The New South Wales government intends to replace the independent scientific committee that advises on the health and adequacy of water releases to the Snowy River with a government-controlled committee of community representatives.

The Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Amendment (Snowy Advisory Committee) Bill 2013, introduced into NSW Parliament on Wednesday, will terminate the Snowy Scientific Committee set up under the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997. The NSW Labor government, which did its best to avoid fulfilling its commitments to restore water to the Snowy River, resisted establishing that committee until 2008. The delay was caused by concerns the committee’s advice would contradict the demands of the influential Snowy Hydro Corporation and its representative within NSW Labor, the corrupt former minister and customer of “Tiffanie” Ian Macdonald, who as primary industries minister bitterly fought efforts to release more water into the Snowy.

The Scientific Committee was required to have six members nominated by the Environment Protection Authority, the Director-General of National Parks and Wildlife, the relevant catchment management authority, an independent scientist with relevant experience nominated by the Minister for the Environment, and two nominees from Victoria.

Under the 1997 legislation, “the Committee is not subject to the control or direction of the Minister.”

The O’Farrell government has proposed to dump the scientific committee and replace it with a new body composed of “community representatives”, one representative of environmental interest groups and “Aboriginal interests” and representatives of the NSW and Victorian governments. The committee will be “subject to the control and direction of the Minister in the exercise of its function, except in relation to the contents of any advice given by it”, meaning the government can dictate all the activities of the committee, as long as it doesn’t demand edits to reports.

The change was flagged earlier this year when the NSW Office of Water released a discussion paper on a new committee that, remarkably, claimed independence from government was a “weakness” of the scientific committee because “research may not align with current work or may duplicate other work”. The Office of Water also claimed that the lack of direct government appointees was a problem because “committee membership is inconsistent with other environmental water advisory committees in NSW which contain both government and community members”.

The committee will also have the dramatically curtailed role of advising “each year on the timing and pattern for the release of water for environmental reasons under the Snowy water licence” rather than its current role of advising on the adequacy of releases and providing an annual report on the state of the environment of catchments affected by the Snowy Hydro scheme.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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