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Not one drop

Saturday, 10th August, 2019

By Craig Brealey

A Royal Commission would not put any water in the rivers, the NSW Deputy Premier said yesterday after he was accused of breaking an election promise to support such an inquiry.

On Wednesday night John Barilaro and all of his Coalition colleagues voted down a motion that sought to get the government to back his apparent keenness for a federal Royal Commission into the management of the Murray-Darling river system.   

On January 30, Mr Barilaro visited Menindee just after the latest and biggest of the fish kills.

He addressed a rowdy public meeting and afterwards told journalists that he agreed with a suggestion from the meeting that a Royal Commission be held to examine the management of the Murray-Darling river system.

“I think one of the best comments to come out of today was a Royal Commission, where you actually can cross borders, cross jurisdictions and get a clearer picture of the whole Basin Plan,” Mr Barilaro said.

Asked by the BDT to explain why he had changed his mind, Mr Barilaro replied: “A Royal Commission might be politically popular but it will not deliver a single extra drop of water back to the system.

“The current drought has highlighted the deficiencies in the MDBP (Murray-Darling Basin Plan),” he said.

“We have been vocal in saying NSW cannot afford to see any further water removed from our state to be flushed down to South Australia.”

The motion on Wednesday, introduced by Labor, was lost 44 votes to 47. Liberal-National party MPs were the only ones to vote against it.

Yesterday, the mover of the motion, Shadow Water Minister Clayton Barr, said Mr Barilaro’s explanation was insincere.

“First and foremost, it was John Barilaro himself who was talking about a Federal Royal Commission being needed,” Mr Barr told the BDT.

“I don’t think anyone was in any doubt about what he meant at the end of January,” he said. 

“He was right when he said we need to look at this issue across jurisdictions to get to the truth and find better answers.

“Blaming other states when he is the Deputy Premier and a minister in the NSW Government is nothing but a distraction.

“He needs to persuade the other Basin states and the federal government of the need for some sort of examination, whether that be a Royal Commission or a special commission of inquiry or an independent cross-border analysis.

“Meanwhile, he needs to deal with issues in his control and fix what he can inside NSW.”

If the Basin Plan was unfair to NSW, there was nothing to stop Mr Barilaro from seeking allowances or compromising with the other states, Mr Barr said. 

“It’s just a distraction, him saying ‘it’s South Australia, it’s Queensland not letting any water come down, Victoria’s with us, the Basin Plan’s untenable and we’re going to pull out’.

“The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is federally legislated. All four states signed up to enable that federal legislation. It is a technical reality and I am not sure it’s possible for a state to pull out.

“It’s all bluff and bluster, a distraction technique.”

Mr Barilaro had threatened to have NSW withdraw from the Basin Plan at the next meeting of the Council of Australia Governments meeting.

The meeting was held yesterday in Cairns where Premier Gladys Berejiklian reaffirmed NSW’s commitment to the Plan.

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