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Transparency and accountability are the key to restoring public confidence in water management in NSW

The NSW Government must vigorously prosecute landholders who have harvested floodplain waters illegally, and release all the legal advice it has received on the status of floodplain harvesting over the past two years.

Media reports today reveal that Water Minister Melinda Pavey was told months ago that unlicenced floodplain harvesting was illegal under the Water Management Act but kept that advice secret during critical public debates on the issue. [1]

“The Minister not only kept the advice secret, she failed to act upon that advice by introducing measures to stop the continuing theft of massive volumes of water cross large parts of NSW,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“At the same time, she was busy ramming through regulations that transferred billions of dollars’ worth of publicly-owned water to private landholders in the form of floodplain harvesting licences.

“Fortunately, those regulations and licences were overturned by the NSW Legislative Council, by a cross party group including Justin Field, Labor, Greens, Shooters and Animal Justice.

“But with billions of dollars’ worth of water at stake, you can be sure the irrigator lobby is pressing the Nationals to have another crack.

“This whole episode further undermines public confidence in the administration of water and the government’s ability to balance the needs of the environment and the interests of downstream communities against the incessant demands of irrigators.

“That’s why we need to know what the government was told, and when, regarding this critical matter of public interest before any more changes are made to water laws and regulations in NSW.”

Mr Gambian said the legal advice the Minister had kept secret was a critical piece of information that MPs were not given when casting their votes on the Floodplain Harvesting Regulation disallowance.

“The failure to disclose this critical advice was very favourable to the interests of irrigators because the regulation gifted billions of dollars of water to irrigators who were otherwise not entitled to it

“Any licensing of floodplain water take must guarantee an ecologically sustainable water flows right through to the bottom of the system.

“Anything less will have a devastating impact on river health and downstream farmers and communities.

“The law should be enforced and those landholders who have taken water to which they had not right should be prosecuted.”

[1] NSW labels flood-plain harvesting ‘legal’ but internal advice suggests opposite, SMH, 26-5-21

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