The upper reaches of the Clarence River.
The upper reaches of the Clarence River. Simon Hughes

Clarence plan unconstitutional, says Port MP

STATE Member for Port Macquarie Robert Oakeshott has thrown his support behind the push to oppose plans by the Howard Government to divert water from the Clarence River, claiming it would breach the Constitution.

The Independent MP said he sought a ruling during last week's sitting of Parliament from the Attorney-General and Crown solicitor over a section of the Constitution which may prevent the Howard Government's proposal to extract water from the Clarence River.

"In the lead-up to the Federal election, we might be able to rely on the forefathers who wrote the Constitution to protect the Clarence River," he said.

"It could be interpreted based on section 100 of the Constitution that the Federal Government can't divert the Clarence River.

"I would be interested to see if there is a difference of interpretation of the Constitution at a Federal and a State level."

Section 100 states 'the Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade or commerce, abridge the right of a State or of the residents therein to the reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation'.

Mr Oakeshott said he took an interest in the Howard Government's proposal to divert water from the Clarence after he encountered a similar plan in 2003 to supply Tamworth with water from the Barnard River in his electorate.

"It would have ripped the guts out of the economy and the lifestyle of the region and it would be the same in the Clarence," he said.

"It treats North Coast residents as second class Australians in their efforts to win marginal seats in south-east Queensland."

Geoff White, the engineer behind a diversion scheme for the Clarence to be tabled at the annual Shires Association conference next month, said his proposal would reduce the flow of the Clarence River by 20 per cent.

"Water would be pumped from a dam on the Mann River through the Great Dividing range into a dam on the upper mole river which would be used to regulate flows into the Darling River," he said.

"It is a good proposal it would cost an estimated $1.75 billion."

Mr White said a full environmental impact study would need to be done before his proposal could be considered, but he did consider the impact on industries associated with the Clarence River.

"The storage dam on the Mann River would provide the facility to regulate the flow of the Clarence to benefit the prawning industry and agriculture," he said.

Mr White said to successfully achieve such an engineering feat the Federal Government would need to work with the States in negotiation and construction of the proposal.

Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull has used a clause in the Freedom Of Information act to avoid releasing documents detailing the Government's $10 billion plan to seize control of the Murray Darling Basin from the States.

Mr Turnbull said the Government refused to release any of the documents as it could damage Commonwealth/State relations.



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