Independent NSW MP Justin Field has called on new NSW Water Minister Kevin Anderson to hit the reset button and withdraw controversial floodplain harvesting regulations due to commence on Monday 14 February.
The regulations were introduced by former Water Minister Melinda Pavey just days before she was dumped from Cabinet. Minister Pavey’s last minute push to licence billions of litres of new water entitlements for Northern Basin irrigators followed 18 months of intense disputes with river communities, with the Parliament striking down the last attempt by Minister Pavey to licence the controversial water harvesting practice.
These new, almost identical, regulations again establish rules for the granting of licences to harvest flood waters, as well as requirements for measuring and metering. They also create exemptions to allow some rainfall runoff to be taken without a licence. Controversially, the regulations expand the criteria for dams to be eligible for floodplain harvesting entitlements potential increasing floodplain harvesting take.
Independent NSW MP Justin Field, who moved a successful disallowance motion in the Legislative Council in May 2021 to strike down the previous regulations said, “In signing off these new regulations, Minister Pavey totally ignored the genuine community concern about diverting billions of litres of flood waters into massive dams across the Murray Darling Basin and thumbed her nose at previous decisions of the Legislative Council.
“Minister Anderson has been left an absolute mess by Melinda Pavey who created division between stakeholders and across basin communities. He has an opportunity to withdraw these regulations before they come into effect on Monday and to reopen the dialogue.
“Now is the ideal time to press pause and have a rethink. There is heaps of water in the system and the dams are full. There is time to re-engage with stakeholders and have a better look at the findings of last year’s Parliamentary Inquiry. The new Minister should do the work to strike a better balance between certainty for all water licence holders and the needs of downstream communities, Traditional Owners and the environment.
“There is broad agreement that floodplain harvesting should be regulated, licenced and measured. However, disagreement remains around the rules deciding when this type of take can occur, how much can occur and how downstream communities and the environment will be protected. With climate change likely to significantly decrease long-term inflows into the basin rivers, it’s crucial we get these policy settings right.
“Stakeholders have consistently called for floodplain harvesting licencing rules that come with a commitment to ensure downstream, cultural and environmental needs are met before floodplain harvesting is allowed. Without those protections in law, there is a real risk these licences lock in unsustainable water harvesting into the future.
“Ultimately, the future of these regulations is up to Minister Anderson. However, if they are not withdrawn the Legislative Council will have an opportunity to consider whether these regulations should be allowed to stand when it sits later this month.
“On the face of it, none of the concerns raised in the Legislative Council in the previous debates have been addressed by these regulations. The new Minister has an opportunity to fix this now.” Mr Field said.