Many tipped the report on alleged water corruption to be a whitewash. Instead, it's a grenade

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The Government has released a wide-ranging report into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and it is nothing of the whitewash

many-tipped-the-report-on-alleged-water-corruption-to-be-a-whitewash-instead-it-and-039;s-a-grenade photo 1 Photo: Farmers are calling for the NSW Government to be held accountable for what has been done with the water. (AAP: Paul Miller)

Louth grazier Stuart Le Lievre does not mince his words: "There is nothing right about it, none at all."

The wool-grower has been angry for years about the way the NSW Government decided to share the water in the fragile Barwon-Darling river system.

He and other farmers and townspeople living in small communities between Bourke and Broken Hill have always relied on the river for their survival. But since 2012, the year in which the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was signed, they began to suspect something had gone wrong.

He believes "they neglected 1,400 kilometres of river and the communities living on it".

Mr Le Lievre and others told Four Corners in July that less water was getting downstream than should be. They claimed the NSW Government was ignoring their concerns; while large cotton-growers appeared to have the ear of decision-makers, they were being left in the cold.

It was only in July, when Four Corners put to air an in-depth investigation into the river system, that Mr Le Lievre's doubts seemed to be proven true; confirmation appeared to come from the horse's mouth.

"I think I can manage that," said Gavin Hanlon, the state's most senior water bureaucrat in a secretive telephone hook-up with a select group of irrigator lobbyists, "by being seen to and occasionally meeting with everyone and anyone".

"But in terms of having structure and detail and discussions in confidence I only do it here."

many-tipped-the-report-on-alleged-water-corruption-to-be-a-whitewash-instead-it-and-039;s-a-grenade photo 2 Video: Secret recording of Gavin Hanlon's 2016 teleconference (ABC News)

Hanlon stood down

Yesterday, Mr Hanlon was stood down from the Department of Primary Industries pending a misconduct investigation: Four Corners had also revealed he had offered to share with them — via DropBox — internal departmental documents that had been "debadged".

His removal was announced as the Government released a wide-ranging report by Ken Matthews into the allegations raised in the program.

The Matthews report has turned out to be nothing of the whitewash many expected. What he has delivered instead is a grenade.

Among his recommendations is that the Government enforce a regime of "no metering, no pumping" which is sobering for no other reason than it is so obvious: the vast majority of people who pay water rates in this country will be aghast that this has not always been the case for water users who deal in billions of litres of water.

Most alarming for some government employees and businesspeople is the revelation contained in his report that the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has taken up an interest in the matter: including into whether the department has properly and fully pursued cases of alleged illegal water extraction.

As a result of its involvement, the fine details regarding "gaps in the case management record", and why cases were not pursued in the face of "prima facie evidence of substantive breaches", were not published. Instead, Mr Matthews handed these matters to the anti-graft commission.

From what I saw on the ground when we were filming this program, there will be many people sweating on what happens next. The Matthews investigation was clearly thorough, but it was done in a very short time, and with none of the powers of the ICAC.

A critical further point, that might otherwise be lost amid the hue and cry about illegal water take and meter tampering, is the question of so-called "environmental water".

'They've got to tell the truth'

Another of the findings in the Four Corners program was that huge volumes of this water — which had been purchased by taxpayers to help rescue the Murray-Darling Basin from the degradation caused by decades of over-extraction — was being harvested, legally, by some major irrigators.

This was made possible by a bizarre "water sharing plan" enacted in 2012 by which the NSW Government gave major water-users more reliable access to water — including by dumping restrictions on pump sizes and allowing fast, large-scale industrial extraction of water even when the river was running low.

Mr Matthews makes it clear that "this issue applies not only in the Barwon-Darling water system but elsewhere in NSW and the wider Murray-Darling Basin".

"Solving the problem will be critical to the success of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan," Mr Matthews found.

"It is a pre-condition if the anticipated environmental benefits of the plan are to be delivered.

"The issue is not new. Regrettably, it has continued without resolution for years ... there is a strong public expectation that arrangements should be in place already, and to the extent that they are not, a remedy is urgent."

many-tipped-the-report-on-alleged-water-corruption-to-be-a-whitewash-instead-it-and-039;s-a-grenade photo 3 Video: Who is benefitting from the billions spent on the Murray-Darling? (ABC News)

This is a bombshell for the Commonwealth Government and this major economic and agrarian reform.

The South Australian Government has reacted to Mr Matthews' findings already, reiterating calls for a national judicial inquiry.

For Mr Le Lievre, and many others, this is where the significant changes need to be made. Communities like Louth will simply fade away without the water they once had flowing past.

Earlier this year, Mr Le Lievre told me someone in the NSW Government had to be held accountable for what had been done with the water.

The Matthews report goes some way to delivering precisely that, but, as the weathered farmer insisted at the time, "the only way to make them accountable and to stop them from pulling out legs is to do it under oath".

"Simple. They can't get out of it, they've got to tell the truth."

It is a power that was not available to Mr Matthews, or to the various other investigations now underway into the Four Corners revelations. It is, however, readily used in the ICAC's hearing room.

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Article Many tipped the report on alleged water corruption to be a whitewash. Instead, it's a grenade compiled by Original article here

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