The NSW government won’t back a complete overhaul of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan arguing the changes suggested by the South Australian royal commission will hurt regional communities and benefit the downstream state.
NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair on Friday said the royal commission didn’t find anything new in relation to water theft in NSW and labelled its report in the basin’s management as “hit and miss”.
While Mr Blair did acknowledge concerns over the legality of the basin plan he said that was an issue for the federal government.
He said the commission appeared to advocate buying more water from NSW farmers and sending it to South Australia.
“They just want to take the easy fix, change the rules, undo the negotiated parameters, buy the water off our farmers and send it down to South Australia – and we can’t accept that,” Mr Blair told reporters in Dubbo.
“We know the recommendations and way put forward by the South Australian royal commission … will be to the detriment of and hurt our regional communities.”
The NSW minister said regional communities and farmers needed to be supported rather than having more water “rushed” down to South Australia.
“We’ll continue to have a look at the detail of the report but, at this stage, we’re not going to sign up to a plan at all costs,” he said.
Mr Blair was singled out in the commission’s report which labelled his statements about recent fish kills on the Darling River as “grossly irresponsible”.
He disputed the claim, arguing the accusation was a “hook” to get some “colour and movement” into the report.
The minister also backed the controversial Menindee Lakes Water Savings Project which is under consideration by the NSW government.
If the plan was abandoned it would have “further detrimental” impacts for other parts of the basin, he argued.
The commission found the Menindee Lakes – which is a source of flows for the Lower Darling and is a vital fish nursery – was a “most unlikely” candidate for the project.