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10/07/2009

Whetstone bites back at NSW irrigators

As reported in The Murray Pioneer (7 July), a war of words has broken out between South Australia and New South Wales about upstream irrigation practices.

Liberal candidate for Chaffey Tim Whetstone has defended comments he made about inadequate metering systems in NSW, following a tour of its irrigation districts earlier this year.

Whetstone returned to the Riverland from his tour "horrified" about NSW irrigation practices and demanding the implementation of a national water metering system.

An image printed in The Murray Pioneer on May 22 also showed Whetstone with a Dethridge water meter in NSW, which he believed had been tampered with to stop the correct metering of water.

The NSW Irrigators Council has demanded an apology from Whetstone regarding the allegations and is now asking for the same from premier Mike Rann after he referred to the Liberal candidate's comments.

But Whetstone — who is also chairman of SA Murray Irrigators (SAMI) — has refused to back down, defending his original stance.

"If NSW Irrigators Council chief executive (officer) Andrew Gregson thinks I'm going to step away from my comments about the haphazard, inadequate and sometimes non-existent water metering systems interstate, he is wrong," Whetstone said.

"Why would I apologise to someone who regards meter tampering as a sport, which is what I was told by more than one person I spoke with on my recent visit upstream.

"I have a photo, published in The Murray Pioneer, which shows a meter with a stick jammed in it to prevent it turning, but Gregson alleges that this was merely to stop the meter from turning in the wind. If this meter will turn in the wind, does that mean all Dethridge meters are affected by wind?"

But the NSW Irrigators Council said Whetstone's comments were politically motivated and lacking evidence.

"The 'meter' that Whetstone appears to be referring to has not seen productive water for three years due to zero allocations," Gregson said. "The only water through this device was for domestic consumption.

"The device was disabled by a channel attendant to stop it turning in the wind resulting in false meter readings."

Gregson also said a remark describing interfering with meters as a "sport" was misrepresented.

"That comment was made in the context of practices prior to the privatisation of irrigation infrastructure operators in NSW to demonstrate the cultural shift that has occurred in the decade since," he said.

However, Whetstone did not accept the explanations and said it was time South Australia stopped "caving in" to upstream bullying tactics.

"Coming from a state with efficient irrigation delivery and water metering systems, and a state that has abided by its water cap since it was introduced in 1967, I find it outrageous that we could be criticised for complaining about inefficient practices interstate that reduce flows into our state," he said.

"So get real Gregson and stop defending the inefficient irrigation practices in NSW and let's join forces to save this once great river system for the benefit of everyone and everything that depends on it."

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