Irrigator Peter Harris served a summons for alleged water theft

The Inland Rivers Network is taking legal action to force Peter Harris, a big irrigator in the state’s northwest and a Nationals Party donor, to return more than five billion litres of water he took, allegedly illegally, from the Barwon-Darling River. 

“It should not fall to community groups to enforce our water laws, but the Berejiklian’s government’s inaction has left the Inland Rivers Network no option,” said Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski.

“The Coalition government, and especially the National’s minister responsible for the water portfolio, have sat on their hands hoping this issue would go away.

“I can assure the government this issue will not go away until we get to the bottom of the scandalous misuse of water in NSW, either through the courts, the Independent Commission Against Corruption or a Royal Commission.

“The environment and downstream communities depend on river flows and a healthy river system, and we will fight to ensure that their interests are protected.”

Inland Rivers Network spokesperson Melissa Gray said: “People in NSW want to see the water in our precious river systems managed fairly so everyone gets a share, including the river itself.

“The Darling River is important for fish, water birds, Aboriginal culture, floodplain graziers and communities along its entire length. It is the key link between the Northern Basin and the Murray River system.

“Inland Rivers Network has had to instigate legal action to ensure that water licences and entitlements on the Darling are used according to the rules of water sharing.

“Under the Nationals, the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan was changed to favour big irrigators, and yet some greedy irrigators have allegedly broken those rules to extract even more.

“The IRN wants a fair go for everyone and the river, but that cannot happen if people who break the rules go unpunished.

“The government should enforce the laws but if it will not, we will do everything we can to ensure justice prevails.

“The NSW Government appears to be not properly regulating water use under the law and now the community has to take up the role of watchdog.”