Agriculture industry bodies and north coast MPs push back on Coastal Harvestable Rights

AGRICULTURE industry bodies and north coast Nationals MPs have been vocal in their criticism of a NSW Government decision to return the state’s Coastal Harvestable Rights to ten percent.

Last week, the NSW Government overturned a decision by the former government to increase the amount of rainfall run-off that can be harvested to 30 percent.

Harvestable rights allow landholders to capture and store a set volume of the rainfall run-off on their properties without a need for a licence or certain approvals.

NSW Minister for Water Rose Jackson said the NSW Government is focused on being led by science and making decisions that protect communities water security for the long-term.

“We will never play fast and loose with our water resources like the former government did,” Ms Jackson said.

“The former government increased coastal harvestable rights before completing the rigorous assessments needed to properly understand what impact this change could have on town water supplies, the environment, other water users and downstream industries.

“With dry conditions on the way, decisions must be robust and evidence-based to ensure our precious water resources are managed sustainably.

“While increasing on-farm storage may help some landholders with improving water security, a uniform increase across all catchments will not be sustainable for everyone.

“We owe it to water users and local communities along the coast to make sure that any increases in water extractions stack up.”

As part of the change, the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) will begin assessments into what level of water extraction is sustainable for coastal communities that stretch from Tweed Heads down to Eden.

Minor adjustments have also been made to the harvestable rights orders that apply to both the coastal-draining and central-inland draining areas.

This makes the harvestable rights rules clearer and easier for the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) to enforce and ensure landholders know what they can and cannot do.

DPE will contact all landholders directly who have increased their harvestable rights dam capacity since the limit was increased to ensure they are clear about how the revised rules will impact them.

Shadow Minister for the North Coast Gurmesh Singh said the move to slash coastal harvestable rights will have an enormous impact, by leaving all farmers less resilient.

“This short-sighted decision by the NSW Government is completely reckless and couldn’t come at a worse time for producers and landholders as we head into another drought,” Mr Singh said.

“The Liberals and Nationals listened to coastal farmers while we were in Government and made the change to increase the limit to account for the higher rainfall they get compared to other parts of the State, and allow them to use it to prepare for dry periods.

“Overturning this change will leave coastal communities without the adequate water they need to manage their cattle and grow food.

“It will also take away the vital additional water source that property owners rely on to fight fires in the hotter months, which is extremely concerning off the back of El Nino being declared.”

Mr Singh also expressed concern that correct stakeholder consultation had not been followed, with farmers given insufficient notice of the decision.

“Labor has been extremely disingenuous in its approach to this issue and several farmers in my local community say they had no idea this was happening until it was too late,” Mr Singh said.

“When you stop to think about what the ten percent figure actually represents, it means that less than one percent of the rainfall that lands on a farmer’s property can be kept by that farmer, which is next to nothing, so it’s no surprise that they are feeling hard done by.

“I would like to see the ‘science’ that the Water Minister keeps referring to that supposedly says 30 percent is not sustainable, because it actually only amounts to less than two and half percent of rain that falls on a property.”

Member for Oxley Michael Kemp said the move was robbing water from local farmers ahead of a looming dry season.

“Our farmers have already battled with bushfires and floods, and just as they start getting back on their feet, the NSW Government deals another blow by taking their water away.

“Our coastal region has higher rainfall patterns and a different topography to farms out west.

“We do not have a major dam and we rely on farm water storage for everything from agriculture to fighting bushfires.

“This short-sighted change has happened overnight, without consultation and reeks of a lack of understanding of how farms operate on the east coast.

“The Minns Government needs to get out of the city and start talking to regional voices that want to see this decision reversed.”

NSW Farmers Dairy Committee chair Phil Ryan called the decision “a kick in the guts”.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with the drying conditions we’re seeing and everything to do with appeasing inner-city environmentalists who have no idea where their food comes from,” Mr Ryan said.

“The dairy industry in NSW is already facing price pressure, a dry season ahead and cheap imports from New Zealand, and now the Water Minister is making it harder to be a dairy farmer.

“Short-sighted decisions like this, made without asking farmers what the practical impacts might be, puts enormous pressure on coastal agriculture and erodes trust in government.”

NSW Irrigators’ Council CEO Claire Miller claimed the call was made without correctly consulting landholders and other stakeholders.

“Our understanding is the previous policy to allow 30 percent harvestable rights in coastal catchments would have a negligible, if any, impact on river flows,” Miller said.

“But the Government has blindsided farmers without even waiting for its own catchment-by-catchment modelling to be completed which would have allowed them to make an informed decision.

“The previous 30 percent harvestable right meant farmers could store more water during wet periods, to
help them keep growing food and watering livestock during droughts.

“The Rural Fire Service also supports initiatives to increase water stored across the landscape, and farm dams are an important source of water to fight fires.

“Firefighting in the catastrophic 2019-20 summer was hampered by most farm dams being dry, leaving the RFS helpless in many valleys to fight the flames for lack of water.

“Here we are entering another long, hot, El Nino summer, with our coastal valleys already in drought and cattle already being sold for lack of water in dams – and the Government has decided the best response is to make sure landholders and communities have no buffer to survive future extremes.”

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