A pair of corruption probes into NSW water management have found government officials too often have favoured the interests of the irrigation industry.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption wrapped up related two investigations, named Operation Avon and Mezzo, on Friday after three years of closed-door detective work relating to corruption allegations concerning the Murray-Darling Basin.
There were no charges recommended, but the ICAC made 15 suggestions to public water administrators to remedy what it saw as favouritism towards irrigators at the expense of other stakeholders such as environmental agencies.
“As a result, the policy-making process became vulnerable to improper favouritism, as environmental perspectives were sidelined from policy discussions,” ICAC officials wrote in a new report that covered both operations.
The ICAC found the state government’s water management practices over the past decade were “inconsistent with the object, principles and duties of the Water Management Act 2000 (WMA) and failed to give effect to legislated priorities for water sharing”.
The probes found there had been a “lengthy history” of sidelining the principles of the WMA and a lack of transparency in multiple areas, including external consultation processes and water account information.
The report recommended funds for independent scientific audits of the ecological health of rivers and giving those holding environmental roles greater influence.
Despite the criticism, the watchdog did not find any instances of corrupt behaviour that would have warranted “obtaining the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions with respect to the prosecution of any individual”.
The state government will have to respond within three months and inform the ICAC whether action will be taken in response to the recommendations.