Dalton urges ICAC to re-open water corruption inquiry
SFF NSW state MP Helen Dalton has written to the state’s corruption waterdog asking them to re-open their inquiry into NSW water mismanagement, after six recent emails revealed state water bureaucrats continue to favour select irrigator groups.
The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) handed down findings on NSW Government water policymaking in late November, criticising water bureaucrats for “preferential treatment of irrigator groups”, “favouritism” and “sidelining of parties that do not represent [Northern Basin] irrigators’ interests”.
Mrs Dalton said recent emails from NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) senior bureaucrats proved nothing has changed.
Some emails were obtained by Independent Upper House MP Justin Field through an order of parliament, while others were mistakenly sent to members of the public.
“The selective consultation, favouritism, lack of transparency and apparent conflict of interests in the NSW Government’s process to issue licences for floodplain harvesting have been exposed,” Mrs Dalton wrote in her letter.
Floodplain harvesting is the practice of irrigators diverting rainwater into private dams before it reaches this river.
After being unregulated for several decades, the NSW Government is now in the process of granting irrigators licences to capture and store this water.
“Given floodplain harvesting licences may cost taxpayers up to $4 billion, it is imperative ICAC intervenes to independently investigate the floodplain harvesting licencing process,” Mrs Dalton said
In one email, a DPIE official tells the state’s water regulator, the Natural Resource Access Regulator (NRAR) that an NRAR opinion piece in The Land newspaper needs approval from NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey’s office.
“NRAR is supposed to be an independent oversight body free of Ministerial interference,” Mrs Dalton said
“The NRAR opinion piece itself strongly echoed the policy and campaign positions of the NSW Government.”
“A further email from a DPIE official suggested the NSW Government were desperately trying to justify the economic benefit of floodplain harvesting, on behalf of Northern Basin irrigators,”
“Nevertheless, the email highlights a benefit figure $400 million, which is well below the estimated cost of floodplain harvesting to the taxpayer.”
“There has been no transparency from the NSW Government on the cost and benefits of floodplain harvesting licencing to the NSW taxpayer.”
In another email, a DPIE official warns against providing information to the Darling River Action Group, as they “tend not to be favourable to DPIE Water”.
Emails also indicate the NSW Irrigations Council and NSW Farmers have regular fortnightly meetings with DPIE. There are no public records of these meetings.
“By contrast, DPIE has consistently refused to meet with groups representing the Southern Basin, and in fact will not even respond to their emails,” Mrs Dalton said
Mrs Dalton also wants ICAC to investigate the lack of transparency regarding the Healthy Floodplains Review Committee, which was set up by the NSW Government to provide advice and recommendations on floodplain harvesting.
“I am informed the NSW Government is financially compensating Committee members, which may undermine the independence of the Committee’s advice and recommendations,” Mrs Dalton said
“The NSW Government has not published details of these payments.”
“There is also no published details of conflicts of interests Committee members may have, including whether they will financially benefit from the granting of floodplain harvesting licences.”
“Given the billions of dollars that could be gained from these licences, this is an extraordinary oversight”.