Drought could persist for several years if lobbyists continue to change water rules

18 February, 2020
Drought could persist for several years if lobbyists continue to change water rules      Image

Rain will not end drought conditions across southern NSW if the NSW Government allows special interests to secretly siphon off water before it reaches the river, says SFF Member for Murray Helen Dalton

“Government ministers keep saying only rain with fix our problem,” Mrs Dalton said

“Well, with the rain this month we’ve seen a secret regulation change that allowed rainwater to be diverted for private use,”

“If this continues to happen, downstream towns with no drinking water won’t get a drop, even if we have a wet 2020”.

Mrs Dalton criticised Water Minister Melinda Pavey’s recent decision to allow a select few irrigators in North-West NSW to harvest rainwater onto their on-farm storages, preventing the water from reaching the Darling River.

The Minister temporarily lifted an embargo on the practice known as floodplain harvesting in certain cotton growing valleys.


A leaked email from a NSW Government bureaucrat to lobbyists revealed the NSW Government desperately tried to justify this decision after they’d already given the green light for irrigators to divert the rainwater.

“It would appear the dodgy dealings exposed on 4 Corners two and half years ago are continuing,”

“The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) supposedly started investigating this in July 2017. But we’ve heard nothing since, not even an update confirming the inquiry is actually happening,”

“If we’re not serious about stamping out malpractice, of course it’s going to continue”

“I’m an irrigator myself. I’ve always defended the right of irrigators to access water. But there needs to be proper rules, monitoring and transparency. We must prioritise critical life needs of downstream communities”.

 “This regulation change was made in secret, with no consultation, and no details released to the public,” Mrs Dalton said

“We need to know how much water was diverted from the river, which irrigators have benefited and whether those who got the water have donated money to the National Party”.

Mrs Dalton said the NSW Government behaves like it has something to hide.

 “The NSW Government has refused to support the water inquiry of Mick Keelty, whom the federal government appointed to investigate state water sharing arrangements,” Mrs Dalton

“That means Mr Keelty can’t access NSW Government documents.”

“They’ve also had nine years to licence floodplain harvesting, but still haven’t got around to it”

“We need a royal commission now”.


On 27 February, NSW Parliament will debate whether to lobby the Commonwealth government for a federal royal commission.

A petition by rural community advocacy group Speak Up garnered more than 10,000 signatures, which means Parliament must debate it. 

The petition also calls for a national water register – an online database the allows the public to search for the names of companies and individuals who own water.

Mrs Dalton will introduce the petition and lead the debate.

“Labor have said they’ll support the petition motion. But so far we’ve had silence from the Liberals and Nationals. It’ll be interesting to see what they do”.

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