The New South Wales upper house has for a third time rejected laws to establish flood plain harvesting licences, arguing the state government’s plan would have led to an unsustainable amount of water being taken from the Murray-Darling river system.
Labor, the Greens and some crossbenchers united to disallow the licences on Thursday morning, despite the new water minister, Kevin Anderson, moving preemptively to issue licence determinations on Monday.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party abstained from the vote.
The licensing of flood plain harvesting – the practice of capturing water as it moves across the extensive flat plains of the north-west using levees, channels and dams – is one of the last parts of the Murray-Darling Basin plan that needs to be implemented.
While all stakeholders agree that licensing of the practice is needed so the water being taken can be controlled, measured and policed, there has been a bitter dispute between irrigators and the environmental movement over volumes to be licensed and the fact that the government intends to give the licences free to irrigators.
Justin Field, the independent who moved the disallowance, said the NSW upper house had voted 18 to 15 to support his motion.
“This vote recognises that the government hasn’t got the policy right when it comes to floodplain harvesting,” he said.
“The government’s plan is a gift to a handful of large corporate irrigators, many of whom built dams far in excess of known caps. This is as much about equity for farming neighbours and other water licence holders as it is about downstream communities and the environment.
“There is broad agreement that floodplain harvesting should be regulated, licensed and measured but the current rules leave downstream communities, other water license holders and the environment carrying the risk. That is not acceptable.”
Cate Faehrmann, the Greens MP who chaired an upper house committee into the practice, said: “It should now be clear to…