Murray-Darling Authority 'Acted Unlawfully' Inquiry Finds

Australia's Murray-Darling Basin Authority acted unlawfully and water allocations must undergo a complete overhaul across the system, a royal commission has found.

The commission's report released on Thursday found river allotments were driven by politics and accused the basin authority board of maladministration over its disregard for science.

It said water levels must be made on a scientific basis and in accordance with reconstructed water laws.

It also wants uniform penalties between basin states for irrigators who don't comply with regulations.

Commissioner Bret Walker SC is seen making his opening comments at the first public hearings of the Murray Darling Basin Royal Commission at the Adelaide Town Hall, June 18, 2018. (Image: AAP)

The South Australia-based royal commission's 736-page final report includes 111 findings and 44 recommendations aimed at improving the effectiveness of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

It says the Murray-Darling Basin Authority acted unlawfully when it "completely ignored" climate change projections for the determination of water allocations.

"The (sustainable diversion limit) ignores the best available scientific knowledge," it says.

As an administrative decision, it is indefensible.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said the commission had strayed from its initial aim.

"I note that when the royal commission was announced by the former state Labor government, South Australians were told the commission's focus would be investigating allegations of water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin," he said.

"This was not by any means the focus of this inquiry."

Murray-Darling commission report
  • Queensland, NSW, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia signed up to the national Murray-Darling Basin Plan in 2012. The agreement outlines how the river's water should be used.
  • ABC's Four Corners in 2017 revealed allegations upstream irrigators in NSW were taking billions of litres of water designated for the environment.
  • Former SA premier Jay Weatherill launched a royal commission in November, 2017 to investigate the alleged upstream theft.
  • Leading constitutional lawyer Bret Walker SC was appointed royal commissioner in December, 2017.
  • With a change of government in March 2018, SA's new Liberal government allowed the commission to continue but refused requests for an extension of time. The original deadline of February 1, 2019, remained.
  • The federal government brought action in the High Court to prevent commonwealth officials appearing before the commission after summons were issued to current and former staff.
  • The commission's first public hearing was held June 18, 2018.
  • The High Court action was discontinued in August after Mr Walker withdrew summonses for the production of documents and for officials to give evidence in order to meet the deadline.
  • The last public hearing was held October 30, 2018.
  • Mr Walker delivered the report to SA Governor Hieu Van Le January 29, 2019.
  • It was tabled by state cabinet and publicly released on January 31.