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Book us in, Minister

Friday, 6th March, 2020

By Craig Brealey

The NSW Government is being pressed to hold meetings about the future of the Darling River and Menindee Lakes locally, not hundreds of kilometres from the river itself.

The Water Minister, Melinda Pavey, is due in Broken Hill this month and has been invited to schedule a meeting here to discuss the government’s Water Savings Plans.

Ms Pavey has yet to explain why the “stakeholder” meetings are being held in Bourke and Deniliquin. The meetings are closed to the public. 

The General Manager of the Central Darling Shire Council, Greg Hill, said he was invited to the one in Deniliquin but would not attend.

“One, it’s too far and, two, the meeting at Bourke is being held on a Council day, so we’re not going,” Mr Hill told the BDT yesterday.

Those meetings were announced by the minister on Tuesday this week, a day after NSW was criticised by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority for being the only State to have not submitted its plans.

Mr Hill said the shire council had asked local MP Roy Butler to request that a meeting be held in Broken Hill. Mr Butler has asked Ms Pavey to call a meeting in the city or Menindee.

Darling stakeholder delegates should not have to travel to Bourke or Deniliquin or be denied representation, said Mr Hill.

“Other than Bourke, no other places on the Darling River - Wilcannia, Menindee and down to Wentworth - will be represented at those meetings,” he said.

Ms Pavey is due to attend the Western Division Councils conference in Broken Hill from March 18 to 20, and Mr Hill said it would be “a good opportunity” to discuss the matter.

Mr Butler said yesterday that the Water Minister’s announcement of the meetings had apparently been a rushed job.

“These meetings have been poorly communicated to the members of the Advisory Groups and the public,” he said. 

“Wording in the media release on Tuesday gave a perception that these meetings were open to the public - advice from the Minister’s office is that they aren’t. The public can visit a website to have their say, which isn’t good enough.” 

Mr Butler said some Advisory Groups only found out about them on social media.

They included members of the advisory group for the controversial Menindee Lakes Water Savings Project, which is NSW’s biggest contribution to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“These meetings must be scheduled in such a way that people have fair warning, and aren’t required to travel huge distances,” said Mr Butler.

Holding a meeting about the lower Darling in Deniliquin “doesn’t make sense,” he said.

The town is situated on the Edward River, an anabranch of the Murray River, and is a five-and-a-half hour drive from Menindee and at least four hours from Wentworth.

“The Minister must ensure there are public meetings in Menindee and Wee Waa,” said Mr Butler. 

“She must also ensure that there are public meetings where each and every change to a Water Savings Plan is explained.

“Likewise, each and every change that was requested and rejected must be explained.”

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