New laws proposed to safeguard the Murray-Darling Basin from water theft have been met with resistance from Labor and the Greens, who argue the proposed bill does not reflect the recommendations put forward following the inquiry into misconduct and maladministration.
Former water bureaucrat Ken Matthews was tasked with leading the Murray-Darling Basin Water Compliance Review, an independent inquiry into water theft and corruption allegations last year.
The review resulted in an array of recommendations, including metering all pumping activity from the basin, as well as other measures to improve transparency of water use.
However, the final bill proposed includes measures allowing the minister to pull NSW out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, as well as including exceptions to the ‘no meter, no pump’ rule advocated by Matthews.
Labor water spokesman Chris Minns told ABC Online that some of the proposals in the bill work in direct opposition with the inquiry’s final recommendations.
"This purports to give effect to the Matthews inquiry recommendations. But in reality it does none of those things,” Minns said.
"It's entirely possible that this bill will pass and we'll have another era of soft-touch regulation and some irrigators getting away with murder. And it's important to remember this comes at the expense of other water users."
Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair’s spokesperson said recommendations for ‘no meter no pump’ did not necessarily mean universal metering and that they intended to capture 95% of water extraction, while allowing for measures to avoid undue cost burdens on those usings small amounts of water.
But Minns said leaving those exceptions at the discretion of the minister in not an acceptable approach considering recent misconduct.
"Given seven years of maladministration by the National Party, we can't take them on trust when it comes to water management. There needs to be specific provisions in the bill," he said.
Greens NSW water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said the proposed bill will “result in the death of the Darling River”.
"There are massive holes in this legislation and considerable differences between the Public Consultation Draft … and the bill introduced into Parliament last week," Buckingham said.
"Most of these differences favour irrigators and effectively create loopholes that will see over extraction and mismanagement of water continue in NSW.
"The bill should be the chance to fix water management and compliance in NSW. Instead the government has caved to the big irrigators and created loopholes that will haunt us into the future and result in the death of the Darling River."