ICAC says irrigators favoured
The NSW corruption court has found the State Government is “overly favourable” to irrigators.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) launched investigations in 2017 to look at complaints about alleged misconduct and water mismanagement.
The probes were based on allegations that NSW ministers had intentionally pursued legislation to benefit western NSW irrigators.
The ICAC has now ruled that it found no corrupt conduct in any of the matters it investigated, but did say that there has been “improper favouritism” towards the irrigation industry, which has seen “environmental perspectives” being “sidelined from policy discussion”.
It ruled that the NSW Department of Primary Industries failed to give “proper and full effect to the objects, principles and duties of the Water Managing Act and its priorities for water sharing”.
The NSW Government was also claimed to have failed to fully implement water sharing plans or audit them.
Public officials were found to have been “sidelined” from their environmental roles within the Government.
The probe also heard evidence of regulatory failures in the State's water market.
The ICAC made 15 recommendations to help address the corruption risks.
Independent NSW MP Justin Field said the report laid out “a decade of water mismanagement from the National Party”.
“While the Commission did not make findings of corruption, the report found the water management system in NSW is broken, open to abuse of power and has often been implemented in a way that is at odds with the law and for the benefit of a few vested irrigator interests,” he told the ABC.
“What has happened here may not amount to corruption in the eyes of ICAC, but does not absolve the ministers responsible and the Government in general.
“The consequences of favourable treatment for some irrigators in the Northern Basin have been record low flows in the Barwon Darling, the disconnection of the Darling from the Murray, the death of millions of fish and a massive mistrust in water management in NSW that will take years to rebuild.”
He says the NSW Premier should take the water portfolio away from the National Party.
“Mismanagement of water to benefit some irrigators in the Northern Basin will be impossible to correct while the National Party holds the water portfolio,” Mr Field said.
“This report shows the National Party has had their fingers in the mismanagement of water for the past decade with no attempt for serious reform.
“The NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, must immediately step in and remove the Nationals from the water portfolio.”