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NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro says 'green tape' hindering water security amid drought crisis

By state political reporter Ashleigh Raper, Monday August 19, 2019 - 08:02 EST
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NSW deputy premier John Barilaro said "green tape" had hindered development. - ABC

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro says he does not care "if a few frogs have got to die" if it means the state has long-term water security.

The Nationals leader said "green tape" was standing in the way of the construction of new water storage infrastructure and underground dams.

Ninety-nine per cent of the state remains in drought and as the crisis continues, it is also moving from the land to the cities.

"This is beyond the drought itself, beyond the impact from behind the farm gate," Mr Barilaro said.

"Water has now become the number one issue."

Major regional centres like Tamworth, Dubbo and Bathurst are at risk at running out of water within 12 months, while towns including Murrurundi, Guyra and are currently having emergency water trucked in.

"We're not going to run out of water, we said we're not going to run out of water," Mr Barilaro said.

"We will do what it takes in the short term."

But the Nationals leader is also looking long term.

"If we don't take the opportunity while everybody is watching to talk about building water storage, dams, pipelines, infrastructure, underground dams, recharging our aquifers, investing in our weirs then we will miss this opportunity," he said.

"We all know that when we talk about dams, it's controversial, it will stoke some emotion in certain communities, but now is the time to talk about it."

Loans to fund projects

Building water infrastructure will be costly, at a time when the state's budget is under pressure.

Some funding has already been set aside, but the Deputy Premier says he won't be shy about asking for more.

"Money is so cheap at the moment that I'd be open to prosecuting the case to borrow money," he said.

But it is not securing the funding which Mr Barilaro sees as his biggest obstacle.

"It's the green tape that has stopped us building infrastructure in the past and that's my challenge," he said.

"We want to get the bulldozers into those projects and if a few frogs have got to die along the way, so be it.

"I don't care about that, I care about making sure we don't run out of water in the future."

Opposition Leader Jodi McKay said the approach was "bullish", however.

"His view is build the dam, forget the frog, but you can't just have that really bullish approach to this," she said.

"They've forgotten communities."

The State Government has already invested in water pipelines for towns on the brink.

In a few weeks, a $13 million pipeline from Armidale's dam will provide much-needed water to Guyra.

Last week work began on a $14 million pipeline from Scone to Murrurundi, while earlier this year the $500 million Broken Hill pipeline came online.

The Broken Hill project was particularly controversial, some questioned whether the infrastructure investment was made instead of the State Government properly managing the river system.

"I argue this, that pipeline, without it Broken Hill would be out of water today," Mr Barilaro said.

"We've sometimes got to push through the noise and I call it the white noise.

"If it means a few negative environmental impacts — fine, we wear that and we have to work through that, but at the end of the day I'm looking after regional communities."


© ABC 2019

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