An interim report into alleged water rorting in the Murray-Darling Basin has been delayed by one week.
The NSW Government appointed the former head of the National Water Commission, Ken Matthews, to investigate the claims last month and his team has since met with almost 40 people and received more than 3000 documents.
The allegations were raised in the ABC’s Four Corners program and included claims a senior official helped irrigators undermine the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and whether a major investigation into water management breaches was stymied.
An interim report was due by the end of August, but last Wednesday Mr Matthews said both he and the government had agreed on an extension.
The additional time would be used to review the final draft and make sure none of the findings could interfere with subsequent investigations or prejudice legal processes.
‘‘These final checks will allow for the interim report to be released publicly,’’ Mr Matthews said.
NSW Department of Industry secretary Simon Smith admitted the delay would cause some concerns and there was a ‘‘high level of public interest’’.
‘‘We believe it is a better outcome for the public if the extra time allows for maximum possible disclosure of the findings of the investigation,’’ Mr Smith said.
But the NSW opposition is sceptical of the delay, noting the report will now be released after budget estimates have wrapped up.
Labor water spokesman Chris Minns wants Water Minister Niall Blair to make himself available for a second round of questioning.
‘‘It’s highly convenient for the minister to appear at estimates on Friday and be able to avoid being questioned on industrial-level water theft,’’ Mr Minns said.
Along with Mr Matthews’ probe, the allegations of water theft have been referred to the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Fresh call for royal commission
Fresh allegations of water misuse within the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have sparked renewed calls for a royal commission into the $13billion scheme.
Queensland farmers have blown the whistle alleging an irrigator making millions of dollars from the scheme has built a levee blocking large amounts of water from flowing downstream.
South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon told ABC’s Lateline on Thursday the case highlighted the need for a royal commission.
Senator Xenophon will put up a motion in the Senate this week asking for documents from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Federal Government about the latest allegations.
‘‘It looks like this $13billion project, this nation-building plan to save the river, to save farming communities, is being built on a house of cards because the compliance mechanisms just have so many holes in them,’’ he said.
He said Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce could not continue to credibly act as minister for water and agriculture because both had competing interests in protecting the environment and farmers’ interests.