NSW Labor chief visits
Thursday, 5th September, 2019
By Craig Brealey
The state of the Darling River had to be seen to be believed and it was time the NSW Premier took a look and accepted the recommendations to fix it, the Opposition leader said yesterday.
Jodie McKay and Labor’s Shadow Minister for Western NSW, Mick Veitch, visited Menindee on Tuesday and were in Broken Hill yesterday for a series of meetings.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has never visited Menindee or Broken Hill, although she did go to Wentworth this year after three million fish died at Menindee.
“Until you stand on the banks of the Darling-Barka you have no appreciation of how significant this problem is,” Ms McKay told the BDT. “The Premier needs to see the damage done to the river herself.
“There is no parliament next week. She could come out here and make the decision to implement that report, independent of party politics.
“There is no rain in sight, we’re coming into a hot summer and there will be other fish kills. The Premier needs to come out and appreciate what is happening and what is coming.”
A draft report from the Natural Resources Commission found that too much water had been given to irrigators upstream and recommended to the government that it “urgently” restore the flows to the river.
“I think the government wants to adopt the recommendations but the National Party doesn’t,” said Ms McKay.
“Everyone is aware of this report,” she said. “It expresses the views of everyone along the river and they just want its recommendations implemented.
“The National Party should just stop arguing with the NRC because it is disrespectful to everyone who has seen what has happened to the river since the Menindee Water Saving Plan came in.”
That plan was implemented in 2012 and gave to irrigators the low and medium flows that had kept the river alive.
If the NRC’s recommendations are not acted upon before the drought breaks, irrigators will again be entitled to take all the water coming down the Darling.
Ms McKay said the NRC report had divided the Liberal and National coalition, and the premier should assert her authority.
“We want two things - the Premier to come out here and respond to this report, and the National Party removed from the water portfolio because successive Nationals’ ministers have show themselves to be grossly conflicted,” she said.
This was demonstrated recently in the full business case for the Wentworth pipeline which revealed that it was built at the cotton industry’s request.
“The Nationals misled the community. It defies explanation that they thought they could get away with it,” Ms McKay said.
“The business case, and now the NRC report, are government documents that back up what the community has been saying.
“You can understand the frustration. This is no small issue; this is water, and nothing is more important, yet every decision they have made has been clouded in secrecy.”
The desperate state of the Darling should also be a matter for the NSW Environment Minister, Liberal MP Matt Kean, Ms McKay said.
“The Liberals can’t just walk away,” she said.
The NRC’s final report was due to be presented to the government last Sunday but Ms McKay said it had apparently been delayed “indefinitely.”
NSW Water Minister, Nationals’ MP Melinda Pavey, has disputed the scientific evidence in the report, calling it “wrong” and contrary to a review conducted recently by WaterNSW.
Ms McKay said it was the first time a sitting minister had ever publicly criticised the work of the NRC.
She also described Mrs Pavey’s comment this week that “hard-working Australian families” had been “damaged” by the report as insulting.
“It’s slanderous. She should be standing up for the people this government has neglected for so long.”
Mick Veitch said he found it odd that Mrs Pavey had no apparent regard for the “Australian families” living and working on the Darling.
“What about the Barkindji and all the people on the river? That was a big slight,” he said, adding that the government would be wise to accept the NRC’s recommendations.
“Governments do a lot of reports and most people don’t read them but people accept this and want it done,” he said.
“One of the things that have come from being here is it’s very clear that this is on the mind of everyone.”
Mrs Pavey’s attack on the NRC was typical of a government in trouble, Mr Veitch said.
“It is a classic political tactic; create a blue to divert attention. People just want the government to act on the report’s recommendations.”
Labor would keep up the pressure and grill Mrs Pavey at estimates hearings in parliament tomorrow, Mr Veitch said.
In Menindee on Tuesday he and Ms McKay inspected the “shrinking pools” in the Darling and the lakes and met Menindee Tourism, the Darling River Action Group and the Menindee Water Users Group.
Before the state election in March, Labor promised to scrap the Menindee Water Saving Plan that would leave the lakes dry most of the time and allow them to be emptied more quickly.
That promise still held, said Mr Veitch: “Nothing has changed our position.”
Yesterday they held meetings with City Council, Foundation Broken Hill, “25 in 25”, Regional Development Far West, the Country Women’s Association, Mission Australia and the Clontarf Foundation for Aboriginal youths at the BH High School.