Water use in the Murray-Darling Basin will be scrutinised in an independent review following allegations of water theft in NSW, the Federal Government says.
The basin-wide review of compliance with regulations governing water use follows allegations in an ABC Four Corners report that billions of litres earmarked for the environment have been diverted for cotton irrigation in NSW.
The Turnbull Government says it will seek the basin states’ agreement for an independent examination by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority of whether state laws, water licence conditions and statutory instruments are appropriate and being met.
It will also look at the adequacy of water measurement and monitoring arrangements, and whether governance arrangements are strong enough to prevent water theft or misuse.
‘‘Strong compliance regimes are just as important for irrigators as they are for the environment and basin communities,’’ Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said in a joint statement on Sunday.
Mr Joyce has been attacked for his description of the Four Corners television program in an informal meeting in Shepparton on Wednesday night.
He described the program as part of a campaign to deprive irrigators of water.
He also told the patrons of the Australia Hotel that the government had placed the water portfolio in the agriculture ministry to look after rural Australians and to wrest it back off ‘‘the greenies’’.
Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi has backed the South Australian government’s push for a judicial inquiry into alleged water theft in NSW from the Murray-Darling Basin.
SA Premier Jay Weatherill has written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling for the investigation.
SA Water Minister Ian Hunter said he was shocked by the ‘‘colossal and rampant’’ extent of the alleged theft.