I'll walk away from the plan

Niall Blair drops threat at Griffith


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Greens marine environment and fisheries spokesman Justin Field, Regional Water Minister Niall Blair and NSW ALP water spokesman Chris Minns during Tuesday night's forum in Griffith.

Greens marine environment and fisheries spokesman Justin Field, Regional Water Minister Niall Blair and NSW ALP water spokesman Chris Minns during Tuesday night's forum in Griffith.

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Water was the order of the day at the NSW Farmer' pre-election forum at Griffith.

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REGIONAL water minister Niall Blair says he is prepared to walk away from the Murray Darling Basin Plan if Labor wins this year's federal election and embarks on an irrigation allocation buy back campaign.

He told a NSW Farmers-organised pre-state-election forum focused on water and energy in Griffith on Tuesday night if the cap on buy backs was lifted, NSW might end its agreement to participate in the Plan.

The forum never once broached the topic of energy, water was the order of the day. In a region stripped of its water allocations this year, the majority of the 200 or so people in the room were dependent on access to water.

It was a grim gathering and could easily have descended into a verbal melee had it not been for the fact everyone wanted to hear where each party stood.

They brought with them promises of action on water.

NSW Labor water spokesman Chris Minns insisted it was time to review the Basin Plan and said he would stand up to his federal counterpart Tony Burke if the ALP won the federal election and counter Burke's proposal to lift the cap on irrigation buy backs.

Mr Blair said it was not his preference to abandon the plan, persisting with refining it would serve NSW best.

"There is a lot of pain in our communities, you pull a lever in water and a lot of wheels move," he said.

The Greens marine environment and fisheries spokesman Justin Field said his party supported irrigation allocation buy backs.

He said his party wants a Royal Commission into the MDBP and does not think the original plan provided enough water for the environment.

Mr Minns pinpointed the Wentworth to Broken Hill pipeline that "no-one wanted" and said the ALP did not support the decommissioning of the Menindee Lakes.

Mr Minns promised a "commission of inquiry" into the MDBP. Both Mr Minns and Mr Field agreed irrigators were over allocated and criticised unregulated floodplain harvesting in the northern basin. But Mr Blair defended floodplain harvesting because he said water was being diverted into systems (on farm storages) that could be metered and policed and the government had established a new, independent regulator to do just that.

He said any proposal to buy back more water from irrigators would place more strain on regional communities.

Both Mr Minns and Mr Field suggested NSW had lost its competitive edge when it came to water negotiations at a federal level because the behaviour of the governmet had discredited NSW.

"It's more difficult for NSW because we aren't seen as fair players," he said, referring to the alleged cases of theft.

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