Thursday, 8 February 2024
Mr COULTON (Parkes—Chief Nationals Whip) (16:39): I’d like to bring to the attention of the House an issue that’s very concerning in my electorate, and that is the design, and the change of the design, to the weir at Wilcannia. Now this project has been in the pipeline for a long time. It’s been mooted for years—decades, even. But, in the more recent times, when the member for Maranoa was the water minister, he and I and the New South Wales water minister at the time, Niall Blair, went to Wilcannia and announced $15 million from each government to the construction of a weir.
Now over that period of time, there’s been some issues–COVID, we’ve had a flood as well. But there’s been extensive consultation with the local community about location and design, and the agreement was that the new weir— I should say there’s a weir that’s been there for a hundred-odd years that is crumbling and in a state of decay—the new weir was to raise the level a metre above the existing weir. It was further downstream. It was to have gates, to enable down-river flows in the Darling River in dry times, to put a run of water down the lower Darling, where we’ve had serious trouble over the years in that part of the river, as well as a fish ladder. Now somewhere over the last six months or so, within the New South Wales public service, they have changed this design from a substantial concrete weir to an earth-and-rock construction—basically, a pile of rocks in the river—and no gates and no higher than the existing weir.
Now the town of Wilcannia, as most of my river communities: when there’s water in the river for those communities, the welfare, the wellbeing and the mental health of those communities is much, much better. This weir was not only going to raise the water level and have a more long-lasting, permanent water hole; but it was going to back up the river for about 30 kilometres and also give some assistance to landholders and graziers further up.
Now, one of the reasons I’m raising this now is that I’m not sure that Minister Plibersek has been made aware of the changes that New South Wales has made, and I will follow up with the minister and her office, because clearly the Commonwealth government has a stake in this, because in her press release that she [the minister] has put out on 18 August 2022 mentions the gates, mentions raising the river. So, clearly, there has been some form of change made at the state level.
Now, I’m a little suspicious, because there’s been a lot of proposals for weirs down the river system for a number of years, and, for some reason, they seem to get held up and not built. I am suspicious that there is a culture in the New South Wales public service that is opposing to weirs.
But I’ll say this much: there has been a lot of discussion in the last 12 months about the welfare of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, but all I seem to see is proposals that make their life harder. This is just another one. Taking an extra 450 gigalitres out of the system. One of the biggest employers of Aboriginal people is water. We’re now seeing—you know—attack from the Greens on the mining sector. One of the biggest employers—say, at Gunnedah and Narrabri—is the mining sector, for Aboriginal people.
This weir was going to make significant difference to the wellbeing of the people of the town, and the Floodplain Association, the Floodplain Graziers Association of the Far West, were very supportive of this. They need this proposal and we need to make sure that New South Wales reverses this ridiculous decision, sticks to the plan that’s been agreed upon, between not only state and federal governments but also the local community, and get this thing built, because the local community is incredibly upset at this last change of events.