State water ministers have criticised the appointment of former NSW deputy premier and Nationals leader Troy Grant as the Commonwealth's new water corruption watchdog in the Murray-Darling Basin, saying a bipartisan appointment would better serve communities along the river system.
Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt said the new Inspector-General of Water Compliance would "ensure strong accountability and compliance with the Water Act" and the plan for the river system, which is designed to recover irrigation entitlements to boost the river environment.
Former NSW Nationals leader Troy Grant has been appointed as the Commonwealth’s water watchdog. Credit:James Alcock.
Mr Grant will replace former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty in the job but his appointment drew criticism from members of the NSW Nationals and other state water ministers about the lack of consultation.
NSW Water Minister and Nationals MP Melinda Pavey said there was "no question" Mr Grant was qualified for the job, but she opposed the appointment of a former politician.
"NSW was not consulted on this appointment, and we oppose it on the basis that in the interests of bringing basin states together we must appoint someone who is bipartisan," Ms Pavey said. "We feel it is not in the interests of NSW to make appointments that could have the potential to force us apart at a time when we must come together."
A senior NSW Nationals source said Mr Grant "was a terrible deputy premier of NSW," who "buggered up the greyhound issue" when he endorsed former premier Mike Baird's ban on the industry.
"The Basin communities need confidence in a plan going forward," the person, who asked to speak on condition of anonymity, said. "Grant is the last person who should be given this responsibility."
Mr Grant quit the Nationals in September. He represented the Dubbo electorate for eight years before retiring in 2019, and prior to that served in the NSW Police force for 22 years. He is a former leader of the NSW Nationals and also served as police minister. As parliamentary secretary for natural resources he chaired NSW government's water advisory panel.
Responding to the criticism, Mr Grant said, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I'd suggest the motivation for this is a little bit sad".
"My focus is the Basin and its communities. I have zero interest in playing politics. I'm independent now, and I ask people to judge me on my performance. My role is to restore trust in the Basin plan and make sure there is compliance with the rules," he said.
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said she was disappointed not to be consulted about the appointment, but welcomed Mr Grant's experience in the field.
"We sorely need someone to ensure a level playing field by looking at compliance in the northern Basin, flood plain harvesting rules and levels of water taken illegally," Ms Neville said.
NSW Labor water spokesman Clayton Barr said he knew Mr Grant well and while he had some concerns "about governments giving jobs for mates, Troy will be able to put politics aside".
Mr Keelty's term expired in October. He was appointed as the inaugural Inspector-General in August last year by then federal water minister David Littleproud who promised new laws would be created to empower the "tough cop" regulator to enforce compliance with water rules.
But the states refused to co-operate and legislation has not yet been brought before federal parliament.
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