Moves by Water Minister Kevin Anderson to pave the way for the handing out of licences for floodplain harvesting as early as this week are likely in breach of the Commonwealth Water Act and could set up a future government to have to fork out billions of dollars in compensation, says Cate Faehrmann, Greens MP and water spokesperson and chair of the recent NSW Upper House Committee into Floodplain Harvesting.
On Friday, the Government issued a proclamation that will allow it to hand out floodplain harvesting licences before the likely disallowance of its floodplain harvesting regulations on Wednesday this week. The disallowance would prevent the Government from handing out any further licences.
The Government has proposed to hand out over 340 gigalitres of floodplain harvesting licences despite the Murray-Darling Basin plan only allocating 64 gigalitres to floodplain harvesting. Determinations have already been made this morning on some licences in the Border Rivers and Gwydir Valleys .
The report from the recent inquiry into floodplain harvesting found that the process the NSW Government is undertaking to amend the Sustainable Diversion Limit as described by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has the potential to be unlawful.
“This is an incredible show of bad faith from the new Water Minister and I am urging him not to proceed with issuing floodplain harvesting licences in this manner. It’s extremely concerning that the government has chosen to ignore the recommendations from the recent parliamentary inquiry into floodplain harvesting. Instead they’re choosing to rush through floodplain harvesting licences in the dead of the night at enormous cost to the environment and downstream communities, and eventually the taxpayer,” said Ms Faehrmann.
“It’s nothing short of criminal that instead of working this through for the good of the whole basin, they’re rushing through changes that will hand hundreds of gigalitres of water worth potentially billions of dollars to big irrigators in the north.
“During the recent inquiry into floodplain harvesting we heard how the volumes the Government proposes to hand out to already wealthy Irrigators in the northern basin far exceed the Murray Darling Basin Cap and could breach the Commonwealth Water Act. Handing out such massive volumes of water for free will spell disaster for the Darling-Baaka River and downstream communities, including traditional owners such as the Barkandji.
“The Floodplain Harvesting Inquiry’s Report included recommendations that would see floodplain harvesting regulated in a manner that is lawful and sustainable. The Water Minister needs to be using this report as a basis for restoring balance in the Murray-Darling basin, not the pleas of a handful of wealthy irrigators in the north who have been dictating this state’s water policy in their own interests for far too long.
“The committee recommended that the Government develop clearly defined and enforceable access rules based on within-valley and downstream flow triggers based on minimum flow targets needed to maintain or improve outcomes for environmental, cultural and basic landholder requirements. Further, that floodplain harvesting take only be permitted under the access rules when these targets are met, and that these access rules must be implemented before any floodplain harvesting licences or entitlements are allocated.
“This has been completely ignored by the government along with other recommendations such as floodplain harvesting volumes must be within the limits in the basin plan. If the Government goes down this path they risk not only the health of the Murray-Darling basin but also legal action and compensation worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Ms Faehrmann.