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The NSW Government has said any staff found to be involved in corruption relating to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will be disciplined, as it tries to hose down claims it is not taking the matter seriously.
It said the former chief officer of the National Water Commission would be given full scope to investigate all the issues raised by the ABC’s Four Corners program.
The Government today appointed Ken Matthews to investigate allegations revealed by Four Corners that some farmers in the Barwon-Darling Valley may have been taking more water from the river than they’re entitled to.
In a statement, NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said any corruption identified in the independent investigation would be punished.
“Referral of any potentially illegal or corrupt activities identified will be made to relevant authorities,” he said.
The Minister said Mr Matthews would leave no stone unturned.
“I’ve instructed the secretary to make sure that Mr Matthews can have a thorough investigation into all the issues that were raised during the Four Corners program, and I want to see the results of this investigation come back as quickly as possible,” Mr Blair said.
The program also aired recordings of the state’s most senior water bureaucrat, Gavin Hanlon, offering to share confidential government information with lobbyists.
But the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has written to the Prime Minister to call for an urgent meeting of COAG (Council of Australian Governments) to commission a judicial inquiry.
He told a budget estimates hearing that New South Wales could not be trusted to enforce the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
“We’ve long held suspicions about the level of commitment by New South Wales to comply with the plan,” Mr Weatherill said.
“Such allegations demand rigorous, immediate and independent investigation, not merely a superficial and insufficient cross check which is what the New South Wales government intends to do.”
Mr Blair rejected that suggestion.
“This will be a very rigorous investigation,” Mr Blair said.
“This is about making sure NSW continues to commit towards the plan but also that all our communities and the other jurisdictions have confidence in the systems we have here in NSW.”
Mr Blair said he was happy to share the results of the investigation with the other states.
The Federal Minister responsible for water, Barnaby Joyce, today indicated that the Commonwealth would not step in to investigate, saying the Federal Government and affected states would consider the findings of the NSW investigation.
Yesterday the NSW Government announced it was moving the state’s top water bureaucrat, Gavin Hanlon, into another position — unrelated to water legislation — while the investigation took place.
Mr Hanlon and former water minister Kevin Humphries have both been referred to the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption by the NSW Opposition.
Mr Matthews will provide an interim report by August 31.