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Not happy, Glad

Saturday, 24th March, 2018

By Craig Brealey

The response from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to a petition signed by more than 13,000 to put a halt to the Wentworth pipeline said so little that it amounted to an insult, according to the petition’s organisers.

The petition was tabled in parliament on February 13 and the premier replied on Wednesday this week, said Kylie Lawrence from the Watershed Alliance.

Ms Berejiklian wrote that while she appreciated that people might be unhappy with the pipeline it had created “hundreds of jobs”.

Ms Lawrence said yesterday that the premier’s “tepid” response showed a lack of empathy for people who rely on the Darling River and Menindee lakes, and no understanding of their plight.

“She should stop hiding behind her policy advisers and come out to Menindee and meet the locals, go to Wilcannia and see the river, see it for herself, then I’d hope she might have some sort of awakening,” she said.

“This pipeline project has been forced on us. There has been very poor consultation and the government still has not released the business case to the public.

“We still don’t know how much it will cost people for the water. It is also a public health problem and an environmental problem.” 

The Watershed Alliance’s petition (#noBrokenHillpipeline) called for a moratorium on the pipeline until all current Murray-Darling Basin water inquiries were completed. 

It was signed by 13,305 people from all over Australia and overseas.

“The Premier’s polite, tepid response reveals, beneath the political hide, a damningly-deep disconnect with the concerns of Far West NSW residents, and an unwillingness to share frank discussion about the Far West’s water security... and the devastation of the Darling River,” Ms Lawrence said.

In January the Watershed Alliance requested a meeting with the premier to present the petition and discuss Broken Hill’s water supply problems. These discussions were to include the $500 million Wentworth pipeline which, said Ms Lawrence, the NSW Government had forced upon everyone at the behest of the cotton industry. 

“Ms Berejiklian’s office responded by suggesting we consult the NSW Water, Minister Niall Blair,” she said. 

“If we wanted to speak with (Mr Blair) we would have addressed the petition to him.

“Premier Berejiklian’s narrative of dismissal continued on February 6 when our petition delegation, representing the Barkandji Nation, Lower Darling pastoralists, and residents of Broken Hill and Menindee, travelled to NSW Parliament from the furthest reaches of NSW, hoping Ms Berejiklian might have a change of heart, and spare some time to briefly meet her outback constituents.”

Ms Lawrence said the meeting with the premier “lasted about a minute” before she rushed off to a press conference about road safety.

The local delegation was able to deliver the petition to Opposition Leader Luke Foley, Shadow Water Minister Chris Minns, and Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham and hold meetings with them.

They also met the NSW Environmental Defender’s Office, which is taking alleged cotton farm water thieves to court. 

“Meanwhile, construction of the $467 million Murray-to-Broken Hill pipeline has begun, an expensive, wasteful public infrastructure project which threatens the future of the Menindee Lakes System, and is lacking in transparency to the very people who will be forced to use it,” Ms Lawrence said.

She said she understood that the premier might be busy these days with other problems, such as the multi-billion dollar plans to demolish and rebuild two sports stadiums in Sydney, and run a new toll road through the city.

“There is a lot of backlash against her in Sydney over the WestConnex toll road project,” Ms Lawrence said.

“Like the pipeline, no business case was presented until a petition forced the government to release it. Even then, it was heavily redacted.”

It was this action that inspired the Watershed Alliance’s petition, she said, but apparently to no avail. 

“People in the Far West struggle to get their voices heard on the east coast.” 

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