Environmental flows down the Murray-Darling system were at risk of being manipulated by governments and government agencies, a new report has found.
The report also pointed to one example from South Australia where state agencies had contrived to use environmental water to replace their annual entitlement, saving themselves millions of dollars but short-changing the environment.
The Ernst & Young report, which the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder tried to keep secret, found that risk of fraud being perpetrated on stream flows came not only from private landholders, but from the states charged with managing the system.
Speak Up campaign spokesperson Doug Fehring said the release of the Ernst & Young report, as well as another commentary paper from the Australia Institute, should be ringing alarm bells at the highest level of government.
‘‘We have a $13billion basin plan which is riddled with flaws; the more evidence that is compiled through its implementation, the more we learn about its inconsistencies and inadequacies,’’ Mr Fehring said.
‘‘Our concern is that the political risk to governments of admitting they have another pink batts on their hands is too great, so the issues are ignored.’’
He said these latest revelations indicated that water that was supposed to be sent to the Coorong as environmental flows had been held back to keep the Lower Lakes at a prime recreation height.
The South Australian Greens criticised their state government for manipulating the flows.
‘‘This audit shows the environment and taxpayers continue to be ripped off by both state and federal governments, including here in South Australia,’’ Greens environment and water spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young said.
‘‘The SA Government must answer to taxpayers and respond to audit findings that shows water purchased for the Coorong and environmental flows has instead been taken for industry purposes, leaving the internationally significant wetlands to suffer,’’ the senator said.
‘‘The SA Water Minister must reveal who in his department knew of this, how much it has cost taxpayers and what action has been taken.
‘‘Once again, we have another report showing that the basin plan is being mismanaged and is at risk of defrauding taxpayers. The plan is meant to be securing water for the environment to keep the river system alive, and yet again we see it is riddled with fraud and water theft.’’