Next week is the by-election in the NSW seat of Orange - a crucial seat when it comes to saving the Cliefden Caves. In order to find out the policies of the major political parties and independent candidates towards saving Cliefden Caves and the Belubula River, we’ve put a series of questions to all the by election candidates. The questions we asked, and they’re extended responses can be found below.
1. What is your position on the proposed new dam on the Belubula River?
2. Do you believe a new dam on the river will affect the Lachlan River system? If so, will you oppose its construction?
3. Are you concerned about the environmental and social condition of the Lachlan River system?
4. Are you concerned about the potential impacts of a new dam on the Cliefden Caves and surrounding environments?
5. If a dam is built, who do you believe should benefit and who should pay for its construction and maintenance?
The NSW Government (Liberal/National Party Coalition) - Scott Barrett
The Nationals candidate for Orange, Scott Barrett, told us he is willing to meet with those raising concerns if he is elected, but chose not to answer any of the questions we put to him. What we do know is the NSW Liberal/National Party Coalition support the construction of a dam on the Belubula River. They have named Cranky Rock as their preferred dam site in a 2015 scoping study commissioned by their Government. The proposed Cranky Rock dams would inundate many of the caves, as well as the rare thermal spring and the riverine corridor. The Needles Gap dam has also not been ruled out by them.
The NSW Opposition (Labor) - Bernard Fitzsimon
1. I am totally opposed to the dam. There is no need for it. There are smarter and sharper ways to preserve water in the 21st Century, other than a dam. A dam is a last case scenario.
2. I think it is a ridiculous proposal. It’s a knee jerk reaction from the Nationals. There latest advice is that it could be used for tourism. Why would we trash a significant environmental and scientific institution just to provide another tourism outlet?
3. I’m extremely concerned. The river is already over allocated. A segment of river is part of a whole riverine system. The impact on the flood plains downstream could be significant, and I don’t think any local water users will gain any benefit from a new dam on the Belubula River.
4. I think it is atrocious that anyone would even contemplate submerging a world heritage site. With significant flora and fauna, it’s a world renowned site, the experts say it must stay, everyone else says it must stay. Don’t flood the Cliefden Caves!
5. If that dam is built at tax payer’s expense, then the tax payer should benefit. If it becomes a public/private partnership, tax payers should still benefit from it. If it is a totally private dam, I don’t see why tax payers should support it in the first place. My understanding is that this am is to provide infrastructure for mining, an is not to provide water for farmers, or downstream or upstream water users, domestic or agricultural.
Labor's policy was also reiterated last month when Penny Sharpe MLC, NSW Shadow Minister for Environment and Heritage, and Orange Labor candidate, Bernard Fitzsimon, visited the caves with local community groups. A short video from this event can be found here.
The NSW Greens - Janelle Bicknell
1. The Greens oppose a new dam on the Belubula River. Dams are old technology and are not for the 21st Century. We need to look for alternatives such as recycling and storm water harvesting, as well as efficient irrigation.
2. This dam will impact on the Lachlan River System, and particularly the Belubula River. It is already strained as it is, building a dam will strain it even more. In terms of social issues, the dam will not be used for town water supply, nor agricultural purposes. The dam will be used for mining, particular the gold mines around the Central West area.
3. Yes I am. A new dam will effect downstream water users. Dams are old technology, they're expensive to build, expensive to maintain, and are not a 21st Century option. We need to look at other solutions.
4. The dams at both Needles Gap and Cranky Rock will have a significant impact on the Cliefden Caves. It will destroy fragile and unique ecosystems around the caves, as well as the thermal spring.
5. The dam will not be built for town water supply, but will be built for mining.
Scott Munro – Independent
1. I do agree with the construction of the new dam on the Belubula River.
2. No I do not believe the Lachlan River system will be detrimentally affected as it will be an efficient way of managing water flows. The dam will be a great asset to the region
3. Yes I am very concerned about the environment and the impacts we make on it, especially the Lachlan River system but at the same time there must be a balance between the needs of people and the management of our natural resources. Australia is a country of extreme droughts and floods; we need to ensure water security and productivity. We cannot ignore the fact that our towns must be sustained; too many small country towns are shrinking and a dam at Canowindra will have ongoing effects that will benefit the social and economic elements. Think of the tourist potential alone. If we do not build dams we have no future, that is certain. Think about Burrendong Dam at Wellington, not only would we have been flooded out last month, but it provides a social Mecca for locals and travellers, employment for locals and educational/recreational services for our young people.
4. If the Needles Gap plan goes ahead the Cliefden Caves will not be submerged but as to which plan is adopted, it is not my position to put forward which plan I would adopt until the studies are completed by environmental experts.
5. The main beneficiaries of this project will be the local communities who will see growth in fisheries, tourism, agriculture (dairies, valued added industries, packing of meat, vegetables, poultry etc.) The self- sustaining effects of these industries, as you know, extend into other sectors such as services, agribusiness and so on. In fact, I believe it will have a positive effect on townships especially at a time when other industries’ futures may seem restricted (mining, manufacturing). In regards to the cost and construction, it is a government infrastructure project and should be financed by the Crown.
Ian Donald – Independent
Philip Donato - Shooters, Fishers and Farmers
No response to questions.
Diane Ducker - Christian Democrats
No response to questions.
Kevin Duffy - Independent
No response to questions.
The NSW Coalition are the strongest advocates of a dam on the Belubula River and have named Cranky Rock as the preferred site, which would inundate many of the important caves and fossils, and have a detrimental impact on the Lachlan River System. Further, they have not ruled out the potentially more damaging Needles Gap dam site. As a result, we believe they have the worst policy on this issue.
NSW Labor's policy represents strong opposition to a dam that would impact Cliefden Caves. Their commitment to a heritage listing for Cliefden is welcome, and represents forward thinking on the issue.
The NSW Greens have had a consistently strong opposition to any dam and have been vocal supporters of the cause to save the caves.
We hope these questions and answers have provided some useful information to voters in the by election. We hope you consider the future of these unique caves when you make your decision.
PS. Thanks to your support we have been able to lobby candidates in the run up to this by-election, with a strong media presence on the issue, and clear commitments from various candidates, Ministers, and local community groups. It's clear that this fight will continue for a long while yet, and we will need to keep the pressure up after this by-election. Please consider a donation so we can continue the fight to save these amazing caves and river system!