BARNABY Joyce’s actions as water minister have been singled out and savaged in the royal commission into the Murray Darling Basin Authority, the report suggesting he ignored the law.
The report pointed to an “ill-informed letter” from Mr Joyce to the South Australian water minister, as testament to the government’s lack of “any genuine commitment” to the goal of recovering 450 gigalitres of water for the environment.
The Leader has contacted Mr Joyce for an interview and is awaiting a response.
In the letter, Mr Joyce said he couldn’t see the water being recovered without “causing negative social and economic impacts to South Australian communities”.
“I cannot foresee [the other state governments] agreeing that the additional 450GL of water can be delivered without significant social and economic detriment,” he wrote.
The report said there was “no reliable evidence” to support Mr Joyce’s claim.
“Leaving that aside, Minister Joyce’s letter ignores the test of social and economic neutrality in sec 7.17(2)(b) of the Basin Plan,” the report said.
“That is no trifling thing, as that section was (and still currently is) the law.
“The test is satisfied by participation, not the concept of ‘hurting people’.
“Leaving this also aside, the gist of the letter was such that the Commonwealth’s then position seemed to be that the recovery of 450GL of upwater for South Australia’s environmental assets was unlikely.”
The report also slammed Mr Joyce’s suggestion to use environmental water held by the federal government to “grow the fodder to keep the cattle alive” during the course of the drought. Mr Joyce pitched the idea in his role as Special Envoy on Drought.
“This suggestion is not in the interests of the people who live and work in the Basin, nor in the interests of the broader Australian public, or that of the environment,” the report stated.
“It is contrary to the objects and purposes of the Water Act and Basin Plan. It is against the national interest.
“It has been rightly rejected by, amongst others, the MDBA and the CEWH [Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder].
“Adaptation to the challenges of a warmer and drier climate will require a vastly more sophisticated approach. That approach must be based on proper scientific research and analysis, as well as a basic level of common sense.”