New bill to target water ownership by NSW politicians

By Country News

A new bill has been introduced into NSW Parliament in a bid to improve transparency around the pecuniary interests register, which outlines politicians’ financial interests, by including water ownership.

NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey introduced the bill last week to ‘‘provide more certainty to members of parliament and improve public confidence in the pecuniary interests register’’.

However, NSW State Member for Murray Helen Dalton said it is a ‘‘watered-down version’’ of the bill she introduced last year.

‘‘After nine years of allowing politicians and corporations to secretly own water, the NSW Government is finally doing something,’’ she said.

Mrs Dalton introduced a bill last year to force politicians to declare their water ownership, as well as creating a register of all individuals and corporations who own water.

Discussion on her bill was delayed so long its deadline expired.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, of which Mrs Dalton is a member, planned to reintroduce it in the lower and upper houses last week.

‘‘On Tuesday, I tried to re-introduce my bill. The government wouldn’t let me, using COVID-19 restrictions to stop me from entering parliament,” she said.

‘‘On the same day, Minister Pavey tabled her bill.

‘‘Does the bill cover retrospective water ownership? Does it cover the spouses of politicians? I’m betting it probably doesn’t.

‘‘The bill title (Constitution Amendment Water Accountability and Transparency Bill 2020) suggests it does nothing about foreign or domestic companies that own water.

‘‘We need a register for them too. They donate to political parties. If they own water, the public have a right to know.’’

Mrs Pavey’s proposed legislation will require all MPs to record water ownership and share components as an asset, in the same way they must declare business or real estate.

It will also require any water trades to be declared within 14 days, rather than the current six months, along with any money earned and the net impact on remaining water holdings.

‘‘The community rightfully expects members of parliament to be diligent and fully transparent when disclosing their pecuniary interests, but there is currently a lack of clarity around how valuable water assets should be recorded,’’ Mrs Pavey said.

‘‘Water asset ownership and how they’re traded is something we are taking very seriously to improve confidence among our communities and is also another step in improving transparency within the sector.

‘‘The government is committed to completing its water reform agenda, including strengthening public registers for water ownership and trading.

‘‘Any further changes to registers involving private citizens must be done in a way that promotes transparency while protecting the privacy of our farmers.’’