Dry argument if the water doesn’t come through 

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Googong Dam… located on a NSW waterway and holds water that falls in NSW, but it is owned by the Commonwealth.

“It is simply not credible that the ACT government would have entered into a contract to build 5500 houses in NSW before having ensured a secure supply of water to those houses,” writes columnist JON STANHOPE 

A PROPOSAL to expand the village of Sutton to Canberra’s immediate north by 64 dwellings or about 200 people has prompted the obvious question: “Where will they get their water?”

Jon Stanhope.

I had the same thought when I read just a few weeks ago about plans to triple the size of Bungendore. The 2016 census reports that Bungendore has a population of 4100 so the planned increase would take its population to more than 12,000. 

Both Sutton and Bungendore currently rely on a combination of ground water and rain tanks. However, one can assume that population increases of the order proposed for Sutton and Bungendore would severely test the limits of those sources of water.

But the question is moot and increasingly urgent in light of the ACT government’s land supply and planning policies that have rendered housing in Canberra less and less affordable for working-class and lower-income households, and is causing an acceleration in the number of people from Canberra looking in NSW, across the border, for an affordable house. 

However, it may be that the question of where the water could come from has already been answered and it is just that the ACT government is yet to take us into its confidence. 

As we all know, the ACT government has formalised plans to build 5500 houses on land in NSW as part of the Ginninderry housing development. The first of 6500 dwellings in the overall Ginninderry development, which will when completed comprise a total of 12,000 dwellings and a population of more than 30,000 people, are currently under construction on the ACT side of the border. 

A considered estimate of the value of the Ginninderry development to the ACT government is well in excess of $1 billion, assuming the NSW component proceeds.

Therefore, the ACT government has, through the 60/40 joint venture arrangements which it entered into for both halves of the Ginninderry venture, a huge investment at stake that can only be fully realised if it receives NSW government planning approval for the 5500 houses proposed to be built in NSW.

It would be remarkable, in light of the extent of the ACT government’s exposure, if it had not, before formally entering into the Ginninderry joint-venture agreement, resolved the question of where the water for the 5500 dwellings in NSW and related municipal infrastructure such as schools, police stations, emergency services, medical centres, shopping malls etcetera is to be sourced. 

The obvious answer is that it would come from the same source as the water for existing dwellings in the ACT, namely our dams, including most pertinently, the Googong Dam.

The relevance of the Googong Dam is not only that it is located in NSW, is situated on a NSW waterway and holds water that falls in NSW but that it is owned by the Commonwealth. 

My understanding is that Commonwealth approval would be required before water from the Googong Dam could be supplied to the cross-border Ginninderry development.

As I have suggested above it is simply not credible that the ACT government would have entered into a contract to build 5500 houses in NSW before having ensured a secure supply of water to those houses. Albeit a little surprising that the ACT entered into that contract before securing planning approval from the NSW government for the development to proceed.

The point I am making is that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Imagine if you were, say, the mayor of Palerang or Yass shires and your constituents were looking to expand the number of dwellings in, say, Sutton or Bungendore or Murrumbateman but didn’t have a secure water supply. 

That the Commonwealth had agreed that the ACT government could access water for 5500 houses that it planned to build in the Yass Shire from a dam the Commonwealth owned and controlled, and which was located in the Palerang or Yass shires, surely you would expect equal treatment for housing that your constituents, local residents and citizens of NSW (otherwise known as voters) were also planning to build in the Yass and Palerang Shires.

The politics here are pretty straightforward. The Premier of NSW leads a Liberal/National Party government as does the Prime Minister (the dam owner). The local member of the State Parliament, John Barilaro, is the Deputy Premier of NSW and leader of the state’s National Party. The local member of the Federal seat, Mike Kelly, representing the ALP, has one of the narrowest electoral margins in Australia. If I was Mike I would volunteer to join John Barilaro on a working bee to personally lay a pipe from Googong Dam to Bungendore.

Can you really imagine any one of these politicians standing up to defend a decision to grant water from a Commonwealth dam to the ACT government for 5500 houses it wants to build in NSW while denying water from the same dam to residents of NSW who wanted to build 64 houses at Sutton?

I will, in any event, be surprised if the Premier of NSW does not make it a condition of the planning approval for the 5500 houses that the ACT government is hoping to build in the Yass shire that in addition to Bungendore and Sutton being supplied with water from Googong that the ACT agrees to link Murrumbateman and Yass to the ACT water system. If I were her, I would.


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Jon Stanhope
Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only Chief Minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.


  1. Tell me Jon – do you actually have any evidence that residential land supply in the ACT is being restricted? Last time I checked, there were more than 400 blocks of land for detached dwellings available for sale over the counter from the Suburban Land Agency. That number has remained largely unchanged over the past 8 months. If there really was a conspiracy to force Canberrans into attached and semi-detached dwellings, surely these blocks would be snatched up at the first available opportunity, rather than being left to languish on the shelf for months on end?

  2. I was actually at a planning and development meeting a few months back and I questioned both Mick Gentleman and Shane Rattenbury how they propose to ensure both the supply and the sustainability of the local water supply… If I recall correctly the response i received was “it is not our responsibility” and “it is something that we don’t need to plan for” … i suspect that despite the increase in storage capacity that population growth in excess of predictions and a couple of seasons of below average rainfall may see them scratching their heads as we return to 30% dam capacity, high evap rates and unprecedented demand. One would anticipate some reasonable strategies to manage the demand of the population as well as environmental flows but they showed complete disinterest in this only vaguely important resource…..alas.

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