News

Regional water minister steps down

By Country News

The NSW regional water minister is stepping down after mass fish deaths in the state’s major inland rivers sparked a barrage of threats and fuelled voter backlash in the state election.

But Primary Industries, Regional Water and Trade and Industry Minister Niall Blair on Sunday said he stood by ‘‘every decision’’ made around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Mr Blair acknowledged hostility, directed at him after millions of fish died in struggling inland river systems, had impacted his family life.

‘‘I know there are people who are suggesting I should be sacked or that my resignation from Cabinet is due to the challenges and incorrect accusations that have been made about the government when it comes to water management,’’ he said.

‘‘I cannot deny that the level of aggression directed towards me around water policy has had a profound impact.’’

The native fish kill prompted a large debate around water management in the drought-stricken regions and sparked accusations that cotton growers and irrigators were responsible for the ecological catastrophe.

Protesters poured a bucket of dead fish on the ground in front of Mr Blair’s Sydney office earlier this year while the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party called for him to resign.

‘‘Public life does not come without costs, and while the opportunities have been immense, the costs personally and more recently professionally have taken their toll,’’ he said.

Mr Blair, who is also deputy leader of the NSW Nationals, informed leader John Barilaro ‘‘some months ago’’ he does not want to be considered for any new ministerial roles or as a party leader.

He will remain in the Legislative Council.

‘‘I am proud of my various achievements in parliament and my ministerial portfolios and am confident they will stand the test of time,’’ he said.

He paid tribute to Mr Barilaro and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, both of whom were returned along with their government in Saturday’s election.

But the Nationals suffered massive swings against them across the state, losing two seats — Barwon and Murray — to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers.

The party had campaigned heavily on water management, including the fish kill, the drought and against the political status quo.

The western third of the state is now Shooters, Fishers and Farmers territory after the minor party expanded its lead in the seat of Orange as well.

Mr Blair thanked the state’s farmers but said they needed someone new to take up their fight in increasingly tough times.

‘‘In the face of the ongoing drought, our farmers and regional communities need someone who can continue to spend every waking minute fighting with them, among them and for them,’’ he said.

‘‘I know I may not have always achieved the outcome you sought, but I hope you always trusted my commitment to serve you as best as I possibly could.’’