Monday, 2 December 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Water Resources, Senator McKenzie. Minister, in response to the numerous scandals, water theft, corruption and mismanagement that have plagued the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, the water minister appointed Mick Keelty as the Murray-Darling Basin Inspector-General. This was more than four months ago yet we still have no statutory powers for him to investigate. When will the government put the legislation on the table so he can actually get on with his job, and what powers will he actually have?
Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young, for your ongoing interest in the basin. In terms of the appointment of Mr Keelty to the role of Inspector-General, my advice is that I expect the proposed legislation to create the role will be introduced into parliament in the autumn 2020 sitting. The Department of Agriculture has commenced discussions with the basin states on the drafting of the legislation. The interim inspector-general has been out talking with stakeholders and the communities. States have raised concerns about the scope of powers of the inspector-general, and Minister Littleproud is eager to ensure that the powers of the inspector-general will provide basin communities with sufficient confidence in water management in the basin.
I thank the minister for her answer. Autumn 2020 is a hell of a long time off, considering that this inspector-general was meant to get on the job four months ago. Is it because there are members of the government—like, perhaps, Mr Joyce and Mr Taylor—who don't know and don't want the inspector-general to find things out?
Senator Hanson-Young, I reject the underlying premise of your question. In August this year, our government announced the establishment of the Inspector-General of Murray-Darling Basin Water Resources as an independent statutory position holding all Commonwealth and state water agencies to account on their Basin Plan commitments and the laws governing water use. The basin ministers unanimously endorsed the new position, and the interim inspector-general has been out and about in basin communities, listening to them and working with them since his appointment. To suggest that nothing's happening, because the legislation hasn't gone through the parliament, is really misrepresenting how seriously the government takes this and how seriously Mr Keelty takes his role. The inspector-general will be able to refer issues to the relevant authorities to ensure that the laws governing water use are followed, including investigations into allegations of water theft. He'll work with communities across the entire basin, with support staff in regional areas in the northern and southern basins. (Time expired)
Minister, there are thousands of people out the front of Parliament House today, many of them calling for a royal commission. Will the inspector-general be given the powers of a royal commission, or will you do the right thing and organise one to happen, so we can get to the bottom of all this muck?
The government supports the action being taken against serious, illegal or fraudulent behaviour across the Murray-Darling Basin. As these are state basin legal matters, it's not appropriate for us to necessarily comment on specifics. But, in terms of the inspector-general, he will establish a process for the receipt and assessment of allegations of noncompliance with the Water Act, the Basin Plan and water resource plans. He will refer instances of alleged noncompliance to appropriate authorities, noting that the basin state and territory governments have primary responsibilities for implementing and enforcing compliance in their areas, and he will engage with the community about the Basin Plan implementation and associated water reforms. So Mr Keelty is getting about his business. He's looking into these allegations. He's going to be setting up processes and he'll be working with communities to make sure they can have confidence in the Basin Plan and its rollout.