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Only a handful of NSW landowners to face court over Murray-Darling Basin water theft allegations?

March 13, 2018 - 00:15 -- Admin

ABC News, 8 March 2018:The NSW Government will prosecute several people over alleged water theft on the Barwon-Darling, eight months after Four Corners investigated the issue.WaterNSW has named the people it is taking to the Land and Environment Court over alleged breaches of water management rules.They are prominent irrigator Peter Harris and his wife Jane Harris, who own a major cotton farm near Brewarrina in the state's north-west and were named in the Four Corners story.The couple have been accused of taking water when the flow conditions did not permit it, and breaching licence and approval conditions.Three members of another prominent family are also facing charges: cotton grower Anthony Barlow from Mungindi near Moree and Frederick and Margaret Barlow.The Barlows have been accused of pumping during an embargo and pumping while metering equipment was not working.WaterNSW gave false figures: OmbudsmanWaterNSW announced the prosecutions an hour before the NSW Ombudsman released a scathing report saying the agency had given the Government incorrect figures on its enforcement actions.The state's ombudsman, Michael Barnes, found WaterNSW gave incorrect figures when it provided statistics that showed there had been a significant increase in enforcements between July 2016 and November 2017."The information provided to us indicated that the updated statistical information from WaterNSW that we'd published was significantly incorrect," he said."There had, in fact, been no referrals for prosecutions and no penalty infringement notices issued in the relevant period."Mr Barnes said he initiated a separate investigation after his office received complaints about the figures, and he found WaterNSW had inflated the statistics."As part of our investigation, we confirmed with Revenue NSW that no penalty infringement notices were issued by WaterNSW in the relevant period," he said.The ombudsman said he raised the issue with WaterNSW, which has admitted to the mistake and apologised.Mr Barnes also said he believed the error was unintentional.The agency's CEO, David Harris, said staff have now manually reviewed all actions taken."Some of the detail WaterNSW provided was incorrect and, although it was revised, it is not acceptable and we are acting to ensure it does not happen again," he said……NSW Ombudsman, Correcting the record: Investigation into water compliance and enforcement 2007-17: A special report to Parliament under sections 26 and 31 of the Ombudsman Act 1974, 8 March 2018, Amended enforcement outcome statistics: