Residents ‘deserve lakes probe’
Tuesday, 19th January, 2016
By Erica Visser
State Labor is pushing for a parliamentary inquiry to get long-awaited answers into the mishandling of the Menindee Lakes system.
Labor MLC Daniel Mookhey, who visited the dying lakes as part of a whirlwind tour of the region yesterday, said it was hoped an inquiry would be held in Broken Hill during 2016.
But the party was yet to gain bipartisan support and - in the event the government shunned the idea - it would need to secure four crossbench votes from the Shooters and Christian Democratic parties.
“I think (the government) is certainly understating the magnitude of the problem. I was at the lake this morning and to see how dire things are is very depressing. There’s not a drop to be seen,” Mr Mookhey said yesterday.
“...The authorities are not going to be winning any awards for terrific communication here. And it doesn’t surprise me in such a vacuum that people are very sceptical and cynical.
“But if I was in the government’s shoes, that’s more reason why you want these things to be bipartisan. It’s all up to the Nats.”
Mr Mookhey admitted water management would be a complex problem for any party to tackle, but added that Nationals representatives were particularly divisive in their views.
“It’s no surprise the National Party does struggle with the issue. There’s always been a strong pro-irrigator voice and if you go up to Queensland they are relentless about wanting to keep water for Cubby Station,” he said.
The Upper House MP said resistance from fellow party members could be behind Mr Blair’s apparent reluctance to provide clear and up-to-date information into the city’s water security issue.
“The minister is not rushing out to give people constant updates about what he’s doing or otherwise not doing,” Mr Mookhey said.
“You can only really conclude two things from that, either he is deliberately giving people false hope with some of these options or alternatively, he’s using them as a fig leaf.
“I think as a result he’d be wiser to just be clear about what he’s doing and what he thinks. He is probably sitting upon something which is heavily divisive in his own party.”
Mr Mookhey said that a lot of misinformation had been distributed on the management of the lakes and local residents deserved to know the facts.
“People have the right to hear from the authorities and everyone involved in one forum. We’d be looking into the Menindee Lakes and why there’s a lake there in 2013 and by 2014 it’s gone,” he said, in reference to the controversial draining.
“Part of the reason we want this inquiry is so that the entire story can come out. It means everyone will have the facts.
“Right now the debate’s happening without people having all the information that they need. It’s pretty basic, we’re not asking for much.”
Mr Mookhey added that local Labor councillors had been particularly “vigilant” in bringing Broken Hill’s plight to the attention of state MPs, whilst defending their decision not to take a stance on the matter of Broken Hill’s long-term security options due to a lack of information.
“There are a lot of people that will tell you the entire plan is to get the town on bore water,” Mr Mookhey said.
“It’s a pretty bad sign when that is the default decision people have, ‘We have no control or no say’.
“...It’s important that local Council be 100 per cent engaged and the Nationals should be supplying them with the necessary information.”
Mr Mookhey believed that state crossbenchers were sympathetic to the issue and the party planned to engage with the government soon on its position.
“We’re not going to bring on a vote prematurely.”
The state government is expected to announce a preferred option to secure the city’s long-term water supply next month.