Allegations of corruption in water management through insider knowledge have been aired under parliamentary privilege during a Senate committee hearing in Deniliquin in NSW's Riverina.
The Senate Select Committee on the Multi-Jurisdictional Management and Execution of the Murray Darling Basin Plan is holding a public hearing at the Deniliquin RSL.
Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Chris Brooks addressed the committee and Labor Senator Deborah O'Neill raised with him reports of corruption.
"The regulation of the commodity that is now water, it's like a financial product," she said.
"The community is telling me about concerns about corruption.
"It's been put to me ... there are people who have been appointed to roles within leading overseers of water in these regions, who have for many years had foreknowledge of where decisions are being made.
"They've banked those, and then they've profited from inside knowledge of the sector, because of the positions that they've been put in.
"There are ongoing expressions of concerns about corruption in the water market, exactly because of insider trading knowledge that's being distributed across families.
"Is there corruption in the water market?"
Mr Brooks answered "technically, no, according to the ACCC".
"But according to the pub test, yes," he added.
"There are countless examples of corruption.
"The volumes and flows are not available for people to do their own calculations ... compared to other commodities.
"When everybody knows the volume of grain held in store or the volume of coal being exported, that information is what allows people to do their own calculations on supply and demand of a commodity, which dictates the price.
"When it comes to water, which is invariably determined by the amount of rainfall you get, those volumes in storage and those flows need to be publicly available so everyone knows and no one has the advantage.
"And that information is available to certain people from government departments and not others."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Nationals Senator Perin Davey urged her parliamentary colleague and Mr Brooks to provide evidence of alleged corruption.
"You're making very, very serious allegations Senator O'Neill," she said.
"I have not yet heard any evidence."
Mr Brooks pointed out "floodplain harvesting is illegal and it's been occurring".
He detailed to select-committee deputy chair Rex Patrick that his action in the Supreme Court had been a fight.
"There has been a lot of resistance by a lot of authorities in different states for different reasons, claiming confidentiality and those types of things," he said.
"We compiled a socioeconomic study by Australian Institute to show that the financial impacts of this region was $7 billion, and cost us 20,000 jobs.
Mr Brooks said this was the 120th submission he'd made to government on the management of the basin.
"South Australia is getting a fixed volume of 1850 gigalitres of water ... regardless of what the storage levels are or where it comes from, Victoria and New South Wales have to equally make that contribution," he said.
"The long-term average flows to South Australia are more like 5200 ... even when droughts are on, It's closer to 4200.
"It's about 3000 gigs more than what it was designed to be, and 3000 gigs takes in all of the water, 100 per cent of the water, in the three main valleys of Goulburn Valley, Murray Valley and the Murrumbidgee Valley, and that's where 40 per cent of your food comes from."
Mr Brooks said no one in the industry could estimate what their allocation would be and raised the differences in allocations between Murrumbidgee and Murray irrigators.
"It's been an above-average rainfall year and Murrumbidgee Valley, which pulls out of the Snowy hills as does the Murray irrigation region, they're on 100 per cent we're on 50 per cent.
"And that's not the difference between securities - that's NSW general security water, and that's just not explainable when the dam volumes are so similar, and our capacity is actually higher and our use is lower."
Murray Irrigation Limited chair Phillip Snowden was also asked about the reports of corruption.
"I know the rumours are there, but I don't have any comment to make because I simply don't know," he said.
"We do operate a small trading platform for our region, for our customers, but that's all we do ... we're not really in the same world."
Mr Snowden said MIL was "very concerned about future buybacks" and there were "perverse illogics" resulting in water being moved to places where it did not naturally flow, resulting in environmental loss.
"They don't completely die but they're certainly not in the condition they were, and one of the reasons is that water is not returned as environmental flows," he said.
"We probably operate at 40 to 50 per cent of the capacity that was originally designed into the system and that's purely because there isn't as much water to move.
"There is a risk of contraction of the entire network even though this network ... is exactly where we should be growing food.
"As far as available water, it's about 50 per cent of what it historically was.
"Climate change comes into that, so does irrigator behaviour as far as carry over ... there's also a policy drought."
Shifting jurisdiction of the basin to the federal government was one issue discussed at Deniliquin, with "too many hands" involved according to Senator O'Neill.
"Eight metres of the river was eroded (at one location) in the course of eight years because of the management in that eight year period ... and that's to say nothing of what's been eroded in the community," she said.
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