NSW Senator Perin Davey will delay the introduction of a private bill to amend the Water Act 2007 to allow more time to investigate jurisdictional legalities.
Senator Davey, together with the Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum and Federal Member for Mallee Anne Webster, had drafted a concept to establish drought scenarios at which point the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder would be required to release a portion of water held to help farmers deal with severe drought.
The three politicians spent the summer consulting on the proposition with local and regional irrigation and environmental stakeholders as well as seeking advice from government agencies.
“The clear message is that there is general support to address times of low water availability, especially as all indications are that the future will see more extreme scenarios,” Senator Davey said.
“We can’t keep finding ourselves in this position that farmers in NSW and Victoria are stuck on low to zero allocations while for all intents and purposes the storages have water in them and the rivers are flowing.
“But what is also clear is that we cannot introduce an amendment without being absolutely certain that there are no negative unintended consequences and that is what came out repeatedly in the consultations I undertook.”
Senator Davey said the two key concerns about the draft proposal was its reliance on state-based allocation rules and the potential to only benefit high value use, negating its use to family farmers.
Mr Drum said the trio hoped to refine the approach with further advice from government agencies.
“The reality is that if we are going to suffer more prolonged droughts due to climate change, we need to have another look at how we manage this precious resource in a way that is fair to all,” he said.
“We acknowledge the river needs to flow, but that volume needs to be as flexible and variable as our climate and respond to both overall inflows as well as tributary inflows so that we don’t leave our farmers and upstream environmental assets vulnerable.”
Dr Webster said irrigators in her region were concerned that the proposal would not address the core concerns about the water market and interstate water sharing arrangements.