Water Minister Penny Wong has today demonstrated contempt for the Senate and for open accountability in relation to intended water savings for the Murray-Darling Basin, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
Senator Wong used a Budget Estimates hearing last week to reveal that $1 billion in promised water infrastructure funding would be withheld while non-Labor Victorian Upper House MPs block a water allocation to the controversial Sugarloaf or ‘North-South’ Pipeline.
The Senate today endorsed a motion from Senator Birmingham that Senator Wong’s letter to her Victorian counterpart be laid on the table. Prior even to this vote being taken, duty Minister Joe Ludwig read a statement from Senator Wong indicating that this letter would not be produced.
“It is extraordinary that Senator Wong should have her colleague indicate defiance of the Senate’s will in relation to this letter, even before the Senate had voted that it be produced,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“That $1 billion in funding for much needed water infrastructure upgrades is at stake only makes Senator Wong’s defiance and secrecy worse.”
The Rudd Government committed $1 billion to Stage 2 of the Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project, which is planned to generate water savings to be shared between environmental flows and irrigators. Earlier, unrelated Stage 1 works were to generate water savings to service the pipeline to Melbourne.
“Senator Wong has previously gone to great lengths to insist that the Commonwealth is not funding Stage 1, and that it has nothing to do with Stage 1 other than to approve the pipeline under the terms of environment protection legislation,” Senator Birmingham said.
“It is inexplicable for her now to be making Stage 2 funding conditional on the actions of non-Labor MPs who happen to be opposed to unrelated Stage 1 water savings being piped to Melbourne.
“That she would do so through reference to a letter she will not make public is breathtakingly arrogant.
“The Victorian Labor Government has been obstructionist at every stage of the water reform process. Senator Wong should be insisting it deals with water entitlements from Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the project separately rather than colluding in its destructive game playing.
“Senator Wong and the Rudd Government have already invested far too slowly in water saving infrastructure upgrades that will actually return water to environmental flows.
“They must stop playing politics designed to hold the Murray-Darling to ransom.”