Perhaps the most telling point so far of damage to the irrigation industry’s reputation by allegations aired on the ABC’s Four Corners program, “Pumped: who is benefiting from the billions spent on the Murray-Darling?”, is the recommendation by Ken Matthews for “targeted covert operations”.
This is on top of a multitude of other recommendations, such as “no meter, no pumping”, to ditch logbooks and to introduce measures such as telemetry and a register which provides easy access of all water ownership, use and trading details to the public.
His investigations so far – including details uncovered which have been handed to the other multiple inquiries investigating different aspects of the matter – have clearly given Mr Matthews reason to distrust the industry as a whole.
This unfortunately acts to qualify the public’s concerns, including whether tax payer owned environmental water is being used for its intended purpose.
The irony is the Nationals jockeyed to get water into the Department of Primary Industries. Yet, irrigators will now likely be lumped with more extreme levels of red tape and compliance than would have otherwise been necessary if compliance issues were appropriately followed through.
The changes – especially the recommended legislation of a new NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator – will be far reaching.
Early indications are it could – once legislated – also encapsulate native vegetation and crown lands.
The creation of a natural resource regulator is counter to government cost-saving changes of recent years where compliance has been rolled into the job description of the same staff undertaking customer service.
Similar potential conflicts of interest were also raised in discussions around how new native vegetation legislation would be managed on the ground, so perhaps a compliance regulation unit might help to separate the “carrot and stick” roles within government departments.
However, growers remain the big losers. Mismanagement by government and the poor actions of a few will mean a more burdensome, stricter regime.
Cost savings and streamlining by the Coalition is looking like it will end up creating more work and cost for farmers than savings and has left a credibility mess for the industry to carry.