The NSW Labor Opposition has called for a Special Commission of Inquiry into the scandal of water theft in the Murray-Darling basin as confidence in the Nationals’ ability to handle the vital portfolio rapidly dwindles. 

As the Nationals battle allegations that they connived in the theft of water on an industrial scale, Labor stepped up its demands for greater scrutiny of the scandal that has robbed communities in Western NSW of water. 

Last week the ABC Four Corners program aired allegations hundreds of millions of litres of water that belong to the taxpayer had been siphoned off by irrigators at the expense of communities living downstream.

Labor devoted a second day of questioning in the NSW Parliament to the issue, asking the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, her Deputy and Nationals Leader John Barilaro, and Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton.

Today the Premier rebuffed Labor’s call for a Special Commission of Inquiry with full investigative powers, including the ability to subpoena documents, compel witnesses and protect whistle-blowers to inquire into this theft and ensure it does not happen again. She also refused to say whether her government is doing anything to stop repeat offences.

Minister Upton also refused to say if she would block moves by her colleague, Primary Industries Minister and Nationals Deputy Leader Niall Blair, to change laws that would favour irrigators, some of whom are National Party donors.

And Mr Barilaro refused to answer a question about what discussions he has had with members of the Harris family and other National Party donors regarding water sharing and irrigation in Western New South Wales.

Quotes attributable to NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley

“It’s clear that the Nationals cannot be trusted to handle the state’s water. They can’t help themselves from helping out their mates.

“We need a full special commission of inquiry to get to the bottom of this murky episode – the conspiracy that has been waged between the National Party and irrigators.”

Quotes attributable to Shadow Water Minister Chris Minns

“The National Party are meant to represent Rural communities, instead they are mired in a conspiracy to deny water to their own constituents.

“Communities up and down the Barwon and Darling River have been screaming about water theft for five years.  The National Party has been telling them that they were imagining things.  The last eight days have proven that their fears were correct.”