On 16 August 2017, the following matter was referred to the Rural and
Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee for inquiry and report by
5 December 2017:
The integrity of the water market in the Murray-Darling
Basin, with particular reference to:
the allegations of theft and corruption in the management of water
resources in the Murray-Darling Basin,
the investigation and public disclosure by authorities, including the
New South Wales Government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, of reported
breaches within the Murray-Darling Basin, including the Barwon-Darling Water
the actions of member states in responding to allegations of corruption
and the potential undermining of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan,
the use of Commonwealth-owned environmental water for irrigation
purposes, and the impact on Basin communities and the environment,
the operation, expenditure and oversight of the Water for the
Environment Special Account, and
any other related matters.
The committee tabled an interim report on 5 December 2017, which
recommended that the reporting date for the inquiry be extended to 28 March
2018. On 5 December 2017 the Senate granted this extension.
The interim report detailed the committee's intention to conduct
additional hearings and to travel to Brewarrina, NSW, for a further site visit
and public hearing.
Conduct of the inquiry
On 31 October 2017 the committee travelled to Broken Hill and undertook
a site visit around the region. This was followed by public hearings in Broken
Hill on 1 November 2017, and Adelaide on 2 November 2017.
However, during the course of the public hearing in Adelaide, statements
were made by a senator, which, in the committee's view, reflected negatively on
the value of the committee's inquiry. By bringing into question the integrity
of the committee process, the comments had the effect of undermining the
committee's collegial working relationship and threatened the committee's
reputation. The comments had the potential to diminish the impact of the
committee's inquiry and final report.
These concerns were reflected in the views expressed in a dissenting
report to the committee's first interim report by coalition senators, who
subsequently withdrew their participation from the inquiry.
Thereafter, the committee was unable to progress the inquiry as anticipated.
Difficulties in establishing quorum prevented the committee from conducting
public hearings and deliberating on the evidence as expected.
The committee has been deeply disappointed by the impact of these
events and regrets that its efforts to address the matter have proven to be
fruitless. The committee has a long history of working in a collegiate and
cooperative manner and regrets that these issues have obstructed its ability to
progress the inquiry. They highlight the fundamental importance of all senators
working together cooperatively to progress an inquiry.
However, the committee is determined that these matters do not inflict
damage on the inquiry process and cause further delay, particularly given the
valuable time and effort that submitters and witnesses have put into
contributing to the inquiry. Therefore, the committee is resolute that its work
now continues without any further delay to enable it to fulfil its obligations
by inquiring into the terms of reference before it and reporting to the Senate.
The evidence so far received, coupled with the material gathered by the
respective reviews and investigations being undertaken in relation to Murray‑Darling
matters, has provided the committee with considerable insight into the concerns
of the communities along the Barwon‑Darling and greater Murray‑Darling
systems. The committee now expects to progress the inquiry by conducing further
hearings and deliberating on the evidence before reporting back to the Senate
with a final report.
As articulated in its first interim report, the committee will focus its
attentions on considering evidence about methods to improve compliance,
transparency and monitoring of water use across the Basin.
It is the committee's view that sufficient time should be provided to
allow public hearings to occur and to enable the committee to properly consider
the evidence before it.
Therefore, the committee recommends that the final reporting date for
the inquiry be extended to 29 November 2018.
The committee recommends that the Senate grant an extension of time for
the committee to report, to 29 November 2018.
Senator Glenn Sterle
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