Humphries 1 – 0 Blair: Last minute amendment degrades protection for environmental water

MEDIA RELEASE – 20 June 2018

The Greens NSW water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham today accused the water minister Niall Blair of being rolled by former minister and National Party rival, Kevin Humphries and his allies by introducing a last minute amendment to the Water Management Amendment Bill 2018 to reduce his own powers to protect flows of water released for environmental purposes.

Irrigators pumping during environmental water flows has become a major issue.  In mid-2017 a significant environmental release aimed at connecting the Macquarie and Barwon Rivers to allow golden, silver and spangled perch fingerlings to spread, was severely impacted when an irrigator broke a handshake agreement and pumped a considerable amount of water from the environmental flow.

A subsequent Department of Primary Industries report ‘Making the Connection: Designing, delivering and monitoring flows between catchments’ recommended:

“Adequate legislative protection of environmental flow events from extraction in both the regulated and unregulated Macquarie water sources is required. Protecting the integrity of flows is also emerging as a key factor to the success of connectivity watering events and facilitating this should be a focus in current planning and legislative frameworks throughout the Basin.“

“The original public consultation draft of this bill gave the minister strong and explicit powers to protect environmental water. These powers were watered down under pressure from irrigators in the bill introduced into parliament, but then a further amendment abolishing specific protections was handed to parliamentarians only five minutes before debate resumed last night,” Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said.

“It appears that Kevin Humphries and his allies have rolled Niall Blair in the National’s party room to further diminish protections for environmental water in NSW.

“The last minute amendments removed the Minister’s power to place mandatory conditions on licences to protect environmental flows.”

Prior to this amendment, water minister Niall Blair justified the original provision for mandatory conditions in his second reading speech as a way ‘to provide a simpler, clearer and more transparent regulatory framework’:

“The bill allows mandatory conditions to be imposed on a water access licence or approval by regulation. Prescribing mandatory conditions by regulation will provide a simpler, clearer and more transparent regulatory framework. This is consistent with the application of mandatory conditions by regulation under other legislation such as the Biosecurity Act 2015. Stakeholders raised some concerns about imposing mandatory conditions on licences and approval by regulation without consultation. The Government has listened to these concerns and the bill now provides at item [56] that a mandatory condition, other than one that is of a machinery nature or is minor in its effect, must not be prescribed unless it is publicly exhibited for at least 28 days.”

The final Third Read vote will happen when parliament resumes today. The Greens will oppose the bill.

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