30th March 2023
NCC welcomes court decision on water theft, calls for stronger sentencing in the future
The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC), the states peak body for climate and environment, has today welcomed the finding of criminal liability for Brewarrina irrigators Peter and Jane Harris.
At a sentencing hearing on Tuesday the Land and Environment Court upheld the finding of criminally liable for stealing over two billion liters of water in 2016 .
The perpetrators were fined $60,000 and ordered to pay around half a million dollars in costs incurred by WaterNSW in bringing the case.
NCC Water Campaigner Melissa Gray welcomed the decision, which she noted will have implications for a number of cases currently awaiting trial.
“What this case has done is shown the rogue operators that if you illegally steal water, you will be held accountable. There was a lot of concern that the burden of evidence would be too high, so this is great outcome in terms of making it clear to those rogue operators who think they can steal water that this will no longer be accepted in NSW.”
“Most irrigators do want to do the right thing, but the outliers who have been prepared to steal water have done so at eyewatering scale. It has taken a mountain of work by locals, community groups and environmental organisations to bring these cases of large scale water theft to light.”
Gray also expressed concern at the scale of the fine.
“A $60,000 fine between both of the offenders is woefully inadequate when compared to the impact that the theft of that much water has on communities and the downstream environment.
“Penalties for significant water should be large enough to be a deterrent, and include loss of water access license.”
“The concern I have is that some irrigators will see this potential fine as just the cost of doing business, especially when the likely profits from outweigh these fines”.
“It’s great to see Premier Chris Minns has already visited the far west and shows the people that improving the health of the Murray Darlin Basin is a priority of his government.
After 12 years of neglect, it’s time to get serious about water theft”
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