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Thursday, 10 February 2011
Page: 508

Senator HEFFERNAN —Yesterday, whether by inadvertence or in vain, Senator Conroy, in seeking support for the management of Craig Knowles at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, invoked my name in saying that I thought he was a good bloke. There is nothing wrong with Craig Knowles but I have to say that I would like to put that into context. Those remarks were made—you would not guess it from yesterday—in 2003 and it was in the context that I rang Craig Knowles, who was a minister in the New South Wales government at the time, to explain to him that, like many governments for many years, his had made a mistake in the water planning of the aquifers in New South Wales. I explained to him that, even with the Gwydir aquifer, when the government separated the land from the water and made them tradeable, they also woke up all the sleepers, which immediately overallocated all the rivers. In the Gwydir aquifer in particular, 50 per cent of the licences issued were for mature licence users, 25 per cent were for sleeper licences and, believe it or not, 25 per cent of the licences issued in the Gwydir aquifer were actually phantom licences. These were issued to farmers who had no water under their land that they could pump. The New South Wales government of the day agreed that these particular farmers should be able to trade those licences even though there was no water to trade. I rang Craig Knowles to say that this was the case, and he said, to his credit: ‘It can’t be true but I’ll check up.’ He rang back in two days and said that, much to his dismay, it was actually true. They had licences tradeable where there was no water to trade, and it was in that context that I thanked him for the fact that he had the courage to ring back and say that the government was wrong.