Senator Simon Birmingham today expressed astonishment at revelations the Rudd Government has not spent a cent on on-farm irrigation projects in the past 12 months.
“It is appalling to think that while irrigators and others cry for immediate assistance for a desperate Murray-Darling Basin, the Rudd Government has been sitting on its hands in relation to infrastructure spending,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“Irrigators and other primary producers are ready to make billions of litres in savings and share the resulting additional water with the environment, but are simply not getting the support they need to do so.
“The Coalition has for many months been calling on the Rudd Government to fast-track the re-plumbing of leaky and inefficient infrastructure as a matter of urgency.
“I’m frankly gobsmacked to discover that not only has the Government not fast tracked spending, but has actually spent nothing at all in the past 12 months on on-farm irrigation projects.”
While Water Minister Penny Wong in Question Time today avoided giving a direct answer on the lack of spending,  the zero spend for on-farm irrigation projects was revealed in an answer (attached) provided late yesterday to a Budget Estimates question on notice.
“If we are to maintain food production, while also reduce water use, there must be increased investment in irrigation efficiencies,” Senator Birmingham said.
“It is therefore ludicrous for the Rudd Government to refuse to spend in this area, a refusal that places at risk Australia’s food security, jeopardises the future of regional towns and diminishes opportunities to save water.
“This is a shameful embarrassment for Water Minister Penny Wong and a Government that clearly doesn’t take seriously the crisis facing the Murray-Darling Basin.”
Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and The Arts
Legislation Committee
Answers to questions on notice
Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts portfolio
Budget Estimates, May 2009
Question No:
Water Efficiency Division
On-Farm Irrigation
Hansard Page ECA:
Written Question on Notice
Senator BIRMINGHAM asked:
  1. How much has the Government spent on on-farm irrigation projects in the past 12 months?
  2. How much is allocated to be spent, and what are the targeted water savings for the next 12 months and for each year of the forward estimates? Please details project commitments where possible.
  3. How have these figures varied as a result of any agreements between the Government and Senator Xenophon?
1.      Under ‘Water for the Future’ Programs, no funding has been spent on on-farm irrigation projects in the past 12 months.
2.      Funding under the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency (Pilot Projects) Program is $5.6m for the period of 2009/10 to 2010/11. Water savings to be transferred to the Australian Government under the Pilot Projects Program are approximately 2000 ML. 
Under the new On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program, funding is $300m for the period 2009/10 to 2012/13.
The level of water savings under the program will depend on the nature and location of the specific proposals put forward and accepted for funding.
  1. These figures have not varied as a result of any agreement between the Government and Senator Xenophon.