The Auditor-General should investigate the provision of hundreds of millions of dollars in Commonwealth grants for a mothballed desalination plant, Coalition Murray-Darling Basin spokesman Simon Birmingham said today.
Senator Birmingham’s letter* to Auditor-General Ian McPhee follows the decision last week to place the $1.8 billion Adelaide Desalination Plant ‘in standby mode’ until at least June 2016.
In total, the Commonwealth provided $328 million including $228 million as part of a never explained decision to double the Plant’s capacity to 100 gigalitres.
The Australian Government will commit a further $228 million to the Adelaide Desalination Plant if capacity is expanded from 50 gigalitres (GL) to 100 GL per year, reducing South Australia’s reliance on the Murray River.
This funding will be in addition to $100 million that has already been committed for the 50 GL plant – bringing the total Australian Government commitment to up to $328 million if the plant is expanded to 100 GL.
Penny Wong, then Minister for Climate Change and Water, media release, 12 May 2009
“Despite extensive questioning through Senate estimates, the Commonwealth Government has never been able to confirm how the request for the increased grant was made, how the decision to provide the grant was taken or what assessment of the merits of the grant was undertaken,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“Not only has this Labor Government now provided $328 million of taxpayers’ money to a plant that won’t be used, but promises of reducing draw from the River Murray have amounted to nothing.
“Taxpayers have been forced to pay for a white elephant that delivers nothing to improve meaningfully the health of the River Murray.
“The mismanagement and waste inherent in the provision of these millions of dollars bears close resemblance to other recent debacles such as the Pink Batts scheme or school halls program.
“Given the Labor Government’s refusal to do so, only the Auditor-General will be able to shed light on the full story behind this multi-million dollar waste of taxpayers’ money.”
*see below