Category Archives: Murray Darling

Guilty plea over water theft will do little to stop over extraction

NSW Greens Water Spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham has welcomed a guilty plea to water theft charges by a big irrigator but warned that legal over-extraction for cotton irrigation was leading to the demise of rivers and wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Mr Buckingham said, “It is good to see an actual prosecution take place for water theft, given that the NSW Ombudsman found that water compliance and enforcement was effectively stopped for many years under the NSW government.

“While this prosecution is welcome, it is the legal extraction too much water for cotton irrigation that is causing rivers like the Darling to die.

“Up and down the Murray-Darling Basin, there are many irrigators undertaking excessive or illegal water extraction secure in the knowledge the NSW Nationals will protect their vested interests over the environment or communities who rely on a healthy river.

“I join many landholders and communities along our rivers that have lost confidence in the ability of the Nationals to effectively administer the water portfolio for the good of all water users, not just their big irrigator mates and political donors.

“It’s also completely unacceptable that Water Minister Niall Blair now has new powers meaning he can retrospectively legalise illegal works and water thefts. This disadvantages irrigators who are doing the right thing and leaves the faucet open for attempts at undue or corrupt influence on the Minister.

“These illegal channels and dams divert a vast volume of flood water away from natural waterways and into irrigation storages, making a few greedy irrigators rich at the expense of our rivers.

“Water theft has real world consequences for the environment and downstream communities. While landholders and communities continue to struggle with drought and the impacts of climate change, the Nationals hold back the urgent action needed for healthy flowing rivers,” he said.

Ombudsman report damns water compliance performance

MEDIA RELEASE - 17 August 2018

NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said today’s Ombudsman’s report Water: Compliance and Enforcement once again details how the NSW government downgraded and neglected water compliance until 4 Corners exposed its failures in July 2017. He backed the Ombudsman’s recommendation that the rollout of meters for water users be fast-tracked to be completed before the current target date of 2023.

“Once again we have a damning Ombudsman report into water compliance in NSW. Successive National Party water ministers have allowed compliance to be underfunded and neglected to the point where the Ombudsman has revealed that compliance officers were not issued Penalty Infringement Notice books for over a year after being transferred to WaterNSW,” said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.

“Placing the Nationals in charge of water is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. Unfortunately, water is an area where government action and inaction can result in significant windfall profits for some water users, which is why compliance and enforcement is so crucial.

“The Greens strongly back the Ombudsman’s recommendation that the government speed up the rollout of metering for water users. The Ken Matthews inquiry recommended a ‘no meter, no pump’ rule, but the government has squibbed it with a slow roll out of water meters.

“It’s not just the drought that has dried up our inland rivers, it is also decades of neglect, mismanagement, corruption and over-allocation.”

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.

Water Management Bill has loopholes you can fit an irrigation pipe through

MEDIA RELEASE - 19 June 2018

The Greens NSW water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham today accused the NSW Government of watering down its Water Management Amendment Bill 2018 to create loopholes to benefit large irrigators meaning the full recommendations of the Ken Matthews Inquiry will not be implemented and mismanagement of water in NSW will continue into the future.

“Some of the provisions in the bill currently before parliament are a recipe for killing the Darling River. Essentially you will have water extraction concentrated in the upper reaches, while the lower Darling dies and Broken Hill is fed by a pipeline from the Murray at Wentworth,” Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said.

“There are massive holes in this legislation and considerable differences between the Public Consultation Draft of the Water Management Amendment Bill 2018 and the bill introduced into parliament last week. Most of these differences favour irrigators and effectively create loopholes that will see over extraction and mismanagement of water continue in NSW.

“Many of the original provisions of the bill, based on the Ken Matthews Inquiry recommendations and the ‘Better management of environmental water – interim solutions package’ interagency taskforce, have been taken out or watered down at the request of the NSW Irrigators Council as detailed in their submission.

  • Privatisation of water metering following irrigators lobbying.
  • Exemptions for ‘no meter no pump rule’.
  • Watering down ministers mandate to embargo pumping of environmental water.
  • Removal of the clause the prohibits seeking compensation for embargos to shepherd environmental water following irrigators lobbying.
  • Fails to create individual daily extraction limits (IDELs) immediately as recommended by Mathews Report.
  • Allowing IDELs to be traded up river and between catchments.
  • Removes requirement to review water sharing plans every five years.
  • Allows NSW to pull out of requirements under the federal Water Act 2007 (e.g. Murray Darling Basin Plan) by regulation not legislation.


“Apart from water theft and an over allocation of water generally in the Barwon Darling, there are numerous other issues that have created a regime of mismanagement with disastrous ecological and social implications.

“The over allocation of A Class licences, which allow irrigators to pump at a low river flow, combined with allowing larger pump diameters and allowing irrigators to pump 300% of their entitlement in any one year, has resulted into over-extraction in dry times.

“The delay in implementing individual daily extraction limits (IDELs) is compounded with the provision to allow the trading of IDEL’s across catchments. This is a recipe for concentrating extraction upstream or allowing inappropriate extraction because of cross-catchment trading.

“It’s clear that we need all water extraction metered and to have telemetry provide a transparency in water management. Not only has the government blown out the deadline for the ‘no meter no pump’ rule by 3 years, but the bill allows the government to privatise water metering and creates exemptions for metering, undermining this vitally important aspect of monitoring and compliance.

“The public consultation draft had a strong provision to grant the minister the power to mandate an embargo on pumping to ensure water released for environmental purposes was not taken by irrigators. This provision also ensured that irrigators could not claim compensation from taxpayers when the minister used this mandate.  However, the government has bowed to pressure from the irrigation industry to water down the mandate and allowed claims for compensation.

“The bill should be the chance to fix water management and compliance in NSW.  Instead the government has caved to the big irrigators and created loopholes that will haunt us into the future and result in the death of the Darling River.”

Labor betrays Murray Darling Basin

MEDIA RELEASE - 8 May 2018

NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham today slammed the Labor Party for betraying the Murray Darling Basin by agreeing to support the government’s move to reduce environmental water by 605 gigalitres in  the Southern Basin and 70 gigalitres in the Northern Basin.

“Labor have capitulated to the National Party and big irrigators and have betrayed Australia and the health of the Murray Darling Basin,” said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.

“Labor have gotten virtually nothing for selling out our rivers. Decent compliance and enforcement regimes should be a basic function of government, it should not be dependent on political deals that give more water to special interests.

“One wonders if the influence of former Labor MP Steve Whan, who is now chief executive of the National Irrigators Council, had anything to do with Labor’s backflip? The Australian people are sick to the gills of ex-politicians turning to lobbying and influencing their former colleagues.

“Just when the community thought Labor had a backbone after they supported the disallowance of 70 gigalitre reduction in the diversion limit for the Northern Basin, they’ve crumbled and sold out the entire Murray-Darling basin.

“The Murray Darling Basin needs real water returned to its rivers, lakes and wetlands. Multiple ‘water saving’ projects, without transparent business cases or definitive guaranteed water savings, are no replacement for actual water flowing down our rivers.

“This all looks like a big con, a smoke and mirrors trick to preserve the privilege of a few special interests. One day we will have a Royal Commission that will expose the rot in water management in Australia,” he said.

Disgraceful Nationals attack public meeting on Darling River

MEDIA RELEASE - 15 April 2018

The National Party has attacked a public meeting being held in Broken Hill this coming Monday evening, labelling concern about the Darling River and allegations of corruption in water management as “playing politics”. Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham slammed the Nationals saying the public was sick of their cover up the growing scandal around the management of the Murray-Darling Basin.

“The Darling River is in a precarious state and serious allegations of corruption have been made and are being investigated by Independent Commission Against Corruption, yet the Nationals dismiss this meeting as “playing politics”. Its a disgrace that they would dismiss the significant public concern about what’s happening to the Darling River.  They are the one’s playing politics,” said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.

“We’ve got a river running dry, irrigators being charged with water theft, water bureaucrats and former ministers being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and a $500 million pipeline being constructed that is deeply unpopular in Broken Hill but a smash hit with upstream cotton irrigators.

“These are all serious issues, and it is responsible for politicians such as Labor’s shadow water minister Chris Minns and myself to discuss these with community and take their concerns back to parliament.

“The National Party, let by water minister Niall Blair have done everything they can to downplay, stonewall and cover up allegations of water theft and corruption and mismanagement. That is playing politics!

“It’s the National Party’s cosy relationship with big cotton irrigators and their incompetence and mismanagement has led to the dire state of the Darling River and the construction of a very expensive pipeline.”

“The Greens are willing to work with any other party or group or person who is committed to reviving the Darling River.”

Water minister bows to Greens pressure and places embargo on water extraction

MEDIA RELEASE - 8 March 2018

NSW Greens Water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham has today congratulated the Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair, for placing an embargo on water extraction on the Barwon Darling system, to ensure expected flows from significant recent rainfall in Queensland will at least reach the Bourke weir pool, but raised concerns that too much water will be extracted in Queensland to the detriment of the Darling River.

“I have been pressuring the minister in parliament today to impose an embargo on the Barwon Darling today to ensure water from recent rain events reaches the Darling River, and I’m pleased to see the Minister agree to an embargo late this afternoon” said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.

“It’s very concerning that the Minister does not expect water to reach further downstream than the Bourke weir.  How much of this rain event will be pumped into the irrigation dams around St George and at Cubbie Station in Queensland?

Right now the Darling River is in crisis.  We have a blue green algae red alert on the lower Darling River between Pooncarie and Burtundy that could become life threatening and the Darling is bone dry above Wilcannia. Without significant flows, the Menindee Lakes system and the lower Darling will be without water by the end of the year for the second time in three years.”

“It’s pleasing to see that community pressure and concern for the health of the Darling River has seen the Nationals put the interests of the community and the river ahead of their mates and donors from the irrigation industry for once,” said Mr Buckingham.

Below is the text of the motion moved by Jeremy Buckingham in parliament this morning.

The Minister announced the embargo in response to a question from Mr Buckingham in Parliament in the afternoon.


I give notice that on the next sitting day I will move:

  1. That this House notes that:


  • There has been significant recent rainfall in the northern catchment of the Murray-Darling Basin;
  • There is a very real possibility that none of the flows from this rainfall will make it down to the lower Darling River, especially as under current laws irrigators can capture up to 3 years supply of water from one flow to store in their dams;
  • There is currently a blue green algae red alert on the lower Darling River between Pooncarie and Burtundy that could become life threatening;
  • Without significant flows making it down the Darling River, Broken Hill, the Menindee Lakes system and the lower Darling will be without water by the end of the year for the second time in three years; and,
  • The Darling is currently completely dry north of Wilcannia.


  1. That this House calls on the Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair, to exercise his powers under the Barwon-Darling Unregulated and Alluvial Sources Water Sharing Plan  2012 to protect the expected flows, including through urgently implementing an embargo on extractions, to ensure that all downstream water users have healthy stock and domestic supplies.
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