House debates

Thursday, 8 February 2024


Parkes Electorate: Wilcannia Weir Replacement Project

4:39 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

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. This project has been in the pipeline for a long time. It's been mooted for years—decades, even. But, in 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 for the construction of a weir.

Over that period of time, there have been some issues. There's been COVID-19. We've had a flood as well. But there's been extensive consultation with the local community about location and design. The agreement was that the new weir—and 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—was to raise the level a metre above the existing weir. It was further downstream. It was to have had gates, to enable down-river flows in the Darling River in dry times, to put a run of water down the lower Darling, as we've had serious trouble over the years in that part of the river. It was to have had a fish ladder as well. 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—with no gates and no higher than the existing weir.

The town of Wilcannia is like most of my river communities: when there's water in the river for those communities, the welfare, wellbeing and mental health of those communities are much better. This weir was not only going to raise the water level and give a more long-lasting or permanent water hole; it was going to back up the river for about 30 kilometres and also give some assistance to landholders and graziers further up.

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. I will follow up with the minister and her office. Clearly the Commonwealth government has a stake in this, because the press release that the minister put out on 18 August 2022 mentions the gates and mentions raising the river. So, clearly, there has been some form of change made at the state level.

I'm a little suspicious, because there have 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 get built. I am suspicious that there is a culture in the New South Wales public service that is opposed to weirs.

I will 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. It's taking an extra 450 gigalitres out of the system. One of the biggest employers of Aboriginal people is water. We're now seeing an 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 a significant difference to the wellbeing of the people of the town. The Floodplain Association and the floodplain graziers association of the far west were very supportive of this. They need this proposal. We need to make sure that New South Wales reverses this ridiculous decision, sticks to the plan that had 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.