It’s fair to say Niall Blair’s opponents – and the media – smell blood in the water.
Until recently he was a minister with little baggage, a rising star for the NSW Nationals and widely lauded for his work in the agriculture portfolio.
But since the infamous Four Corners report into Barwon-Darling water matters, barely a day has passed without fresh insinuation something deeper is awry.
A dripping tap of information from the Environmental Defenders Office, among others, continues to pool around a central allegation that Mr Blair has overseen tweaks to tip the balance in favour of big irrigators.
Greens and Labor have led the political charge – while enviro groups have only been too happy to call for judicial and senate intervention, and for water to be taken off The Nationals altogether.
Regardless of Mr Blair’s undoubted good work to date – and whether the information seeping out is, in fact, evidence of questionable dealings – the whole affair has left a tidal mark that will take time to scrub away.
For his part, Mr Blair has maintained his involvement in Barwon-Darling management, and any moves to change the rules, has been legal and focused on righting drafting errors or legacy issues.
As the pressure has built, he has also maintained his faith in Mr Matthews’ investigation, and has welcomed a federal, Basin-wide review. He also has the backing of the premier and deputy premier to continue in his role, and maintains he’s the man for the job.
Protesters at today’s conservation-led anti-Nationals rally in Sydney would beg to differ. It will be interesting to see how many have themselves visited cotton communities along the Darling River, or are wearing Australian cotton products.
But while their calls to take the water portfolio from the Nats reflects a political leaning that most likely pre-dates the Four Corners report, the majority of greenies and farmers seem to be on the same side in demanding clarity over the allegations raised.
Many, many farmers, landholders and community leaders want assurances the Murray-Darling water sharing system is fair, that the management in NSW is not undermining the industry as a whole, and that big irrigators aren’t getting a better deal than those without much political clout.
The pressure being applied to Mr Blair and the Nationals won’t be relieved until all has been revealed.