In March, after the self-absorbed, venal nature of Barnaby Joyce became plain for all to see, I argued that like Joyce, the National Party has sold out to big coal, big gas, big irrigators, big agribusinesses and the big fish in the small ponds of regional towns1. This has been clear to anyone who even vaguely follows politics. There is now even more support for my argument.
In giving evidence to the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray Darling System, the former head of the Office of Water in New South Wales, David Harriss, has stated that he and others were pushed out by government ministers from the National Party for attempting to investigate water theft on the upper reaches of the Darling River. Hariss’ replacement as chief water bureaucrat closed down the ‘Special Investigations Unit’ that was charged with investigating and prosecuting those accused of water theft on the Darling River.
A NSW Ombudsman’s report from 2013, which has not been made public, recommended compliance and enforcement be improved. However, when member for Barwon, Kevin Humphries (National Party) became the junior minister with responsibility for water under the Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson (National Party), the Office of Water was told that “compliance was not a priority”. When Harriss told the minister he intended to continue implementing the Ombudsman’s recommendations, he was moved on, after 25 years of service in the Office of Water2.
In a particularly dry year, cotton farmers in the Gwydir and Namoi valleys had needed extra water to finish growing a crop, but of course preferred not to pay for it. Instead, they lobbied the minister for access to water which was supposed to be reserved for environmental flows2. This clearly demonstrates that the Nationals are under the thumb of big irrigators, and that keeping environmental flows in the Darling is of no interest to either when the system is so corrupt. It also makes it clear that any farmer in the lower Darling who relies on irrigation, or any people who rely on those farmers, and who still vote for the National Party, are either crooked or halfwits.