Nats on board
Friday, 28th February, 2020
By Craig Brealey
A petition calling for a federal Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin’s management and a bill to establish a national register of water owners has been supported by the NSW National party.
However, the Coalition government only “noted” the measures and would now be under pressure to do something about them, said the Shadow Minister, Clayton Barr.
A call from the floor of the Lower House for a debate was denied by the government, said Mr Barr.
The petition with 11,000 signatures and the water register bill were tabled by Helen Dalton, MP for Murray where food bowl farmers have been denied their water allocations due the over-extraction by irrigators in the north.
Mr Barr said it was an interesting day in parliament.
“In the morning, one National Party member tried to prevent Mrs Dalton from presenting the petition by claiming she had a conflict of interest,” he told the BDT.
“By lunchtime the National Party was supporting the petition completely.”
Yesterday afternoon, before Mrs Dalton’s measures were presented, the NSW Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, and Water Minister, Melinda Pavey, released a joint statement of support.
“Today I have met with some of these irrigators, who are at breaking point, and I confirmed that the NSW Nationals support the petition, to which they are signatories, and calls for a Royal Commission and National Water Register,” Mr Barilaro said.
In August last year he refused to give his support to Labor’s call for a Royal Commission, despite telling people in Menindee before the state election that he thought it was necessary.
It would “not put one drop of water” into the river system, Mr Barilaro stated at the time.
Mr Barr said the government’s backing a national water register was good, but there was nothing to stop NSW establishing its own register of water owners.
“I reckon, although I’ll stand corrected, that as a state we have the capacity for a register with the names of people and companies.
“Now to look up who owns water, you have to know the water licence number. It is the ‘dark web’ of Australian assets.”
Mr Barr praised Mrs Dalton and her Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party colleagues, local MP Roy Butler and the Member for Orange, Phil Donato, for their efforts in parliament yesterday.
“Helen was really strong and when she started asking questions of the government the House erupted and the government went on the personal attack,” he said.
“Roy spoke really well and Phil Donato moved to suspend parliament for a debate about the Royal Commission and the register.
“He wanted a debate and then a vote to show who in parliament supported them and who didn’t.
“The government said ‘no’. They didn’t want a record.”