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Taken to court

Saturday, 9th December, 2017

By Craig Brealey

A Moree cotton farmer was summonsed to face court yesterday at the start of a bid to have him return billions of litres of water that he allegedly stole from the Barwon-Darling rivers.

Peter James Harris was featured in the Four Corners report in July in which allegations were made that he and other cotton growers were plundering the river with the help of senior NSW Government bureaucrats.

Mr Harris was taken to the NSW Land and Environment Court in Sydney by the NSW Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) because the government had done nothing to about the matter since Four Corners went to air five months ago.

Last month the EDO summonsed Mr Harris demanding the return of more than five gigalitres of water so that the river can be replenished. The volume sought equates to more than 2000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. 

After receiving the summons Mr Harris, a National Party donor, stated that he “looked forward to an opportunity to vigorously defend these baseless allegations in a legitimately constituted forum where the rule of law applies”. 

A spokeswoman for the Inland Rivers Network (IRN), Melissa Gray, said yesterday that the network had taken Mr Harris to court to ensure that water licences and entitlements on the Darling were used according to the law.

“The IRN wants a fair go for everyone and the river, but that cannot happen if people who break the rules go unpunished,” Ms Gray said. 

“The government should enforce the laws but if it will not, we will do everything we can to ensure justice prevails.

“The NSW Government appears to be not properly regulating water use under the law and now the community has to take up the role of watchdog.”

“People in NSW want to see the water in our precious river systems managed fairly so everyone gets a share, including the river itself.”

The Nature Conservation Council has backed the IRN in its legal action and said it was a shame that the state government had not sought to prosecute the case.

“It should not fall to community groups to enforce our water laws, but the Berejiklian’s government’s inaction has left the Inland Rivers Network no option,” said CEO Kate Smolski.

“The Coalition government, and especially the Nationals’ minister responsible for the water portfolio, have sat on their hands hoping this issue would go away,” Ms Smolski said.

“I can assure the government this issue will not go away until we get to the bottom of the scandalous misuse of water in NSW, either through the courts, the Independent Commission Against Corruption or a Royal Commission.” 

The Land and Environment Court yesterday adjourned the matter.

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