NSW water public servants caught favouring irrigator groups week after ICAC blasted them over same issue

By Shannon Jenkins

December 7, 2020


Senior public servants from the New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s water division have accidentally leaked private discussions that appear to back up the state corruption watchdog’s recent finding that the bureaucrats in charge of water management have favoured the interests of irrigators.

In a report released late last month, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption examined multiple allegations concerning complaints of corruption involving the management of water, especially in the Barwon-Darling area of the Murray-Darling Basin.

ICAC called on the state government to improve its water management after it found the responsible department had shown a “repeated tendency to adopt an approach that was unduly focused on the interests of the irrigation industry” over the past decade.

According to the Guardian Australia, an email sent from the Planning department’s water group to stakeholders on Tuesday — less than a week after the corruption report was released — accidentally included private discussions between staff.

The message contained social media packs the stakeholders could use to promote upcoming consultations on flood plain harvesting, but it also contained the previous staff emails about which groups should actually receive the materials.

Communications officer Jessica Fernandez told staff she had spoken to water policy engagement boss Peter Hansen about the matter, and he had recommended the NSW Farmers Association, the NSW Irrigators Council and the Murray Darling Association.

“These groups have broad networks across regional NSW. There are small stakeholder and water user groups, but most would not have the capability for social media tiles. There are dedicated Facebook pages, e.g., Darling River Action Group, but those groups with such Facebook pages tend not to be favourable to DPIE Water,” Fernandez wrote.

When another official suggested the social media pack be sent to the Murray Regional Strategy Group, Hansen wrote:

“Can we discuss before you send to that group. You need the background on them.”

Following the revelations, Murray Regional Strategy Group chair Geoff Moar told the Sydney Morning Herald that the organisation had unsuccessfully “tried to engage with the NSW bureaucracy to discuss Murray Valley specific issues” for months.

Another representative, from the Healthy Rivers Network, told the publication that environmental stakeholders have “noticed a tendency by DPIE Water to show bias towards irrigation”.

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