Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has come under fire for playing down allegations of water theft and political corruption following a damning report on the Murray Darling aired on the ABC’s Four Corners on Monday.
Speaking to a gathering at a pub in Shepparton, Victoria, on Wednesday, Mr Joyce took aim at the ABC investigation that identified apparent rorting by some irrigators of billions of litres in the Barwon-Darling region.
After downplaying the issue at a Canberra press conference, he then went even further at Shepparton, an ABC recording has revealed.
"You know what [the Four Corners program is] all about - it's about them trying to take water off you, [to] paint a calamity,” he said. “A calamity, for which the solution is that they're going to take more water off you, and shut more of your towns down."
In Tamworth on Friday Mr Joyce said he was “trying to bring a sense of proportionality to all this” in regard to the comments made in Shepparton and the impact the alleged water theft would have as far downstream as South Australia.
He said there was “no doubt about it” that the issues had to be addressed, but cited water flow figures for the river system in a bid to put the scale into context.
“There is 32,500 gigalitres (gl) in the catchment of the Murray Darling Basin, now 7000gl goes over the barrages at South Australia,” Mr Joyce said. “160 (gl) is the total catchment of the Barwon-Darling, and the part they [Four Corners] are referring to is 10 (gl), and they are talking about a theft of part thereof, which is an allegation - an allegation of a theft of part of 10(gl).
“You try to take the debate back to the reality of the numbers, and say ‘yep, absolutely, if there is theft it is theft’, and you are going to be hauled over the coals for it.”
Mr Joyce said that the allegations of theft and corruption are a matter for the police, the courts,and for ICAC.
He went on to say that a “long bow had been drawn,” and that “there were two groups of people that want to see the basin plan fail”.
“There are people who basically want to throw it (basin plan) out, so they can use all the water for irrigation again, and that’s not going to happen,” he said.
“There is another group that want to throw it out because they want to start, basically, re-designing the numbers so there is more buybacks, and that would cause immense economic harm.”