Debate over NSW MP’s water registry bill heats up during inquiry

By Rodney Woods

NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton says the overwhelming opposition to her water register bill by politicians and lobby groups expressed at a parliamentary inquiry is completely at odds with the views of the general public.

The inquiry was established to inquire into, and report on, the Constitution Amendment (Water Accountability and Transparency) Bill 2020, Provisions of the Water Management Amendment (Transparency of Water Rights) Bill 2020 and the Water Management Amendment (Water Allocations - Drought Information) Bill 2020 and the hearings were held on July 13 and 14.

“When 11,000 members of the public sign a petition for a water register, and all the powerful groups try and stop it, you know you are on the right track,” Mrs Dalton said.

Mrs Dalton's bill, if passed, will force politicians to declare their water interests and create a searchable online water register.

“Former National Party water ministers Kevin Humphries and Katrina Hodgkinson, current water minister Melinda Pavey, Griffith mayor John Dal Broi, NSW Farmers and the NSW Irrigators Council were among those who fronted the inquiry,” she said.

“All the above mentioned groups and politicians were united in their opposition to my bill.

“Some called it a waste of time. Others called it an invasion of privacy.

“But they all seem to want my bill to disappear.”

A key claim of groups like NSW Farmers and the NSW Irrigators Council was that a water register would lead to Aussie Farm-style terrorist attacks on irrigators.

“This is absolute rubbish,” Mrs Dalton said.

“I'm an irrigator. Anyone who walks past my farm already knows I own water.

“A water register would expose the Sydney traders and foreign companies who own water, not farmers.”

Water researcher Maryanne Slattery and Southern Riverina Irrigators vice-chair Darcy Hare were among the few who expressed support for Mrs Dalton's bill.

“The current water register in NSW, online within WaterNSW, is deliberately opaque,” Mr Hare said in SRI's submission to the inquiry.

“You cannot access details around ownership without first knowing the exact Water Access Licence number or being a registered broker and paying a fee per information request.

“The critical point here is WAL numbers do not directly say who owns water, a fact at odds with the governing legislation.”

When asked, during the hearing, whether current water registers satisfy the National Water Initiative, Mr Hare answered bluntly.

“Not even remotely,” he said.

“The current water registries existing in NSW, Victoria, South Australia — and then federally there is some form of registry with the Bureau of Meteorology and also with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office — do not do that (provide transparency).

“They do not satisfy, as far as my reading and the Southern Rivers Irrigators’ reading goes, this legislation as it stands today.”

The inquiry committee, made up of NSW Legislative Council MPs and chaired by Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP Mark Banasiak, will present recommendations to NSW Parliament on the bill in September.