Federal government withholds water funding from NSW in Murray-Darling standoff | Australia news


The federal government is withholding millions of dollars from the New South Wales government for failing to complete water resource plans for the Murray-Darling basin.

In a letter to the state’s water minister, Melinda Pavey, the federal water resources minister, David Littleproud, raised concerns the 20 plans had not been submitted.

“I am disappointed these plans were not able to be submitted by the end of last year, given the many years over which New South Wales has had to develop these plans,” he wrote.

“It is not my intention to approve commonwealth expenditure to New South Wales related to the basin plan until there is demonstrated progress on water resource plans,” the letter continued.

The correspondence, first reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, is the latest example of ongoing tensions between the federal and NSW state governments over the basin plan.

Late last year the NSW deputy premier, John Barilaro, threatened that the state would pull out of the plan unless there were major changes and concessions for NSW.

Water resource plans contain the detailed rules on water extraction in each valley. So far, plans submitted by Queensland and South Australia have been accredited and all Victorian and Australian Capital Territory plans have been submitted and are close to accreditation.

The plans set new rules for how water is managed and shared during times of drought. The funding withheld includes $7.9m for NSW to complete floodplain harvesting work.

Littleproud is also delaying expenditure of $48m for investment in metering, fencing and fishways meant to reduce the potential for the mass fish kills seen over the past two summers.

The letter gives the NSW government two weeks to respond and suggests that lodging some of the less sensitive water resource plans would give the federal government confidence in the state’s commitment to the basin plan.

Last year the NSW government signalled it wanted a pause in the timetable for the water resource plans because of the ongoing drought.

Pavey told the Sydney Morning Herald the government had been talking to Littleproud’s office and wanted to submit the plans mid-year.

“The funding goes to building the infrastructure projects to recover the last part of the plan put up by the states themselves, better compliance and improved fish-health through the recovery of A-class licences in the Barwon-Darling,” Littleproud said.

“The law clearly sets out under the act that I am now compelled to write to minister Pavey and make clear what now needs to happen and that they have failed to meet the 31 December 2019 statutory deadline.

“My strong preference is NSW get on with delivering the plans.”

Guardian Australia sought comment from Pavey. In response her office sent a media release from December last year, in which Barilaro said the state would not deliver the water resource plans because they “did not meet the expectations of our communities”.

The same statement says the state’s threats to walk away from the plan “are not empty” and that it will not contribute to an additional 450GL in water recovery.