On 16 August 2017, the following matter was referred to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee for inquiry and report by 5 December 2017: The integrity of the water market in the Murray-Darling Basin, with particular reference to:
(a) the allegations of theft and corruption in the management of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin,
(b) the investigation and public disclosure by authorities, including the New South Wales Government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, of reported breaches within the Murray-Darling Basin, including the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan,
(c) the actions of member states in responding to allegations of corruption and the potential undermining of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan,
(d) the use of Commonwealth-owned environmental water for irrigation purposes, and the impact on Basin communities and the environment,
(e) the operation, expenditure and oversight of the Water for the Environment Special Account, and
(f) any other related matters.
The committee tabled an interim report on 5 December 2017, which recommended that the reporting date for the inquiry be extended to 28 March 2018. On 5 December 2017 the Senate granted this extension.
On 31 October 2017 the committee travelled to Broken Hill and undertook a site visit around the region. This was followed by public hearings in Broken Hill on 1 November 2017, and Adelaide on 2 November 2017. However, during the course of the public hearing in Adelaide, statements were made by a senator, which, in the committee's view, reflected negatively on the value of the committee's inquiry. By bringing into question the integrity of the committee process, the comments had the effect of undermining the committee's collegial working relationship and threatened the committee's reputation. The comments had the potential to diminish the impact of the committee's inquiry and final report.
The committee recommends that the final reporting date for the inquiry be extended to 29 November 2018.