Water registry bill continues to divide

By Rodney Woods

Speak Up has hit out the NSW Government, accusing it of using "scare tactics" to defend its position about a proposed water registry bill.

NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey told parliament on Thursday that the proposed bill "does not protect small mum-and-dad farmers" and has previously warned that environmentalists could use the list to target farmers.

But Speak Up chair Shelley Scoullar said it was a “a ridiculous defence of its indefensible position”.

“The NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey keeps trying to hoodwink the public over this issue,” Mrs Scoullar said.

“We are unsure why her government is not supporting a common-sense approach to establishing a state water registry, but to claim it could be used to target farmers is beyond belief.

“We have to again ask: Who is the government trying to protect with this approach?”

Ms Pavey said while she appreciated farming communities had been through tough times recently, she had a number of concerns about the bill.

“I have a suspicion that this is about driving the politics of fear, suspicion and conspiracy, pitting farmer against farmer and region against region, and trying to divide team NSW on the reforms that we need within the water sector,” she told the Legislative Assembly.

“Brokers could find out how much water people had left on their licences for the year and could then try to engineer higher prices if they saw that people needed more.”

The government opposed a bill tabled by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and has introduced a version which Speak Up says does not go far enough, as it only applies to members of parliament acting in their personal capacity.

“An effective bill must force politicians and their families, as well as companies and individuals to declare their water interests,” Mrs Scoullar said.

“We need to create a searchable online water register. If we want transparency in water trading we must know who owns the water.”

Speak Up wants a registry where water is treated like other assets such as land and shares.

“Water trading companies can access people’s details, including their water ownership, what they have in carryover and their history of use,” Mrs Scoullar said.

“So why can’t all this information be more readily available?

“It is hard to accept that the only reason the government, in particular the National Party, is not prepared to support a water register is because it is trying to protect some members or supporters.

“All we are asking is for legislation to be enacted that provides the transparency that is needed.

“This level of accountability was all agreed in 2004 under the National Water Initiative and legislation was meant to be implemented by 2006.”

A petition for the water registry has attracted more than than 11,000 signatures.