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Eastern Australia Agriculture Water Rights Sale Referred to NACC

In 2019 it was reported that the federal government had not received any water as part of an $80 million purchase of water entitlements in 2017 from Eastern Australia Agriculture, an agribusiness founded by former Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction under the Morrison government. In July 2023 the sale was referred to the newly established National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) by The Greens alongside 9 other priority items.

Farmland being irrigated by a neighbouring water channel at the Dirranbandi property, Tooroora. The text "Eastern Australia Agriculture" is foregrounded.

During senate estimates in October of 2019, commonwealth environmental water holder, Jody Swirepik, confirmed that the entitled volume totalled nearly 72,000 megalitres, none of which had been provided.

The initial sale was already “controversial” when it was made public as the government had purchased the water entitlements without a tender process. Instead the purchase was made via direct negotiation with the company with the government invoking a clause which states that the government may accept an unsolicited offer in “exceptionally advantageous conditions.” The EAA also had no past history of selling water rights.

Mr. Taylor stated that he had resigned from his roles within EAA before entering parliament and was not aware of the sale until after it became public. Furthermore he has stated that neither himself or his family has benefited from the sale. The sale is currently being investigated by the auditor general.

The Guardian also identified a number of documents under FOI laws which indicated that Barnaby Joyce, the former minister for agriculture, had taken an active interest in the purchase soon after taking over responsibility for such water purchases.

Furthermore, the documents highlighted that “the real object of the purchase was to meet the targets for water recovery under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on paper only.” Tony Reid, Mr. Taylor’s former business partner and director for EAA, was a consultant for Eastern Australia Irrigation, EAA’s parent company, during the negotiation process for the entitlements. Mr. Reid’s calculations for the value of the water rights also come under scrutiny with an independent assessment suggesting that the purchase should have been significantly cheaper.

None of the parties involved have been accused of any wrongdoing. Eastern Australia Agriculture is self described as a “farming company operating two large scale irrigation properties at St George and Dirranbandi, Queensland.”

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