states involved in the Basin to back his proposal for a new Inspector-General at a ministerial meeting on Sunday.

“This is a new tough cop on the beat across the Murray-Darling, with the powers needed to ensure integrity in delivery of the Basin Plan,” Littleproud said on Thursday.

The Inspector-General would have powers to investigate suspected water theft, collecting evidence and supplying it to authorities under a statutory position established through an amendment to water laws.

The position wouldn’t replace the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, however, it would hold the regulator to account, along with the federal and state governments, the minister said.

“The public needs to know the Basin Plan is delivering the water it was intended to, and farmers need to know the Plan is working as it should.”

The position would be established by 2020, with offices and support staff also appointed.

South Australia recently called for an “independent umpire” to be appointed to ensure states and the Commonwealth deliver what has been promised under the Basin plan.

The federal government says the idea has been in train for months and is unrelated to recent stories by ABC’s Four Corners on the river system.

SA Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the new position must be “truly independent and transparent, with the power and resources to investigate past mismanagement as well as future misdeeds”.

“Minister Littleproud’s announcement of an Inspector General highlights just how deep the rot in the Murray-Darling Basin runs. Basin communities, family farmers and the environment have suffered as a result of years of mismanagement and inaction,” she said.

“The nation’s most important River system hangs in the balance – this new role must be able to look at past wrongs not just future misdeeds.

 “We await detail from the Minister on exactly what powers an Inspector-General would have, what resources will be available to them and how much information the public will be made privy to.

 “Most of the $13 billion allocated for the plan has been spent and the River remains in crisis. Basin communities, farmers and Australian taxpayers deserve answers.

 “The government must also announce their plans for a Federal ICAC – and how an Inspector-General would work with them – for this announcement to have real credibility.”

-with AAP

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