Humphries’ Horrible History on Water Management – Part 2
Not content with introducing new laws which mean water management is based on old data and ignores climate change (see part 1 here), since becoming Water Minister, Kevin Humphries has also made it possible for illegal flood plain diversion works to be made retrospectively legal and ensured big irrigators will be able to claim compensation from taxpayers if these newly gifted flood water licences are ever revoked, cancelled or reduced.
In August 2014, Kevin Humphries rushed the Water Management Amendment Bill 2014 through parliament. He hoped that no one would realise that hidden within the new laws were provisions which could allow any flood works (such as diversion banks which stop floodwater reaching a river) that were built after the 1994 cap on new works, to be made legal and the water these works capture to be made compensable. In other words, the laws could make previously illegal flood water diversions, legal.
Up until recently water licence holders have not had a private access right to flood flow water, which has always been considered opportunistic water, but the legislation moved by Minister Humphries created a new category of floodplain harvesting license to provide these rights. It also allows the conversion of existing floodplain usage into these licenses and allows them to be compensable. This creates a new liability for taxpayers.
Under questioning from my colleague in the lower house, Greens MP for Balmain Jamie Parker, Minister Humphries could not guarantee that diversion banks and other flood works created illegally after the 1994 cap on new works would not suddenly become legal and compensable. His carefully crafted words were: “these works are not illegal; they will be licensed.” That’s a bit like saying, ‘robbing the bank was not illegal, because I’ve just issued a licence to rob banks’.
Legalising and issuing flood water licences will have significant ramifications for downstream users. Not only will it reward landholders who have undertaken illegal or inefficient works but is also likely to limit future opportunity to restore river flows, provide more water for downstream users, or restore floodplain health.
Under the new rules, floodplain harvesting licence holders are eligible for compensation if their flood-flow water allocations are reduced, despite the fact that there is no clear basis yet on how to measure interests and values.
Making these floodplain harvesting licences compensable is irresponsible as it will add additional costs to taxpayers in the future if water allocations need to be changed for a variety of quite foreseeable reasons. Minister Humphries and the Liberal and National Parties have clearly learnt nothing from past over-allocations of water licences and the gigantic call on taxpayers funds to then buy back licences to fix over allocation problems.