Labor Shadow Minister for Water, Clayton Barr, and the NSW Labor Opposition have successfully found the support of Parliament to launch an inquiry into Water Minister Melinda Pavey’s decision to lift the embargo on water harvesting and water pumping in the Northern Basin of the Murray-Darling river system during the first significant rain event in three years, possibly depriving the rest of the system of much needed connectivity.
Labor’s concerns have focused on media reports that have indicated that Minister Pavey has taken calls and correspondence from a small number of influential irrigators within the Northern Basin prior to changing her mind on a previous water harvesting order (7th Feb) that embargos would stay in place and protect rain water for downstream connectivity, that suddenly led to her change of mind allowance, only 3 days later (10th Feb), for water harvesting and water pumping as soon as the February rains fell.
The decision by Minister Pavey has outraged most across the State.
The decision benefitted a small number of irrigators in the Northern Basin but it comes at the expense of communities, the environment and thousands of other irrigators across the State.
The Inquiry into the 7th February Regulation made by the Minister is designed to investigate the Minister’s decision to allow “an exemption from requirements under the Water Management Act 2000 to hold a water access licence to take water from a water source” as well as an exemption to “hold a water supply work approval” for the purpose for floodplain harvesting (ie: preventing water from getting into the river system).
On the surface, this appears to be a wide ranging exemption to allow people without a water licence to actually take water and/or harvest run off water as it moves across fields and paddocks. NSW Labor hopesthat the Upper House Inquiry will provide the Minister and her Department to explain the intention and potential outcomes of this Regulation.
Clayton Barr, Labor Shadow Minister for Water said: “It is mind boggling that this Water Minister and her 3 predecessors have failed to get on top of this floodplain harvesting issue to the point where the current Minister (Pavey) now appears to be adopting a blank cheque approach to water harvesting regardless of whether you are licenced or not and regardless of whether your works are approved or not.”
“The law abiding 99.9% of irrigators across the State must be in despair at this Regulation, not to mention the many communities that are approaching day zero for water supply and experiencing significant social and health problems as a result of being deprived of water supply over many years.”
“Hopefully the Inquiry will shed light onto who exactly who has the ear of the Minister and the ability to influence her decision making, while the rest of the NSW community, and the environment, are ignored.”