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Water Theft Allegations Prompt Government Review Of Murray-Darling

The review comes after a week of public outcry in response to serious allegations aired by Four Corners.

30/07/2017 10:01 PM AEST | Updated 30/07/2017 10:01 PM AEST

The Turnbull government has ordered for a national review of water usage in the Murray-Darling Basin amid water theft allegations.

The announcement comes after the ABC's Four Corners revealed water from Australia's largest river system was allegedly being harvested by irrigators, amounting to billions of dollars and causing harm to the environment.

The Federal government initially left the responsibility of the allegation to state governments, but Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce is expected to call on all state governments to cooperate with an independent compliance review.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Joyce released a joint statement on Sunday revealing the review will be run by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to gain back control of lawful water usage.

"We expect that, as part of their agreement to the review, Basin water ministers will commit to providing the MDBA with ready access to all relevant information and the full support and cooperation of relevant state officials," the statement said.

"Strong compliance regimes are just as important for irrigators as they are for the environment and Basin communities. The vast majority of the irrigation sector follow the rules attached to their water licenses, and the Coalition Government remains strongly committed to supporting this innovative and productive industry."

The statement further outlined that the review would seek to analyse water licences and entitlements, adequacy of water measurement and monitoring arrangements and the governance of legally compliant water use. The Coalition's response quickly drew criticism from the opposition for opting for a review process that didn't require witnesses to appear, evidence to be taken under oath and wouldn't protect whistle-blowers.

The Shadow Minister for Environment and Water Tony Burke said the review being proposed would be "inadequate" to getting to the bottom of the explosive allegations.

"The Turnbull Government is merely offering a process to sweep these allegations under the carpet," he said in a statement on Sunday night. "Only a national judicial inquiry through the COAG process which can thoroughly and properly investigate these allegations will restore confidence in the Government's management of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for all communities."

The Greens also criticised the "bureaucratic" review for effectively addressing the problem or for restoring broken confidence. South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young took specific aim at Joyce, accusing the Water Resources Minister of having a "conflict of interest" that would prevent justice being served, and demanded an urgent Senate Inquiry.

"With $13 billion of taxpayers money at stake and the health of our nations biggest river system, the Federal government needs to step up and take responsibility to clean up the abuse and fix the problems, urgently," Hanson-Young said.

The findings of the review will be presented to the Council of Australian Government by December 15, 2017.

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