Revelations over South Australian Water Theft

Jul 29, 2020 | Media Releases 2020

Revelations today show South Australian water users have been operating under a ‘steal now, pay later’ system, as NSW communities continue to recover from their worst drought on record.

The Weekly Times today reports a group of South Australian water users have been fined $15 million for pumping water they didn’t own from the Murray River during the 2019-20 water year.  

Senator for New South Wales, Perin Davey, said for years South Australia has been criticising NSW while allowing their irrigators to use water with a negative account balance.

“NSW has not allowed negative account balances for years, and has been proactive in reforming water laws, creating a new compliance agency and beefing up water metering and monitoring.

“Our communities are recovering from the worst drought in recorded history, our communities have bent over backwards to return water to the environment, all the while the South Australian Government has sanctioned a ‘steal now, pay later’ water policy,” Senator Davey said.

“South Australia finally amended the policy from 1 July this year, but now South Australian Water Minister, David Speirs is saying he is open to reviewing the circumstances of fines that have been issued under the revised laws, showing his complete disregard to the seriousness of this issue.

“This is outrageous.  NSW shouldn’t be kept to one standard and South Australia to another.”  

In an interview, the Federal Government’s water cop Mick Keelty said the NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) “is embarrassing the other states into addressing how they look at compliance”.

“So while NSW has NRAR forensically looking at water use compliance and using all modern techniques available such as telemetering and satellite imagery and tracking, South Australia still allows irrigators to balance accounts in arrears.

“In the height of summer when water is at a premium and prices spike, South Australian water users were pumping water they didn’t own and then buying the water back cheaper at a later date.  That is a form of fraud at best, or theft at worst.

Senator Davey said during the reports of water theft in NSW, the South Australian Government undertook a royal commission looking at water theft in the basin and failed to uncover the theft in South Australia or the risk to the effectiveness of the Basin Plan.

“We need to know how long this has been happening. In 2017 an Internal Audit Report by the Commonwealth found South Australia presented the greatest risk to meeting their environmental obligations, and showed in 2015-16 100GL of environmental water was unaccounted for.”

“If this has been occurring since the Murray Darling Basin Plan was conceived and has taken until this year to be fixed, how can we be confident that the plan is working?

 “We need a whole of basin approach to compliance to ensure all basin states are subject to the same level of scrutiny.

“The Murray Darling Basin Authority needs to be at the center of ensuring all states are doing the right thing – under one water watchdog.”

 “I have previously questioned the MDBA about South Australian accounting anomalies including the negative account usage and I will continue to do so until I am convinced it has been resolved.