Key vote on Darling disallowance vindicated

March 09, 2018

Senator Cory Bernardi has seized on reports this week about maladministration in New South Wales water management as further justifying his key senate vote on Murray-Darling Basin water allocations.

A regulation to adjust the amount of water to be recovered for downstream irrigators and the environment in the Darling River system (also known as the 'Northern Basin') became the subject of a senate disallowance. The alignment of parties meant the final outcome came down to Senator Bernardi's casting vote. He supported the disallowance due to concerns about the honesty, transparency and allegations of corruption arising out of New South Wales' administration of that part of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Senator Bernardi's view is that a 70 gigalitre (or similar) downward revision of the water recovery target for the Northern Basin could well be worthy of support in future, once the stench of alleged NSW corruption and maladministration is cleared by a series of current inquiries.

Since voting for the Northern Basin disallowance, reports have emerged this week that claim:

  • that NSW regional water minister and NSW Nationals MP Niall Blair 'has been exposed for misleading parliament over the Murray-Darling water theft affair', according to the Australian newspaper today. The report explains that WaterNSW had told the NSW Ombudsman that it had undertaken 12 prosecutions and issued 105 penalty infringement notices (i.e. fines) for water theft in 2016/17. However, WaterNSW now concedes that it has issued no fines or prosecutions during that period.
  • in an article headlined 'Cottoning on to river water raid' in the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper today, a major cotton grower is now among five people WaterNSW have now charged (after the damning admission of misleading prosecution data) for allegedly stealing water from the Northern Basin. An irrigator named in the story as freshly charged with illegal water-taking is the same one about whom Senator Bernardi asked a question in 2017 in Senate question time - an irrigator who donated money to the NSW Nationals and for whom the same Mr Blair lobbied cabinet to give himself retrospective powers to approve water taken by that irrigator without consent.

During debate on the disallowance, Senator Bernardi addressed the NSW corruption and maladministration allegations that informed his vote on the disallowance on Sky News last month:

and in the Senate chamber speaking on the disallowance:

Senator Bernardi has also questioned why the Coalition government or Murray Darling Basin Authority failed to let the Senate know (during the disallowance debate) of the MDBA's interim finding (outlined in this 4 March Sydney Morning-Herald report) that water over-extraction in the Northern Basin was a key reason for the Darling River's ailing health.

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