Top cop of water will be watching

By Olivia Duffey

“I will call it (the Murray-Darling Basin Plan) out if it is not performing the way it should be performing.’’

That is the promise from Mick Keelty, who has been appointed inspector-general of the inquiry into the management of Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources.

Mr Keelty’s "town hall session" looking at water sharing under the rules was held in Deniliquin on January 23.

Emotions were high at the start of the meeting, with years of frustration at a lack of inaction from similar meetings at the forefront for many of the capacity crowd in attendance.

It was Mr Keelty’s willingness to listen, respond to questions and make his intentions clear that eased tensions on the day.

‘‘We have to be realistic here, I am not going to come here and lie to you and say I am the person for all of these problems,’’ he said.

‘‘But, I am in a position now not only to oversight government agencies, but government itself.

‘‘I am really concerned for our future generations because If we don’t get this right now, and by we I mean collectively the community and the government, we are not building a future for the next generations.’’

Basin stakeholders raised issues around accessing information easily, legislation, the need for immediate help and relief, the feeling of being ignored by governments and agencies, mismanagement concerns affecting water allocations to grow food and fodder and the legacy that will be left for future generations in the industry.

Accountability was also a key concern, with NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton saying ‘‘there has been multi-million dollar crime under the basin plan’’.

Mr Keelty said, like many others in the room, he did believe there were some elements of the plan and water management that needed to be “called out”.

‘‘The ministerial council worries me, I’ll put that on the record,’’ he said.

Murray Irrigation chairman Phil Snowden said for far too long, decisions on water management had been based on what appeared to be practical on paper and not tested in the field.

‘‘We have inquiry after inquiry, submission after submission; it is bloody unbelievable and has been happening for the last 10 or 12 years,” Mr Snowden said.

‘‘But what won’t come out of those is the emotional toll on the people, the mental health issues, farmers who have left the region and what it is doing to the community.

“You can’t get that in a report.

‘"It is not until you come and live it that you understand how bloody bad it is.”

Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks said it was refreshing to leave a meeting on the basin plan confident the local community would finally have a voice in the debate.

But he said there was still a cautious wait ahead to see if that voice would influence the change so desperately needed.

Mr Keelty’s report into the management of the basin plan is due on March 31.

It is anticipated to offer several recommendations to the Federal Government, and Mr Keelty said he would be ‘‘watching to make sure they come to fruition”.