Independent NSW MP Justin Field will introduce legislation to prevent floodplain harvesting irrigators from being able to claim future compensation should their access to water from the controversial practice be clawed back or removed by future Governments.
The legislation will seek to amend the NSW Water Management Act to extinguish any right to compensation for floodplain harvesting licence holders should future changes need to be made to provide more water for downstream communities and the environment.
The push for the new laws follows a heated debate last month that saw the NSW Parliament reject for the third time regulations to establish a floodplain harvesting licencing regime for NSW. Despite this comprehensive rejection of the regulations, Nationals Water Minister Kevin Anderson has taken steps to begin issuing floodplain harvesting licences in some Northern Basin valleys.
Mr Field said, “There are tremendous uncertainties over the modelling that underpins the Government’s policy to issue billions of litres of new floodplain harvesting access licences.
“In the event the Government has got this policy very wrong, this important change will protect NSW taxpayers, river communities and the rivers and wetlands of the Murray Darling Basin should these licences have to be wound back or canceled by future Governments.
“Currently a handful of large corporate irrigators are set to be gifted billions of dollars of transferable water licences with a right to compensation should these have to be wound back to deliver downstream needs. My concern is that future Governments may be prevented from acting in the public interest because of the compensation risks. That is unacceptable.
“We all want to see floodplain harvesting measured and licenced but it can’t be done at the expense of downstream communities and the river,'' Mr Field said.
The legislation will effectively unwind changes brought in 2014 by former Nationals Water Minister Kevin Humphries “to increase business certainty for landholders who extract water from flood events” and “provide security for holders of… flood plain harvesting licences through enhanced compensation rights.”
Mr Field said, “there was a clear intention by the Nationals Party back in 2014 to establish a floodplain harvesting regime and to guarantee that if future Governments seek to wind back these licences irrigators will be compensated.
“The $13 billion dollar Murray Darling Basin Plan is a painful and expensive lesson of the costs of over-allocating our scarce water resources. The NSW Government risks making the same expensive mistake for increasingly unreliable water flows without addressing the compensation risk they have established.
“This legislation will seek to address that,” Mr Field said.