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