Government’s irrigator reforms are all but locked in – but the full impacts of eleventh hour amendments are still being realised.
The Bill was passed by the state’s Upper House on Wednesday.
This was after a long back-and-forth debate on Tuesday night, which saw a number of Labor and Greens motions knocked back, ultimately locking in their opposition on Wednesday morning.
It will now move to the Lower House where government controls the numbers.
Unusually, government proposed a number of amendments to their own legislation.
The original bill would have allowed regional water Minister Niall Blair to set up his own rules to limit licence holders’ water take under the mandatory conditions clause.
Historically, Section 324 allowed cease-to-pump orders to be made in the public interest, which was listed only as providing water for critical human need. Changes would have created an additional ministerial power to temporarily embargo pumping to protect an environmental flow down a river.
But in a last-ditch move, Mr Blair said he would wind back his proposed expansion of embargo powers.
However, under the final amendments the Minister retains environmental embargo powers. While the clause for protecting environmental flows was removed, environmental embargoes are now listed under the public interest test.
Another new clause proposed in the bill allowed the Minister to impose mandatory conditions on water licences to reduce irrigator take.
This was removed in the final amendments. The existing provisions to limit water take still apply under water sharing plans, which are a slower, more consultative process, that includes triggers for compensation.
Mr Blair pitched his new laws as ‘framework legislation. However Labor and the Greens opposed the bill, citing government’s recent record of ‘ruling via regulation’ and that environmental protections were insufficient.
You can watch how the debate unfolded via NSW Parliament Hansard: