Showing posts with label water wars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label water wars. Show all posts

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Tweets of the Week



Note: Cr Keith Williams is deputy mayor of Ballina Shire Council on the NSW Far North Coast.


Monday, 21 May 2018

Water raiders are eyeing the Clarence River - again


In 2007 Clarence Valley communities saw off an Australian prime minister (John Howard) and his water minister (Malcolm Turnbull)  - telling them "Not A Drop".

The issue of inter-basin water transfer became an election issue that year and the National Party lost the seat of Page and the Liberal-Nationals Coalition Government lost the federal election.

Having learnt nothing from the commitment of local people in the Clarence Valley, including traditional owners, once again the water raiders have raised their heads above the parapet.

The Daily Examiner, letter to the Editor, 19 May 2018, p.14:

Clarence diversion

On April 18, 2018, Toowoomba Regional Council in south-east Queensland resolved to submit a motion to the National General Assembly of Local Government in June this year.

This motion calls for the Assembly to amend Resolution 77 (Griffith City Council) which was carried the previous year.

Resolution 77 called on the “Federal Government to carry out a further feasibility study on David Coffey’s “Scheme to Divert Tributaries of the Clarence River to the Murray Darling Basin” to gather up-to-date information for investigation into this scheme”.

The Toowoomba amendment seeks to incorporate a pipeline from the Clarence River to Toowoomba and the Darling Downs region into that request for federal government investigation.

Hot on the heels of this latest push to dam and divert water from the Clarence River system comes the NSW Legislative Council Portfolio Committee No. 5 “Augmentation of water supply for rural and regional New South Wales” report, released on May 14.

Although informed by Clarence Valley Council that it has resolved six times not to support diversion of the Clarence River, this Upper House report clearly favours damming and diverting water from the Clarence River system.

The wording may have been slightly watered down via a motion by Mick Veitch MLC but it is still of considerable concern: ”Resolution 40 - 6.89 The committee heard evidence from some inquiry participants that there may be potential benefits of diverting the Clarence River to the west.

“These inquiry participants were of the view that there is merit to any strategy that seeks to mitigate floods and flood damage in the Clarence Valley and provide additional water for agriculture in the Barwon region. The committee acknowledges that stakeholders were divided on the issue of water diversion. However, some inquiry participants held strong views against diverting waters from the Clarence River to the west.”

However, the draft version of 6.89 which indicates the extent of support the dam and divert proposal enjoys within this Upper House committee was quite frankly alarming: “The committee notes that there may be potential benefits of diverting the Clarence River to the west.

“There is merit to any strategy that seeks to mitigate floods and flood damage in the Clarence Valley and provide additional water for agriculture in the Barwon region.

“The committee acknowledges that stakeholders were divided on the issue of water diversion. However, the committee believes that further investigation into water diversion schemes is warranted to consider their feasibility as a strategy to mitigate floods.

“The committee therefore recommends that the NSW Government investigate the feasibility of water diversion schemes as a flood mitigation tool.”

If these sentiments are echoed by the Berejiklian Coalition Government down in Sydney then Clarence Valley Council, the people of the Clarence Valley and communities whose local economies depend on a healthy Clarence River will have a fight on their hands.

Because the calls from communities and vested interests who have managed to reduce their region’s rivers to a series of mud puddles will grow louder and more insistent over time.

This time around the call is spearheaded by Griffith, Toowoomba and the shadowy lobby group, Australian Water Exploration Company Ltd, which is apparently looking to benefit from any infrastructure spend on a Clarence Valley dam and pipeline.

At the June National Assembly of Local Government they will be speaking to a sympathetic audience. Hopefully Clarence Valley Council is sending a representative to this gathering that will strongly counter their arguments.

Judith M. Melville, Yamba

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Tony Windsor on fighting the Santos pipeline


They were there in an attempt to survey a pipeline to convey coal seam gas from gas giant Santos’s proposed Narrabri gas field. As one landholder, David Chadwick, said: the pipeline was the “head of the snake” and if allowed to proceed would provide the infrastructure to convey the gas to Sydney or internationally and provide the political pressure to develop about 850 gas wells near Narrabri, with a view to hundreds more across the Liverpool Plains and associated areas.” [Tony Windsor, former  independent member for the federal seat of New England]

The Saturday Paper, 9-15 December 2017:

Last week I was working with my son Andrew on our farm 25 kilometres north of Coonamble when he received a message that there were trespassers on the neighbouring farm. A digital alert system had been put in place for such an event.

Within minutes, farm vehicles from all the neighbours converged on the scene. Others moved in on the trespassers from the eastern side and in a pincer movement the trespassers became trapped and unable to gain access to their vehicles.

By this time, about 100 agitated and concerned farmers, their employees and families were there to express their disgust at what had just occurred. The police had also arrived.
It was ascertained that these trespassers were not your everyday illegal pig hunters or bushwalkers. But they were no less illegal and in breach of the law.

These trespassers were eventually allowed to leave after the police took their details. They proceeded to another small town called Warren, more than 100 kilometres away, where they were observed acting strangely.

The next day, they were followed on the ground by vehicle and in the air by aircraft and again they invaded private lands without appropriate authority and were hunted off. They returned to Coonamble to complain to police about being harassed, and then they left the district.

The trespassers were dressed in new clothes, trying to look like ecological scientists but without any identification. They had a security officer with them.

The question is why? Why would these people climb over a gate to gain access to the property when on that gate was a sign warning about biosecurity, with the farmer’s mobile phone number on the sign? Why wasn’t contact made? Why were they behaving like this?

It has often been said there will be wars over water. In its own way, the scene I was watching was a skirmish in what has the potential to become a war and rewrite the politics of water, land use and energy in this country. It was also an insight into how threatened the farm community felt and demonstrated how it would be difficult to fight these farmers’ guerilla tactics. It was a warning they were serious players.

It also occurred to me that most people in our major cities would not necessarily understand why a small community would mobilise itself so quickly at an apparent breach of their rights.

This article is an attempt to explain some of the detail and policy clashes that will evolve over the coming year, on the Liverpool Plains, on the plain country west of the Pilliga, and around the Adani coalmine in Queensland.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 29 September 2017

WA company with Chinese & UK backing announces a desire to mine near, extract water from and potentially pollute Clarence River catchment waters



The Daily Examiner, 29 September 2017, p.1:

JUST 35km north-west of Grafton is a block of private land with the potential to change the face of Clarence Valley’s industry as we know it.

Mt Gilmore, which lies between Fine Flower and The Gorge, has been revealed to be home to several deposits of high-grade cobalt.

Now Western Australia-based company Corazon Mining is trying to work out just how big that deposit is, and whether it’s worth mining.

On June 16 2016, Corazon announced it had secured the right to earn up to 80% of the Mount Gilmore Cobalt-Copper-Gold Project from private company Providence Gold and Minerals Pty Ltd.

Their project tenure included one granted Exploration Licence covering an area of approximately 25km by 15km, and over the past couple of months they have been drilling to in an effort to find precious metals.

Corazon managing director Brett Smith said so far, things were looking good.

“We’ve been saying that this is one of the highest- grade cobalt deposits in Australia, we just don’t know how big it is,” he said. “There was a lot of gold and copper prospecting there back in the late 1800s, early 1900s, and so it’s amazing where it’s located how little modern exploration has gone on there.”

The reason they have their eye on cobalt, rather than gold or copper, is that the element’s value has risen exponentially in recent years due to its use in lithium-ion batteries.

Mr Smith said demand from the battery sector had tripled in the past five years and was projected to double again by 2020.

It is most commonly used in smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles.

“Cobalt is the most expensive raw material used for building lithium-ion batteries, paying about $61,000 per tonne,” Mr Smith said.

“A lot of people have been exploring for cobalt in NSW but are looking at oxide deposits. Ours is a bit different in that it’s a sulphide deposit, and they are fairly rare to be cobalt dominant.

“It’s all in vogue at the moment so we’re pretty hopeful this can be used to produce cobalt salts for batteries.”

Mr Smith said the company was currently on its second drill program, which they hoped could be used to accurately determine the lay of the land.’

Exactly what mining exploration licence is this newspaper article talking about?

Well according to NSW Planning & Environment on 1 September 2017 it is  EL8379 granted to Mt Gilmore Resources Pty Ltd on 23 June 2015.

So who is Corazon  Mining Limited?

The company’s 2016-17 Annual Report states:

Corazon Mining Limited (ASX: CZN) (“the Company” or “Corazon”) is an Australian based company exploring and developing the Lynn Lake Nickel-Copper-Sulphide project in Canada and Mt Gilmore Cobalt-Copper-Gold project in Australia.

It has three main exploration projects -  the Lynn Lake and  Victory projects both in Manitoba Canada and the Mt Gilmore Project in NSW Australia.

This is the corporations current Board of Directors:

Clive Jones, Non-Executive Chairman - 4,235,330 fully paid ordinary shares, 5,000,000 options exercisable at $0.035 expiring 31 March 2020, total annual remuneration $154,607
Brett Smith, Executive Managing Director - 7,107,131 fully paid ordinary shares, 10,000,000 options exercisable at $0.035 expiring 31 March 2020, total annual remuneration $417,250
Adrian Byass, Non-Executive Director - 9,357,370 fully paid ordinary shares, 7,000,000 options exercisable at $0.035 expiring 31 March 2020, total annual remuneration $144,600
Jonathan Downes, Non-Executive Director - 11,154,512 fully paid Ordinary Shares, 5,000,000 options exercisable at $0.035 expiring 31 March 2020, total annual remuneration $190,557
Mark Qiu, Non-Executive Director (appointed 18 August 2017) - 1,269,300 fully paid ordinary shares, total annual remuneration unknown
Robert Orr is company secretary and Chief Financial Officer, shareholding unknown, total annual remuneration $114,360.

The last annual report indicated that the company share structure comprised 1,039,283,317 fully paid ordinary shares held by 2,135 individual shareholders and, 60,000,000 unquoted options are held by 10 individual option holders.


The largest options holders are Brett Smith with 10 million held and Zenix Nominees Pty Ltd with 20 million held.

On 1 December 2016 the Company announced the issue of 3,410,840 shares to key management personnel in lieu of cash-based salary. This strategy was implemented in order to conserve cash reserves for operational expenditure.

Corazon Mining appears to be operating at a loss and apparently paid no tax in 2016-17.

Corazon Mining Limited’s Purchase Agreement for the Mt Gilmore Cobalt-Copper-Gold joint venture project:

Under the terms of the agreement with Providence and subject to Corazon completing due diligence to its sole satisfaction on or before 30 June 2016, Corazon has the exclusive right to earn up to an 80% interest in the Project as follows:

Corazon can earn an initial 51% interest by:
* Issuing Providence 25 million Corazon Mining Limited shares
* Paying cash reimbursements of costs totalling $100,000
* Spending $200,000 on exploration within the first 12 months from the date of satisfaction of all conditions precedent (“Commencement Date).

Corazon can earn a further 29% interest (totalling 80%) by:
* Completing $2M  in exploration within 3 years of the Commencement Date
* Paying $150,000 in cash or shares upon the earlier of the commencement of the third year and Corazon spending a minimum of $500,000 on exploration
* Paying $250,000 in cash or shares upon earning 80% equity in the Project.

Corazon has the opportunity to extend this earn-in period by one year by paying $50,000 in cash or shares.

According to Corazon Mining;

The Project is located only 35km from the major centre of Grafton in north-eastern New South Wales. Project tenure includes one granted Exploration Licence (EL8379 – one year old), covering an area of approximately 25km by 15km……

On 22 August 2017 the Company issued 139,856,665 fully paid ordinary shares at an issue price of $0.014. The share issue was comprised of:
- an issue of 120,000,000 shares to Hanking Australia Investments Pty Ltd under a Subscription Agreement for a $1,680,000 investment in the Company;
- an issue of 7,356,665 to sophisticated investors to raise $102,993; and
- an issue of 12,500,000 shares to Providence Gold and Minerals Pty Ltd pursuant to the Company’s Earn-in Agreement with Providence in respect of the Mt Gilmore Project. Under this Agreement, Corazon has the exclusive right to earn up to an 80% interest in the Project. The shares have a total valuation of $175,000.

On the same date, the Company also issued 85,000,000 options to Hanking Australia Investments Pty Ltd following their investment in the Company. The options were issued with an exercise price of $0.03 and an expiry of 22 August 2019.

On 18 August 2017, Dr Mark Qiu of Hanking Australia Investments Pty Ltd was appointed to the Company’s Board of Directors.

China Hanking Holdings Limited, registered in the Cayman Islands and listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, is the parent company of Hanking Australia Investments Pty Ltd.

The second largest shareholder in Corazon Mining Limited is Crescent Nominees Limited, a private equity firm registered in Northern Ireland since 2014 and owned by venture capitalist Crescent Capital NI Limited.

As part of NSW Minerals Week Corazon Mining Limited had a booth at the 14th Sydney Resources Round-Up in May 2017 where interested geologists could view their sulphide core from the 2016 Cobalt Ridge drilling program. 

Area in which the proposed cobalt mine would be situated

Satellite image of Mount Gilmore (height 372m) situated just above the Clarence River system at The Gorge

It doesn’t take a genius to look at this image and see the potential for heavy rain episodes over Mt. Gilmore leading to surface water runoff into Clarence River tributaries.

So the first question is; what happens if Corozon Mining was granted a mining licence by the NSW Berejiklian Coalition Government and one or more of its heavy metal contaminated holding ponds were breached during such a rain period? The potential exists for any such breaches to result in long-term contamination of surrounding soils and water courses, as well as higher sediment levels in surface waters.

Heavy metal and metalloid concentrations within stream-estuary sediments already occur naturally in NSW north-eastern coastal rivers and current Clarence River levels are also the result of historic mining in the upper catchment below the Dorrigo Plateau region.

This leads to a second question. Can a river system, which supplies drinking water to est.126,008 residents (Census 2016) along with water to farmers, graziers and commercial fishers in the Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour City local government areas, safely tolerate higher heavy metal and metalloid concentrations in that water? Communities relying on the Clarence river system might not be happy with the thought of any increase in localised or overall toxicity.

Given that mining is a thirsty business and water used in its extractive processes has to come from nearby surface/groundwater sources, there is a third question which immediately springs to mind. In the face of increasing impacts from climate change can we afford to have the environmental water flow in the Clarence River system compromised further?

Then there is the question of required associated infrastructure, including transport of ore via trucks and rail – need I say more?

One has to wonder when Clarence Valley Council was going to mention this proposed mining activity to residents and ratepayers because it is highly likely that this mining company or someone acting on its behalf has approached either the Mayor or council administration.

"As our land subsides and cracks open and our permanent creek is sucked dry, I can feel our patience towards the miners doing the same"


The Land, 24 September 2017:


Environmental hypocrisy
FOR the past 20 years, my husband and I have experienced first-hand the mining industry’s attitude to impacted farmers and to rehabilitation. 
Now, their recent attacks on environmental charities makes my blood boil. As the unsuspecting neighbours of the Wambo underground coal mine near Singleton, our beef cattle business’ productivity has been cut almost in half.
As our land subsides and cracks open and our permanent creek is sucked dry, I can feel our patience towards the miners doing the same. 
Despite decades of word-fests, reports and promises, we have seen no real action at all from the mining company to rehabilitate our land, or our creek water.        
It turns out our experience is not isolated; only nine per cent of all mining land across Australia has been successfully rehabilitated. Across Australia there are massive voids filling with toxic water, poisoned or destroyed creeks and land subsiding. And the mining industry’s solution to their gaping mess: get environmental charities to clean it up!
Currently there are reforms being proposed to the Tax Deductibility Status of all sectors of charities by Federal Treasury.  
The miners see this as their chance to not only duck their own responsibilities, but to also pass the buck to environmental charities. The changes promoted by the mining sector, single out environmental charities only, for them to spend half their time on physical works to clean up the toxic messes created by the mining industry.
The hypocrisy is astounding. When I saw that one organisation close to my heart, the Lock The Gate Alliance, was under attack by these reforms, I was sickened. Without them, our fight to rehabilitate our farm would have been a lot harder.  
Their help with connecting us with politicians and government officials, getting our story into the media and sharing experiences of other mine-impacted people has been priceless. 
Most importantly they help to keep us sane, giving us hope that one day we will break the impasse of inaction by the miners.
We earn our money, we pay taxes and we can choose to support charities that we believe are helping to create a better world. 
They should be left alone to do their work without these extra burdens, designed to feather the nest of multinational mining companies.
Wambo mine, and hundreds like it across Australia, must factor the cost of properly rehabilitating land and water into their cost of doing business.  
Otherwise it is a sham business model that the community is subsidising.
The proposed changes could mean Lock the Gate would have less time to help advocate for the rights of farmers to produce clean food for Australia. 
Instead, they’d be forced out into our paddocks with shovels, filling in the sink holes made by the mines.
We need groups like Lock the Gate holding the mining companies to account. 
I appreciate the help in getting my voice heard as a food grower. We need this to be a public debate in our cities.
If these changes go through, our support of Lock the Gate would be wasted on endless clean up jobs, while the miners continue to make profits and mighty mess, skirting any legal responsibilities for rehabilitation. And I for one find that an abomination.
Miners, clean up your own mess and leave farmers and Lock the Gate alone.
Janet Fenwick,
Bulga.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Independent Investigation into NSW Water Management and Compliance - interim report concerning theft and corruption allegations published 8 September 2017


It took a public airing of the issues by ABC TV “Four Corners” in its Pumped: Who is benefitting from the billions spent on the Murray-Darling? program on 24 July 2017 to force the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Australian National Audit Office, Commonwealth Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and the NSW Berejiklian Coalition Government into investigative action.
The NSW Government has now published its initial 78-page report into allegations of theft and corruption in the management of water resources in the Murray–Darling Basin.


On 11 September 2017, Ken Matthews issued a statement regarding the delivery of his Independent Investigation into NSW Water Management and Compliance. The focus of his interim report was to assess whether the department's policies, procedures and actions were appropriate, to recommend whether further actions should be undertaken, and to identify opportunities to improve the department’s future compliance and enforcement performance.

Download the Independent investigation into NSW water management and compliance – Interim report (2 MB PDF).


ABC News, 12 September 2017:
Yesterday, Mr Hanlon was stood down from the Department of Primary Industries pending a misconduct investigation: Four Corners had also revealed he had offered to share with them — via DropBox — internal departmental documents that had been "debadged".
His removal was announced as the Government released a wide-ranging report by Ken Matthews into the allegations raised in the program.
The Matthews report has turned out to be nothing of the whitewash many expected. What he has delivered instead is a grenade.
Among his recommendations is that the Government enforce a regime of "no metering, no pumping" which is sobering for no other reason than it is so obvious: the vast majority of people who pay water rates in this country will be aghast that this has not always been the case for water users who deal in billions of litres of water.
Most alarming for some government employees and businesspeople is the revelation contained in his report that the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has taken up an interest in the matter: including into whether the department has properly and fully pursued cases of alleged illegal water extraction.
As a result of its involvement, the fine details regarding "gaps in the case management record", and why cases were not pursued in the face of "prima facie evidence of substantive breaches", were not published. Instead, Mr Matthews handed these matters to the anti-graft commission.
From what I saw on the ground when we were filming this program, there will be many people sweating on what happens next. The Matthews investigation was clearly thorough, but it was done in a very short time, and with none of the powers of the ICAC.
A critical further point, that might otherwise be lost amid the hue and cry about illegal water take and meter tampering, is the question of so-called "environmental water".
This was made possible by a bizarre "water sharing plan" enacted in 2012 by which the NSW Government gave major water-users more reliable access to water — including by dumping restrictions on pump sizes and allowing fast, large-scale industrial extraction of water even when the river was running low.
Mr Matthews makes it clear that "this issue applies not only in the Barwon-Darling water system but elsewhere in NSW and the wider Murray-Darling Basin".
"Solving the problem will be critical to the success of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan," Mr Matthews found.
"It is a pre-condition if the anticipated environmental benefits of the plan are to be delivered.
"The issue is not new. Regrettably, it has continued without resolution for years ... there is a strong public expectation that arrangements should be in place already, and to the extent that they are not, a remedy is urgent."
This is a bombshell for the Commonwealth Government and this major economic and agrarian reform.
The South Australian Government has reacted to Mr Matthews' findings already, reiterating calls for a national judicial inquiry.
For Mr Le Lievre, and many others, this is where the significant changes need to be made. Communities like Louth will simply fade away without the water they once had flowing past.
Earlier this year, Mr Le Lievre told me someone in the NSW Government had to be held accountable for what had been done with the water.
The Matthews report goes some way to delivering precisely that, but, as the weathered farmer insisted at the time, "the only way to make them accountable and to stop them from pulling out legs is to do it under oath".
"Simple. They can't get out of it, they've got to tell the truth."
It is a power that was not available to Mr Matthews, or to the various other investigations now underway into the Four Corners revelations. It is, however, readily used in the ICAC's hearing room.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

NSW Berejiklian Government needs to face water sustainability issues on the Liverpool Plains


Santos Ltd plans to drill up to 850 coal seam gas production wells on 425 well pads in its Narrabri Gas Project located on approx. 95,000 hectares in the Pilliga State Forest and on private agricultural land south-west of Narrabri, NSW.

Project infrastructure will include a central gas processing facility for the compression, dehydration and treatment of the gas to commercial quality, along with infrastructure supporting treatment, beneficial reuse, power generation, water and gas distribution and operational management facilities.

Upon request the Independent Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development has given advice to the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy and New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment concerning this project.

Here are some of the issues it raises in its 8 August 2017 advice:

Key potential impacts
The key potential impacts of the project include:
* long-term release of salt to the environment and the ongoing management of brine and salt waste. There is uncertainty in the quantities of salt that will be produced. There is also limited information in relation to the location and process for storage, and the containment and monitoring measures at the point of disposal.
* declines in groundwater level in landholder bores as a result of depressurisation and drawdown in the medium- to long-term (greater than 10 years).
* reductions in water availability to springs and other GDEs as a result of groundwater depressurisation and drawdown. These reductions may also impact surface water and groundwater connectivity, particularly along Bohena Creek.
* changes in surface water flow as a result of proposed discharges into Bohena Creek and uncertainties in the management of water during project operations in the short term (less than 10 years).
* changes to surface water and groundwater quality as a result of inappropriately stored or unintentional release of chemicals or untreated co-produced water.
The NSW Berejiklian Coalition Government needs to face the issues squarely, instead of pretending there is little to no risk to springs, aquifers and other ground and surface water under this mining application.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

How many times and in how many ways does the NSW Government have to be told before they admit they are wrong?


The majority of local residents and farmers don’t want this coal mine, a number of experts have been warning against it for years - yet still the NSW Government doesn’t appear willing to genuinely protect the water resources, agricultural assets and biodiversity values of the Liverpool Plains food bowl.

Here is the latest plea to go public.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 August 2017:

Claims that Shenhua's restricted coal mining will avoid affecting the aquifers of the rich farmlands of the Liverpool Plains are "false and ignorant", former state and private agronomists have said in a letter to Premier Gladys Berejiklian. 

The government last month paid the Chinese coal miner $262 million for just over half the exploration licence area of the proposed mine at Watermark in northern NSW. Energy Minister Don Harwin said the buyback would ensure there was no mining on the fertile black soils of the plains.

But the agronomists, five of whom worked for the Department of Primary Industries or precursor departments, said limiting the proposed open cut mine to ridges would still likely affect surface and groundwater flows in the plains and downstream regions.

"The claim that mining the ridges above Breeza will not have an impact on farming operations is false and ignorant," the letter's authors said.

"Hydrogeological investigations have shown that there is a high degree of connectivity between the alluvial aquifers throughout the Namoi Valley."
Brian Tomalin, a retired cattle farmer and a former Namoi Catchment Management board member, told Fairfax Media endangered ecological communities such as whitebox woodlands were also at risk from impacts of an open pit reaching as deep as 300 metres.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Water rorting continues in the Murray-Darling Basin aided and abetted by the NSW Nationals


And local government and commercial interests in the Murray-Darling Basin have the hide to cry that they are water deprived and should be allowed to dam and divert water from the Clarence River catchment until that coastal system is a pale shadow of its vibrant self.

The Guardian, 4 August 2017:

The New South Wales regional water minister, Niall Blair, has quietly granted himself the power to approve illegal floodplain works retrospectively.

A Wentworth Group scientist, Jamie Pittock, has accused the NSW government of actively undermining the Murray-Darling basin plan as revelations have continued about the state government’s management of the river system.

Since Four Corners report raised allegations of water theft and secret meetings between a senior NSW water bureaucrat and a small number of irrigators,Blair is under increasing pressure over his water responsibilities.

This followed Daily Telegraph reports that the Nationals MP had been urging his Liberal colleague, the environment minister, Gabrielle Upton, to change the Barwon-Darling water-sharing plan retrospectively to favour large irrigators. He said the change was needed because of an error in the rules.

It has now come to light that Blair gazetted a Barwon-Darling valley floodplain management plan which gives him power to approve flood works built illegally even if they do not comply with requirements prior to the plan.

Under clause 39 of the new Barwon-Darling valley plan, a flood work that does not comply can be approved if “in the minister’s opinion” it is for an access road, a supply channel, a stock refuge or an infrastructure protection work
.
A spokesman for WaterNSW said three relevant applications from the Barwon-Darling region had been received since the change but none had yet been approved.

The NSW Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham called on the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, to remove the water portfolio from the National party after the regulation changes came to light.

“This is disgraceful example of the National party giving away free water to their big irrigator mates,” Buckingham said. “Many of these areas are so flat that even a 10 to 20cm bank can divert a huge amount of water into an irrigation dam and away from natural waterways.

“It’s a massive gift of water to the big irrigators. If we want to recover the water in the future then taxpayer will have to hand over huge amounts of compensation for what were illegal constructions.”

A spokeswoman for Blair said the gazettal was a “significant legacy issue” required to create a process where unapproved works could be properly and transparently assessed. She said to be considered, works must not have been previously refused and would still need to be assessed under certain criteria.

“Supply channels are one of the types of existing works that clause 39 indicates that we will accept application for,” the spokeswoman said. “Just because they are existing, doesn’t mean that they will be approved, just that they can apply. This approach is being rolled out through all floodplain management plans.”

Pittock, an associate professor in the Fenner school of environment and society at the Australian National University, said the revelations showed NSW was systematically white-anting the Murray Darling plan.

“The ‘rule error’ and other questionable dealings between wealthy irrigators, government officials and politicians in NSW highlight how the intent of the basin plan can be frustrated by those hostile to its implementation at the state level,” he told Guardian Australia.

“Changes of regulations in NSW have allowed irrigators to take erstwhile environmental flows by allowing greater pump capacity and earlier extraction based on river heights such that commonwealth-purchased environmental water in Queensland in not ‘shepherded’ through New South Wales to the lower Murray.

“Consequently towns like Broken Hill, pastoralists and Aboriginal communities, as well as the environment, have been starved of water.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Politicians and Water: The Murray Darling Basin Scandal Fallout


The ABC Four Corners program “Pumped” which was screened on 24th July has illustrated how important scrutiny of the establishment is to the rule of law in our democracy. It also illustrates why the ABC is under threat from many politicians and other powerful players who see any effective scrutiny of their operations as an intolerable threat to their way of doing business, a way that is against both the general community interest as well as the national interest.
The outrage from the revelations of water theft and other illegality by big irrigators in the northern NSW area of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) has increased over the days since the program was screened.  Politicians have been left scrambling and forced to change tack following the strength of the reaction and the condemnation of the inadequacy of their initial responses.
In NSW the Nationals Minister for Primary Industry, Niall Blair, was forced to change from an internal inquiry conducted by his department to an independent inquiry.  Blair was excessively optimistic in thinking that such an internal inquiry would be acceptable given that Four Corners had revealed a questionable relationship between Gavin Hanlon[1], his department’s Deputy Director General (Water), and big irrigators in the upper MDB.  In addition there was the important question of why the department had failed to act on departmental compliance officers’ reports of licence breaches and meter tampering. And there were questions about the role of the former water minister Kevin Humphries in dealing with the large irrigators.
The NSW Opposition has also taken action referring both the former Nationals water minister Kevin Humphries (Member for Barwon) and a senior bureaucrat (presumably Gavin Hanlon) to ICAC.
The Federal Government reaction was initially almost dismissive.  The Minister for Water Resources, Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce[2], as well as attempting to downplay the water theft by comparing it to cattle rustling, claimed that it was a matter for NSW and that there was no need for Federal Government involvement. Billions of dollars of taxpayer funds have been used to buy back water for environmental flows and instead of being used for this purpose this water has gone to the big irrigators in the upper Barwon-Darling.  Presumably the taxpayer funds had come from the Federal Government. This would surely make it a matter of very great interest to this government which, seeing it is so concerned about budget repair, would surely be appalled at the waste of billions of taxpayer dollars.
Joyce’s totally inadequate initial response was compounded shortly afterwards with what he said in a speech to irrigators in a hotel at Shepparton, a speech which was recorded by one of those attending.
Joyce said, "We have taken water, put it back into agriculture, so we could look after you and make sure we don't have the greenies running the show basically sending you out the back door, and that was a hard ask.”
"A couple of nights ago on Four Corners, you know what that's all about? It's about them trying to take more water off you, trying to create a calamity. A calamity for which the solution is to take more water off you, shut more of your towns down."
Even a dinosaur like Barnaby Joyce should have been aware that anyone carrying a smartphone has the capacity to secretly record what others are saying.  In the political sphere we have seen how damaging this can be in the cases of Christopher Pyne and One Nation’s James Ashby. The Shepparton recording has certainly damaged Joyce and has added volume to the calls for him to be sacked from the Water portfolio.  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen as the Prime Minister has enough problems in his own party without alienating Joyce and the Nationals.
By Sunday 30th the scandal became a matter that the Federal Government had to act upon despite Joyce’s earlier labelling it a state matter. The Federal solution was for the Murray Darling Basin Authority to carry out an independent basin-wide review into compliance with state-based regulations governing water use. The Authority is to report by 15th December 2017.  The Government saw this review as complementing the other investigations of the Four Corners allegations.
However, this is a case of far too little too late.  The MDB Authority is scarcely a body able to conduct an independent review of what has obviously been happening under its watch.  Furthermore a cynic would see the reporting date of 15th December, just before the Christmas holiday season, as a typical government move to ensure that the review report would receive minimal attention and be forgotten about over the holiday break.
The Federal Opposition, like its NSW state counterpart, has also taken action on the scandal.  It requested that the Auditor-General expand his current audit of the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.  The Auditor-General will now include how the federal department is monitoring the performance of NSW under the National Partnership Agreement on Implementing Water Reform in the MDB relevant to the protection and use of environmental water.
Unsurprisingly, the South Australian Government, which has long been concerned about the lack of water reaching the end of the Murray-Darling system, was outraged by the allegations.  It is calling for a judicial inquiry, a much stronger investigation than those arranged by NSW and the Federal Government.  SA senators from Labor, the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Party and the Conservatives have joined their state government in calling for a judicial inquiry.
This scandal has a long way to run yet.  There are major questions to be answered about the National Party – both state and federally - and its relationship with the big irrigators and its apparent indifference to the needs of other irrigators further down the system.  There is also the question of its influence on the workings of the NSW Department of Agriculture.   And just what role has it had in limiting the effectiveness of – perhaps even of sabotaging - the Murray Darling Basin Plan?
For both Federal and NSW state Liberal leaders there is the question about the advisability of having resource management portfolios in the hands of Nationals and of putting both Agriculture and Water in the same portfolio.  Each of these governments has a very poor environmental record.  What has been happening on the Barwon-Darling reinforces the view that keeping “in good” with the Nationals is far more important for the  Liberals than ensuring that environmental policies are in the best long-term interests of the state and nation.
[1] Gavin Hanlon joined the NSW Department of Primary Industries in December 2014.  Prior to this he had been Managing Director of Goulburn Murray Water since 2011.
[2] The water portfolio was removed from the Environment Department and allocated to Joyce as a result of the agreement with the Liberals in 2015  following  Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister.

Hildegard
Northern Rivers
2nd August 2017

Guest Speak is a North Coast Voices segment allowing serious or satirical comment from NSW Northern Rivers residents. Email northcoastvoices at gmail dot com dot au to submit comment for consideration.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Trouble With Water: not a good look for the National Party of Australia



On 1 June 2017 former NSW Minister for Natural Resources, Lands and Water (23 April 2014 - 2 April 2015) and current Nationals MP for Barwon, Kevin Humphries, announced that he will retire at the next state election in March 2019.

In the wake of the 24 July ABC “Four Corners” revelations of large-scale water theft under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, Humphries has been referred to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) by the Labor Opposition.

Hot on the heels of this program came another announcement on 31 July 2017.

Former NSW Minister for Primary Industries (3 April 2011 - 2 April 2015) with responsibility for lands & water and current Nationals MP for Cootamundra, Katrina Hodgkinson, announced her retirement effective mid to late August 2017.

Hodgkinson denies any connection between her sudden retirement and those Four Corners revelations.

However it should be noted that it was on the joint watch of Humphries and Hodgkinson that the position of NSW Water Commissioner responsible for the overall management of the State’s surface water and groundwater resources was axed and the NSW Office of Water was reformed as part of the Dept. of Primary Industry maintaining overall responsibility for accepting and assessing applications to change water access licences and operating the Water Access Licence Register.

High volume water theft appears to have become easier on the watch of these two National Party politicians.

All that would be needed for a trifecta of retiring state politicians associated with water resource policy would be for the current NSW Minister for Primary Industry, Minister for Regional Water and Nationals MLC, Niall Blair, to announce an unexpected desire to spend more time with his family and pursue other interests.

Any further scandal surrounding the management water resources in the NSW section of the Murray-Darling Basin and this may well be a distinct possibility - or even more media coverage like this perhaps?

The Daily Telegraph, 2 August 2017:

A NATIONALS minister is pushing Cabinet colleagues to change irrigation laws to retrospectively justify a decision by his department to give a major political donor and cotton farmer more rights over the precious Barwon-Darling River.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal that Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair is behind a push to alter an element of the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan.

It comes after his department in 2016 overruled what it called “minor” error in the law to grant extra irrigation rights to Brewarrina cotton farmer Peter Harris.

A department briefing, seen by The Daily Telegraph, said the error was impacting on “some users wishing to trade between river sections covered by the plan”.

The briefing was written shortly after Mr Harris was given extra rights.

Mr Harris gave $10,000 to the National Party prior to the 2011 election in combined personal donations and those made by his company.

Its understood an internal Coalition fight has broken out between Mr Blair and current Water Minister Gabrielle Upton , who is resisting the changes. The revelations come as several inquiries have been launched into the alleged water theft on an industrial scale of precious resources across the basin…….

The Daily Telegraph has obtained another document showing that the retiring Ms Hodgkinson changed the water sharing plan to benefit irrigators after lobbying. She was water minister at the time.

In a 2012 letter to lobbyist and cotton farmer Ian Cole, Ms Hodgkinson wrote: “Following consideration of a number of WSP (water sharing plan) matter raised with me, I ­requested the Office of Water to make several amendments which I believe now present a fair and equitable outcome for all.”

The Minister for the Environment and Liberal MP for Vaucluse Gabrielle Upton's obvious reluctance may be due to her appreciation of a change in wind direction within the national electorate on the subject of Murray-Darling Basin water allocations.

The present Deputy Prime Minister and Australian Water Minister, Barnaby Joyce, is also in a somewhat precarious position – less to do with his manifest inadequacy as a federal minister and more to do with his stated motives for seeking to add the water ministry to his portfolio responsibilities.

Cartoonist David Rowe at Financial Review