Money earmarked for returning water to the Murray-Darling Basin has started flowing towards an unrelated project offering no such benefit, Coalition Basin spokesman Simon Birmingham said today.
In response to questions from Senator Birmingham through Senate Estimates, the Gillard Government has confirmed it has begun handing over $20 million to the New South Wales Government for the Orange pipeline despite the collapse of the agreement under which it was committed.
The $20 million in federal funding was agreed as part of a July 2010 pre-election Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) principally about funding the re-engineering of the Menindee Lakes water storage in New South Wales.
“The Federal Department’s own website indicates the MOU has ceased to have effect, but the $20 million is still coming out of the $400 million that has long been earmarked to fix Menindee Lakes,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“The Menindee Lakes project has the potential to achieve 200 billion litres in water savings for both irrigators and the environment and has become a Labor broken election promise from both the 2007 and 2010 campaigns.
“Julia Gillard’s failure to make the Orange pipeline funding conditional on any Menindee progress means her 2010 broken promise has left her Government handing over taxpayer money that should be returning water to the Murray but isn’t.
“If this pipeline project was worth funding, then it was worth doing separately to any agreement on Menindee Lakes, let alone an agreement that has collapsed in all other aspects.
“This project might well be of great benefit to the people of Orange, but Julia Gillard should be red-faced at her deal-making that’s left Australian taxpayers footing a bill for far less than the intended value for money.”
 Answer to question 83 available at http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/ec_ctte/estimates/supp_1112/sewpac/program_4-1.pdf
 Clause 27 of the MOU available at http://www.environment.gov.au/water/policy-programs/srwui/menindee-lakes/pubs/menindee-lakes-mou.pdf
http://www.environment.gov.au/water/policy-programs/srwui/menindee-lakes/index.html, accessed19 January 2012