Sunday, 13 August 2017


For years, environmentalists have been ringing alarm bells over the unregulated expansion of intensive horticulture across the North Coast. Only two months ago this column published an article identifying serious problems relating to water availability, and the failure of state and local governments to regulate the industry.

The Clarence Environment Centre recently received a letter from the Primary Industries Minister, responding to concerns, not just about lack of regulation, but the widespread failure to enforce compliance with existing regulations. In it, the Minister went to great lengths to explain why further regulation should not be imposed, while praising the industry for its willingness to self-regulate in the face of criticism.

However, he ignored the fact that an inter-agency committee, formed specifically to solve the emerging problems, has reported multiple cases of law breaking, and a willingness to regard paying fines as a cost of doing business.

One extraordinary statement in the Minister's letter was that: “Placing a DA requirement across all horticultural activities could inhibit other industries and may encourage non-compliant behaviour”.

Apart from the fact that nobody is asking for regulation of “all” horticultural activities, only intensive commercial operations, the suggestion that an industry should not be regulated for fear it would not comply with regulations, is ludicrous. This is a bit like scrapping speed limits because people will ignore them!

Now, last week's explosive Four Corners revelations about the theft of water by ‘big agriculture’ from the Murray-Darling Basin raises serious concerns about the role of the Department of Primary Industry and politicians in what appears to be a thoroughly scandalous state of affairs.

The combination of these revelations, along with the widespread failure of compliance enforcement, and reluctance to regulate, suggests the likelihood of serious corruption in water management in NSW.

It is hoped that the inevitable inquiry is fully independent and that it will reveal the truth, as well as ensuring that those responsible for theft and other illegalities are dealt with to the full extent of the law.

Furthermore, from now on compliance enforcement must be given the priority it so desperately needs.

- John Edwards

  This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on July 31, 2017.  

Wednesday, 2 August 2017


Energy prices and energy security have been in the news for many months now.  While this issue is very complex, the debate about causes and solutions has been marred by erroneous claims and blame-shifting by politicians.  This has done little to enlighten the electorate or solve the problems the nation faces. 
The security/price problem exists because successive governments from both major parties have failed to understand the impact of the technological change and to plan properly for the future.
Added to this is the failure, particularly by the Federal Government, to understand community opposition to coal seam gas (CSG) mining and fracking and the threats this industry poses to agriculture, clean water, the natural environment and  human health.  Communities in the NSW Northern Rivers and elsewhere have learnt from overseas and Queensland just how invasive and damaging this industry is. 

The Federal Government’s concern about domestic gas availability and price have led to it planning to restrict exports when there is a local shortage.  It has also called on states such as NSW and Victoria to open up their states to CSG and unconventional gas mining.

Unsurprisingly the export restriction plan has annoyed the extremely profitable companies exporting huge quantities of Australian gas.  One of their spokespersons, former federal politician Ian Macfarlane, now Queensland Resources Council CEO, supports the government’s call to remove bans on CSG and unconventional gas mining in NSW and Victoria.  That gas could then be used domestically without affecting the industry’s exports.  Furthermore Macfarlane suggested states not lifting bans should be penalised by getting a smaller GST share.

Lock the Gate’s National Coordinator, Carmel Flint, said this was an extraordinary attempt by the mining and resource sector to undermine the “democratic distribution of our taxes”.  She also pointed out that sixty percent of large energy and resource companies pay no corporate tax in Australia and that it was disgraceful that they should attempt to influence how taxes were spent in order to promote their industry.
Whatever the Federal Government and the big mining companies want, opposition to CSG and unconventional gas mining won’t go away.
            - Leonie Blain

  This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on July 24, 2017.  

Tuesday, 25 July 2017


On July 24 ABC TV investigative program Four Corners screened an expose of rorts and illegal practices happening in water extraction in the Murray-Darling Basin in north-western NSW and elsewhere along the Basin.  These actions are torpedoing the Murray-Darling Plan which was developed to improve the health of the river systemas well as ensuring a fair allocation of water to irrigators along the Basin.  What is also of concern is that there is a strong stench  of corruption about  this matter. 

There have been very strong reactions to this expose around the nation as well as calls for an independent inquiry.

Following the program's screening, the peak NSW environment group the Nature Conservation Council of NSW issued the media statement printed below.



Berejiklian must remove Nationals from resource portfolios and order an ICAC inquiry 

The Nature Conservation Council and Inland Rivers Network are calling on Premier Gladys Berejiklian to remove National Party MPs from natural resources portfolios and refer the issues raised in last night’s Four Corners report to the ICAC for investigation.

Four Corners found serious maladministration by managers of the Department of Primary Industries (Water) in the allocation and enforcement of water licences in NSW, and of compliance actions in the state’s northwest.

“The rules governing water sharing in NSW have been manipulated to favour a few big irrigators at the expense of the environment and downstream communities,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said.  “This is an absolute disgrace.

“The government has turned a blind eye to illegal behaviour like meter tampering water theft. This scandal has happened on the watch of National Party Ministers who must be held to account for their mismanagement of one of the key natural resource agencies in NSW.

“Premier Gladys Berejiklian should remove National Party Ministers from natural resources portfolios and refer these issues to ICAC for a full investigation.

“The ecosystems along the whole length of the Murray-Darling are declining because too much water is being extracted.

“Waterbird populations in parts of the Murray-Darling have declined by more than 80%, and we have lost 90% per cent of the Basin’s floodplain wetlands. This can’t go on.”

Inland Rivers Network spokesperson Bev Smiles said: “We’ve taken far too much water out of the Murray-Darling for far too long. Mismanagement and overuse of water revealed last night are damaging the Murray Darling’s life support systems and must stop.

“The National Party has overseen possibly the biggest theft of water in the state’s history. They have been captured by a small lobby of big agribusiness irrigators who are putting their commercial interests ahead all other users and the environment.

“Putting the National Party in charge of natural resource management portfolios was never going to end well. Now we have the proof that the irrigation industry in NSW has a powerful and unhealthy relationship with bureaucrats and political leaders. This has led to poor water management for the health of rivers and the weakening of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“If this is not criminal, it is morally reprehensible. People want the government to bring our rivers back to health, not give public resources to large private companies.”