GREEN group and opponents of the state and federal Coalition are lining up to support the calls in the Matthews inquiry interim report on NSW’s water management.
But irrigators warn the entire industry is unjustly tarnished by the alleged breaches in 2015 of several Barwon Darwin irrigators, which although highly serious and disappointing matters, have yet to be confirmed.
Many are disappointed the actions of a few have called into question the entire industry’s responsibility.
Rubbing salt into the wound, NSW’ water regulators have let industry down. Irrigators fund their own compliance, but enforcement actions were mismanaged by the responsible agency.
Peak industry representative National Irrigators Council chief executive Steve Whan said “water-users are not afraid of inquiries or compliance.
“What they don’t want is broad generalisations that denigrate all water-users or risk the 20 year journey of water reform, culminating in the difficult task of implementing the Basin Plan.”
NSW Irrigators chief executive Mark McKenzie took issues with Mr Matthews findings, which call for increased compliance and reforms to improve irrigators attitude to compliance.
“We are wedded to strict systems and expect it to ensure properly audited water take and where people breach licences obligations, we expect penalties to be applied.
Both the National and NSW Irrigators councils pointed out Mr Matthews was unable to make findings on the allegations of illegal water take and urged for a quick resolution to restore public confidence.
Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association represents a catchment east of the Barwon Darling system. Executive officer Zara Lowien said the onerous reforms recommended by Mr Matthews did not recognise the “complete scope of transformation” around compliance and did not consider the impacts of the proposal for tighter regulation.
“Our valley has very sophisticated, irrigator-owned system. We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We are extensively metered and irrigators see the value in reliable, accurate compliance measures.”
Ms Lowien and Namoi Water’s executive officer Jon Maree baker both said Mr Matthews report didn’t consider the situation across all the valleys, where nearly all the water use is already metered.
“It (the report) also appears to have looked at compliance as a silo action of governance rather than the whole NSW water management system that contributes to regulation of water,” Ms Baker said.
Food for thought
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said Murray Darling Basin output accounts for 40pc of Australia agriculture’s total value of $63 billion.
She welcomed the scrutiny the water administration’s “significant shortcomings”.
“We expect regulators to do their job, and to do their job properly,” Ms Simson said, warning the onus is now on NSW Government to resolve the outstanding compliance allegations.
“It is unfair to both those accused and the broader community that this uncertainty continue to linger.”
NSW Farmers president Derek Scheon warned that adding more complexity to already highly complicated water regulations “is not the answer”.
The ABC’s Four Corners report which sparked Mr Matthews inquiry accused NSW government of manipulating its Water Sharing Plans to enable irrigators to tap environmental flows designated for the environment.
“We urge the next iteration of the Inquiry to include this in investigation. Our members need clarity on this,” Mr Schoen said.
Since the time of the breaches, NSW has split DPI Water in line with Coaliton policy, cut senior staff and created the state water corporation WaterNSW which is responsible for compliance and bulk water delivery.
It said this week “the overwhelming majority” of irrigators comply. “There is a minority who have illegally taken water. Their actions have tarnished the reputations of all water users unfairly”.