Tag Archives: Western NSW

Cover Up King Blair fails transparency test

MEDIA RELEASE – 22 November 2017

The NSW Greens have accused water minister Niall Blair of covering up maladministration of water compliance and enforcement after the government used its numbers in parliament to block 18 votes to 15 votes, the public release of three separate ombudsman reports.

In his latest interim report the NSW Ombudsman says:

 “The concerns raised in earlier investigations continue to be a strong theme in the current investigation, and are summarised in this progress report.”

The Ombudsman has produced three separate reports on water compliance and enforcement in 2009, 2012 and 2013.  None of these reports have been made public by the minister.

NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said:

“This was a test to see whether water minister Niall Blair was fair dinkum about transparency, and he has flunked it badly.

“The Ombudsman made it clear in his interim report that many of the issues now causing scandal were raised in a series of reports dating back as far as 2009.

“It is important to see what information and recommendations the Ombudsman made in previous reports, and whether successive NSW Government took the conclusions of these report seriously or enacted the recommendations.

“Next time water minister Niall Blair says he is not acting to cover up this scandal, remember that he voted to block the public from reading what was in these three ombudsman reports.

“The National Party should be stripped of the water portfolio and there should be a Royal Commission in to the administration of the Murray Darling Basin.”

Ombudsman’s report exposes water compliance as rotten to the core

MEDIA RELEASE – 15 Nov 2017

A special report to the NSW Parliament by the NSW Ombudsman exposes that water compliance and enforcement has been rotten to the core for almost a decade and the government has failed to act despite repeated and detailed warning by the Ombudsman.  Previous Ombudsman reports in 2009, 2012 and 2013 told the government of the serious issues with compliance and enforcement, yet the government has failed to act and refused to publicly release those three Ombudsman reports.

NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said:

“It’s clear that enforcement of water law does not function in NSW and is rotten to the core.  Some of these revelations are worse than 4 Corners or the Matthews Report.

“The government has been repeatedly warned by the Ombudsman that water compliance and enforcement is rotten, yet has turned a blind eye and deliberately hid previous Ombudsman reports from the public.

“It is only because the Ombudsman used his powers to go around the water minister and have this interim report tabled in parliament that we now know just how rotten things are in Water NSW.

“We need a broad ranging Royal Commission to investigate water in NSW so that all the issues and allegations that are out there are thoroughly investigated independently.

“Water minister Niall Blair must have known about the serious compliance and enforcement issues, but has done nothing but stonewall and cover up.  Enforcement actions have plunged under Minister Blair from 820 in 2014/15, to 200 in 2016/17.

“The Natural Resource Access Regulator Bill currently before parliament is a case in point.  The Bill fails to properly implement the recommendations of the Matthews Inquiry that compliance and Enforcement be controlled by an independent body.  The bill leaves responsibility with the Minister and the Department of Primary Industries, thus failing to deal with the conflict of interest identified by Ken Matthews and the Ombudsman.

“The Nationals must be stripped of the water portfolio or it will remain an area of maladministration and ripe for corruption.”

Some highlights from the Investigation into water compliance and enforcement 2007-2017:

  • The Ombudsman initiated his investigation in July 2016. He referred one matter to ICAC in April 2017.
  • Previous Ombudsman reports in 2009, 2012 and 2013 warned about serious issues – were kept secret by the government.
  • Compliance officers were ‘press ganged’ into the role without proper training or skills.
  • Water NSW staff allege they were directed not to investigate or had their delegations removed.
  • No enforcement action had been taken on unlicensed dams that contained large volumes of water and were being used for irrigation purposes without the required water access licences or water allocations in a water sharing plan area.
  • The transfer of some compliance and enforcement functions to Water NSW under the Transformation was having a debilitating effect on the conduct of enforcement activities across the State.
  • There were systemic failures by senior management, in both past and current regimes, to take action on water compliance matters.
  • Expenditure on compliance between 2012 and 2016 was $10 million less than recommended by IPART.
  • Excessive delays in completing investigations and taking enforcement and prosecution action and of matters that were not being sufficiently prepared before the relevant statute of limitation periods expired.

Broken Hill pipeline business case a poor excuse for killing the Darling River and Menindee Lakes

MEDIA RELEASE – 23 October 2017

NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham today said the release of the business case for the Wentworth to Broken Hill water pipeline showed the government was again preferencing big cotton irrigators over the health of the Darling River and expecting the residents and businesses of Broken Hill to pay for it.

NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said:

“This business case is a plan to spend a huge amount on an unnecessary pipeline so that the government can let the Darling River die and kill the Menindee Lakes by bypassing them and emptying them far more rapidly when they do fill.

“It is the brainchild of former Deputy Director-General of DPI Water Gavin Hanlon and his department who are now under investigation by ICAC for allegedly conspiring with a cohort of big cotton irrigators on the Upper Darling.

“The business case was clearly written with the government’s preferred answer in mind – a pipeline that will allow them to run the Menindee Lakes dry and allow more water to be taken out of the Darling River by upstream irrigators.

“The business case objectives fail to consider the environmental, amenity, recreation, tourism and cultural values of a healthy Darling River and Menindee Lakes – issues that should be central to a truly triple-bottom line approach.

“The business case fails to assess the option of a combination of smaller projects to address water security needs, instead opting for the big expensive pipeline option.  A combination of other smaller infrastructure and management options, as well as long-term efforts to restore the health of the Darling River was not considered.

“The business case rejects ‘water licence buybacks to secure Menindee Lakes supply’ because it would mean less water for upstream cotton production.

“It is presented as a fait accompli to the people of NSW, without any of the detailed modelling or public debate about the various options.  The business case should not have been kept secret and released only after the government has awarded the tender.  This is disgraceful governance from Water Minister Niall Blair.

“The pipeline will encumber the residents and businesses of Broken Hill with significant ongoing increases to their water bills.  They are being forced to pay for something they don’t want and for the Menindee Lakes to be downgraded to just a temporary storage for South Australian irrigators.

“Water Minister Blair says this pipeline is necessary because water buybacks are unpopular.  However, buybacks are only unpopular with his big irrigator mates.  Most Australians want to see the water buybacks necessary to restore our major rivers and wetlands to a healthy state.”

Government shuts down debate on water theft scandal

MEDIA RELEASE – 13 September 2017

NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham today criticised the Berejiklian Government for voting against a Matter of Public Importance debate on the growing water theft scandal, after the Matthews Inquiry released a scathing interim report that raises more questions than it answers.

The Greens moved to have a Matter of Public Importance debate on the Matthews Inquiry interim report, but the government used their numbers in the Upper House to defeat the motion 20 – 16.

“It’s increasingly obvious that Water Minister Niall Blair is engaged in a cover up of this water scandal.  His government has failed to initiate an independent judicial inquiry, they have blocked parliamentary motions calling for documents to be presented, and now they’ve voted down the parliament debating the issue as a ‘Matter of Public Importance’,” said Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.

“The people of NSW have lost confidence in the ability of the National Party to administer the water portfolio for the public good, rather than in favour of their irrigator mates and political donors.

“The Matthews Inquiry interim report raises more questions than it answers.

“Why did the Secretary of the Department prevent Mr Matthews from reporting on the conduct of other DPI Water Staff?  And what other ‘separate process’ is the Secretary and minister considering to investigate these other staff?

“Who is investigating former minister Kevin Humphries?  Is it ICAC?  Is it Mr Matthews?  Is anyone?

“Why did the Commonwealth pull its funding for compliance staff at DPI Water?

“What role did the restructure of water by this government have in undermining compliance and enforcement?

“Why have two audits into NSW Water compliance by the NSW Ombudsman in 2009 and 2014 been kept secret, despite attempts by the parliament and under Freedom of Information to have the audits released?”

Nationals should be stripped of water portfolio after damning report

MEDIA RELEASE – 11 September 2017

 

The NSW Greens today called on the National Party to be stripped of the water portfolio after the interim report by Ken Matthews sparked by a 4 Corners investigation found “water related compliance and enforcement arrangements in NSW have been ineffectual and require significant and urgent improvement” and revealed that ICAC was investigating allegations of corruption; Kevin Humphries may have told irrigators to pump during an embargo; and that a ‘systemic fix’ is required, including a new independent ‘Natural Resource Access Regulator’.

NSW Greens water spokesperson, Jeremy Buckingham said:

“The National Party should be permanently stripped from holding the water portfolio.  We cannot have the fox in charge of the henhouse, especially when National Party donors are getting favourable treatment by ministers, MPs and senior public servants.

“The current government made a massive mistake in putting the Department of Primary Industries in charge of water.  There is an inherent conflict of interest of making water allocations subservient to the interests of the agricultural industry.

“The role of Troy Grant’s office and former minister Kevin Humphries is extremely concerning and highlights the role of the National Party in mismanaging water resources and potentially corruption the administration of the Water Act.

“The Greens welcome the recommendation to set up an independent Natural Resources Access Regulator, and believe the water portfolio should be held by the environment minister.

“The government should move swiftly to implement all the recommendations made in this report.  Mr Matthews is correct in saying that the irrigation industry’s social licence is at stake and that restoring public confidence will require more than incremental change.

“The last three National Party ministers have all worked to undermine the Murray Darling Basin Plan and to implement legislative and regulatory changes in favour of big irrigators.  This is having real impacts on the health of our rivers and has totally undermined public confidence in water management in NSW.

“I am concerned that Water NSW failed to give the Matthews Inquiry access to supporting documentation until the 24 August, with further deliver on the 29 August – possibly contributing the delay of this interim report until after Budget Estimates hearings where Minister Blair continually dodged questions citing the impending interim report.

“The Greens support recommendations to require meters on all pumps, publishing meter readings in real time, remote sensing of crops and water holdings, and strong enforcement of the law.”

Santos spin off of Narrabri CSG project should prompt cancellation

MEDIA RELEASE – 8 December 2016

Santos’ announcement today that they would concentrate on core conventional gas assets  and that the Narrabri coal seam gas project would be “packed and run separately for value as a standalone business” shows that the controversial project has no future and that the government should step in and cancel the licence to provide certainty to the community and protect the land and water.

NSW Greens energy and resources spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said:

“It’s clear that Santos has little interest in developing the Narrabri coal seam gas project and are likely to try to sell it off.  It’s time for the government to end the uncertainty and put this project out of its misery by cancelling the licence.

“It’s now been almost three years since the Narrabri project was given “Strategic Energy Project” status to fast track it through the planning system.  There is still no Environmental Impact Statement lodged and now the company has said they intend to spin it off and concentrate on other conventional assets.

“We’ve seen farmers and others protest and be arrested trying to protect the land and water, and particularly the Great Artesian Basin.  How long must the community remain vigilant and suffer uncertainty?

“The world is quickly moving to renewable energy.  Developing new fossil fuels, particularly when they pose risks through fracking and the extraction of vast amounts of saline water, is negligent behaviour.

“Victoria has banned fracking and the South Australian Liberal Party has called for a ten year moratorium on fracking.  The NSW Government should show leadership on renewable energy and climate change by banning unconventional gas and boosting renewable energy investment.”

Abolishing Western Lands Commissioner putting Western NSW at risk

MEDIA RELEASE – 10 November 2016

The passage of the Crown Land Management Bill at 3:30am Wednesday morning will allow the NSW Government to sell off our crown lands and gut environmental protections for the western half of NSW.  The Bill abolishes the Western Lands Commissioner, removes some environmental protections and allows the conversion of leasehold land to freehold.

NSW Greens Western NSW spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham said:

“The Greens are concerned this will lead to overgrazing of these fragile lands and the spread of weeds and pest animals if a dedicated Western Lands Commissioner is abolished.

“Without an independent Commissioner with appropriate powers to manage the environment as a whole, the Greens have no faith that this fragile environment will be protected from poor farming practices.  While most farmers do the right thing, it only takes a few poor land managers to have serious impacts because of the nature of the region with limited water and poor soil quality.

“Placing the Minister in charge of Western Lands instead of a dedicated and independent Commissioner means 42% of the state may face neglect and means decisions will be more open to lobbying from vested interests.

“Allowing leases to be converted to freehold will lead to the fragmentation of the Western Division, making management of this vast area more difficult and creating a funding death spiral by driving down the rent base available to resource environmental management.

“The removal of the ability to direct leaseholders to ‘preserve trees, scrub and vegetative cover on the land’ is very concerning and could lead to substantial loss of vegetation.

“This is the government essentially abdicating responsibility for managing 42% of the state.  Parts will be sold off to freehold, and the rest will suffer fragmentation and a lack of dedicated resources to manage the environment.

“The Greens moved amendments to retain the independent office of the Western Lands Commissioner, retain environmental safeguards and to prevent any increased sale of Western Lands leases. “

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