Shooters backflip on Water Policy

Roy Butler and Helen Dalton in happier times. Picture: SUPPLIED

The Shooters Fishers and Farmer’s Party (SFF) decision to abstain from voting in last month’s third floodplain harvesting disallowance motion put forward by NSW Independent MP Justin Field has caused conflict amongst SFF party MPs and left downstream communities guessing whether the party represents their water needs.

SFF Member for Murray Helen Dalton said that she was “gobsmacked” by the party’s decision to abstain, having been assured by NSW Upper House Member the Hon. Robert Borsak, MLC, that the party would support the third disallowance motion.

“He said to me, we’ve supported the disallowance motions before; why would we change our stance?”

“I was more shocked than anyone when they abstained from voting, I think they’re gutless, and they basically betrayed the south.”

In a written statement last Thursday titled “Floodplain Harvesting Disallowance, No More Games”, Shooters Fishers and Farmers MLC Mark Banasiak showed a strong disregard to the third disallowance motion as well as the recent NSW Upper House Parliamentary Inquiry into the impacts of floodplain harvesting and the recommendations made in the report late last year.

“This disallowance motion is a political game from a Green Independent looking for relevance that undermines years of hard work by the SFF to see floodplain harvesting regulated,” said Mr Banasiak

“What is being attempted today puts good water policy at risk and obstructs the path forward to floodplain harvesting regulation.”

Mr Field, who put forward last month’s disallowance motion, was supported with a vote of 18 to 15.

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He said that Government is still yet to deal with concerns raised in the recent Parliamentary Inquiry about the impacts of floodplain harvesting in the northern basin.

“It is crucial that Labor, the Greens, SFF and others to work together to force the National Party to get this policy right, not protect corporate irrigator interests in the Northern Basin.”

“The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers have voted twice before to disallow similar regulations, so claiming last month’s vote was some sort of game is inexplicable.”

“This is no game to me. Allowing these licences to come into effect without the appropriate rules and protections for downstream communities and other farmers and water licence holders will create significant equity issues and potentially leave taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions in compensation to buy these licences back in the future.”

Ms Dalton backed Mr Field, stating that “The greens aren’t playing a game; they are trying to save the Darling! If anyone is playing a political game, it is Mark Banasiak.”

For local SFF Member for Barwon, Roy Butler, the latest disallowance is frustrating because, without regulation, unlimited and unregulated take will continue to occur.

Whilst there is broad consensus that the regulation, measuring and licensing of floodplain harvesting is necessary, the volume that can be taken has been cause for significant dispute.

Instead of weighing in on what figure is a sustainable level of taking, Mr Butler believes that the legal volumes are already set by the Water Management Act 2000.

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Passing the FPH legislation will make floodplain harvesting in line with the legal limits already set by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. He has been advised that this legislation will cut FPH by around 100GL, pending independent review by the MDBA.

Supporters of the disallowance motion say that ensuring the recommendations set out by the Select Committee in December 2021 are embedded in the policy is critical before licensing proceeds.

This fundamental disagreement has led Ms Dalton to resign as an SFF party member and run as an Independent.

Ms Dalton believes that it is important that the recommendations made in the Upper House inquiry into floodplain harvesting are worked through with NSW Water Minister the Hon. Kevin Anderson, MP, before issuing licenses.

“Let’s work through all the recommendations, and let’s sort it out first; there’s a lot of things the New South Wales Government can do.”

“There is a process; let’s get the metering done first,” she said.

“I think it’s like giving a kid a lolly and then asking them to give it back.”

Greens MP and chair of the recent Select Committee into Floodplain Harvesting, Cate Faehrmann, said one of the 25 recommendations made in the inquiry was that the Government bring extraction limits within 64 gigalitres of the existing Basin Plan limit.

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“This is 64GL, not the 346GL that the Government has stated it publicly intends to,” she said.

“We will never support the expansion of floodplain harvesting beyond the legal limit of 64GL because it is ultimately unsustainable for the river system itself.”

Maryanne Slattery, Director of Slattery, and Johnson said that enforcing these legal limits of extraction are not breached is critical in ensuring downstream targets are met.

“The volumes that the Government are arguing for are too high.”

“The only way they can get around that is by breaking their own rules at State and Federal level, and MDBA and DPIE are complicit in this; they are finding ways to break their own laws in a way that isn’t obvious to the average punter,” she said.

Ms Slattery said that she thought the decision for SFF to abstain from the disallowance is a clear message from certain party members as to where their priorities lie.

I would expect a lot of people in Broken Hill and everyone downstream of Bourke to feel betrayed by Roy; he was very clever in what he said, he certainly gave the impression that he was on the side of the water and the river.

“He is in unambiguously on the side of the irrigators now; I think he made a calculated decision a couple of years ago that he could retain his seat without Broken Hill. I think he decided he doesn’t need Broken Hill.”

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Ms Dalton said that by walking away from the floodplain harvesting disallowance motion, the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party have played her and the people she sought to represent in her electorate.

“There are a lot of lives and a lot of livelihoods at stake with this, for Mum and Dad farmers, Indigenous communities and the environment, all those people that abide by the law, that’s who I am sticking up for.”

Ms Dalton expects to stand as an Independent in the upcoming 2023 NSW State Election.

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