Barwon MP Kevin Humphries has denied allegations he gave a room full of irrigators in the North West permission to pump water out of the river during an embargo.
The allegations, first reported in the Four Corners investigation, were again raised by NSW Labor opposition leader Luke Foley in parliament on Tuesday.
In a question to Nationals leader John Barilaro, Mr Foley asked: “What steps has the government taken to investigate allegations that when the Member for Barwon was Minister for Water he gave a room full of irrigators permission to pump water despite a ban being in place?”
Mr Barilaro said “referrals have been made to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)”.
Labor has said it will refer Mr Humphries to ICAC. However, Mr Humphries said that was not the case. The Leader requested an interview but the MP issued a statement.
“As far as I am are aware, no individuals have been referred to ICAC; the program has been,” he said.
“The opposition leader made an inaccurate claim that I informed a group of Barwon-Darling irrigators that they could access water during a water embargo.
“The meeting that actually took place was in Bourke early 2015 and at no stage did I articulate such a claim, as anyone who attended will confirm.”
Mr Humphries was the Water Minister from 2011 to 2015. In June, he announced he would step down at the 2019 election.
Mr Humphries said the real push behind the story – which he labelled “totally misleading” – was to increase water buy backs to reach the Murray Darling Basin Plan’s water recovery target.
“We have said as a state and Commonwealth [the water recovery target] should be achieved through water efficiency infrastructure and better management.
“We will not trade our communities off without due consideration to all aspects of water cutbacks.
“[The] Greens and Labor coalition have no regard for the sustainability of our rural water based communities.
“Everyone supports the existing rules within the industry in terms of water access. If there is someone not doing the right thing, it needs to be dealt with.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has requested a basin-wide compliance probe.
Kevin Humphries’ full statement
“Today, the Opposition leader made an inaccurate claim that I informed a group of Barwon-Darling Irrigators that they could access water during a water embargo.
The meeting that actually took place was in Bourke early 2015 and at no stage did I articulate such a claim, as anyone who attended will confirm.
This reflects the practice; as all irrigators know, that access to surface water can only be undertaken on advice and communication from the appropriate authorities, in this case Water NSW.
The lack of understanding and failure to recognise this process by the opposition and some members of the media is a poor reflection on the commitment to report accurately and is totally misleading.
The real push behind this story is to raise buy backs of water again to meet the final 650 Gigs to get surface water recovery to the 2750 Gig Murray Darling Basin Authority target.
Recent media aims to bring the Murray Darling Basin Plan into disrepute and undermines the years of hard work by all stakeholders and communities in NSW adapting to water recovery across the basin.
Both I and the National Party in coalition will always work towards a balance in how water recovery is achieved.
As far as compliance goes which was raised; everyone supports the existing rules within the industry in terms of water access.
No one, including myself, supports anyone accessing water outside of the water sharing plan rules. If there is someone(s) not doing the right thing it needs to be dealt with as per the law.
I look forward to Mr Ken Matthews review regarding the Basin Plan and what has been achieved to date.
Further-more as far as I am are aware no individuals have been referred to ICAC; the program has been.”