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Basin shock

Calls for ICAC investigation over handling of irrigation in NSW

The former head of Goulburn-Murray Water is today in the centre of a storm over allegations he offered 'de-badged' government information to help irrigators lobby reforms in the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Four corners last night aired a secret recording of Gavin Hanlon, Deputy Director General of the NSW Department of Primary Industries and Water, where he offered information to large scale irrigators fighting the plan. He was also recorded talking about the possibility of NSW walking away from the plan.

The show also claimed cotton growers in northern NSW were essentially stealing water, pumping huge volumes of water out of season and tampering with water meters, while communites in the southern end of the basin were struggling to have enough water to supply towns.

This morning, NSW Agriculture Minister Niall Blair is demanding an explanation from Mr Hanlon.

Mr Blair also re-affirmed the NSW Government's commitment to the basin plan.

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"It’s wrong to suggest that a change to the water rules in NSW in 2012, somehow undermines our determination to see the Plan through," he said.

"I have directed the Secretary of the NSW Department of Industry to provide an urgent overview of all the compliance matters raised in the program.

"I have also asked for clarification around the circumstances of the Deputy Director General’s briefing."

Mr Blair said it would be a transparent and robust inquiry.

"We acknowledge the importance of every drop of water in the basin, but the fate of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan won’t hinge on irrigators in the Barwon-Darling," he said.

"This Government is determined to address the economic, environmental and socio-economic concerns around the river system, with local communities front and centre in this balancing act."

This is little comfort to many along the Murray, including Shadow Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh.

Mr Walsh said it was concerning and believed Mr Hanlon's actions needed to be investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.