Saturday 27 February 2021


A lot of television airtime has recently been devoted to “harvestable rights”. That’s the amount of run-off water that landowners are allowed to capture in dams. For years farmers, particularly irrigators, have been pressuring governments to allow them to take more of this free life-giving resource. As a result, the NSW government is undertaking a review, and vested interests are out in force, lobbying for more.

Past regulatory blunders are not helping. For example, landowners in the state’s west are allowed to catch all the water that falls on their land, and with floodplain harvesting of water now allowed, they can take even more. So farmers on the coast, who are only allowed to capture 10%, are arguing to be allowed to do likewise.

Allowing entrepreneurs to purchase and trade water rights, some of whom are not even water users, has exacerbated the problems, adding costs to coastal landowners who may need to buy additional water during droughts.

Some outrageous suggestions are being made to support their case, including pointing out that firefighters had trouble finding water during last year’s bushfire emergency, and suggesting more dams would solve that problem.

The reason those landowners want more dams is to save them having to buy water during drought, but inferring that more dams would allow them to provide water for firefighting is hard to swallow. However, as ludicrous as this suggestion is, there are some in the bureaucracy, including the Minister it seems, that have been persuaded that this would be the case.

Recent compliance checks found close to 90% of irrigators on the coast are already ‘stealing’ water, and it stands to reason that the more water that is captured on-farm, the less there will be flowing down our rivers. That is already happening across inland NSW, and we don’t want it happening on the coast as well.

Water is essential for life on earth and should never be commercialised, owned, or controlled by a small minority who just happen to own the land it falls on.

    - John Edwards




Wednesday 17 February 2021


 In July 2020, Graeme Samuel released his interim report on the second review of Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act). This interim report confirmed the community’s lack of trust in the Act’s effectiveness to protect the environment, which is in decline and under increasing threat.

This review is a once-in-a-decade chance to improve protection for the places and animals we love. But is the Commonwealth Government using it as an excuse to target the EPBC Act as merely green tape in need of cutting?

Samuel’s interim review report did recommend sweeping changes to the Act, such as: improving everyone’s access to quality ecological data (with ‘everyone’ including decision-makers, proponents and the community); more research into ecosystem functioning to improve confidence in predicting the impacts of development; clearer direction to avoid or mitigate environmental impacts from development; a set of legally enforceable national environmental standards; and removal of duplication between federal and state processes.

Samuel’sfinal report was submitted to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley in October and was publicly released on January 28, 2021.

Before the submission on the final report, the Morrison Government was already cherry-picking recommendations to suit its agenda. It commenced work on handing over approvals to the states based on some “interim” national environmental standards. Interim standards hurriedly made and cemented in these agreements could undermine the development of the comprehensive national standards Samuel recommends for environmental protection and outcomes.

We need strong safeguards in place to protect our globally important places and unique wildlife. We also need a better regulator to oversee compliance. Samuel was scathing in highlighting that penalties issued over the past 10 years under the EPBC Act are less than a quarter of the parking fines issued in one year by Orange City Council.

Weakening the EPBC Act to speed up project approvals will only fast-track environmental destruction.

Monday 15 February 2021


Governments around the globe are under increasing pressure to ramp up action on cutting carbon emissions.  More than 100 countries, including Australia’s major trading partners, have committed to net zero emissions by 2050 (or 2060 in the case of China).  Australia’s federal government has resisted this and is becoming increasingly isolated amongst developed nations.  However, all state and territory governments, irrespective of the political party in power, have made this commitment and are actively working towards the net zero emissions goal.   

Federally the puerile “climate wars” of the last decade are continuing.  Climate deniers and fossil fuel enthusiast MPs continue to prevent the Morrison Government from adopting an effective climate policy.  Despite this the Government continues to claim it will meet our 2030 Paris commitments with its 26-28% cuts.  And its much-touted “gas led recovery” shows it’s not really serious about curbing emissions.  

Federal Labor also has internal difficulties with some MPs wanting to tone down the party’s emission commitments because of perceived election threats in seats where fossil fuel production is economically important.

All of these politicians concerned about the economies of fossil fuel dependent electorates should be actively working towards transitioning these economies and their workers to more sustainable industries in a carbon-constrained world.  Instead they act like King Canute trying to hold back the tide - perhaps politically useful in the very short term – but certainly not in the national or global interest.

A new Australian group – the Climate Targets Panel - last week claimed the original Paris target of 1.5 degrees warming was now unachievable because of the cuts needed.  According to Panel member and climate scientist Professor Will Steffen, if the rest of the world did the same as Australia, we’d be looking at three degrees warming.   

The Panel believes Australia needs to reach net zero emissions by 2045 with interim targets being a 50% cut by 2030, 67% by 2035 and 84% by 2040.  Currently it is obvious neither the climate-laggard Federal Government nor the timorous Labor Opposition is up to the challenge.

            - Leonie Blain

Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent , February 3, 2021.