The Rudd Labor Government has attempted to avoid scrutiny in relation to the level of urgency being shown in addressing the health of the Lower Lakes, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
At Senate Budget Estimates, Senator Birmingham asked about the length of time being taken to start rolling out $10 million in funding for bioremediation and revegetation works in and around the Lower Lakes.
However, Water Minister Penny Wong preferred to avoid any answer being given and instead to divert attention away from the current elected Government and accountability for its spending on the issues it now faces.
Senator BIRMINGHAM-… about the $10 million for bioremediation works on the Lower Lakes: when do you expect agreement for that and when do you expect the money to start flowing-pardon the pun?
Mr Tony Slatyer (DEWHA)-We expect agreement to be reached in time that the money will start flowing in the next few weeks.
Senator BIRMINGHAM-It is certainly at least six weeks, probably longer than that now, since Di Bell and other community representatives were here in Canberra meeting with Senator Xenophon, me, Senator Siewert and, most importantly, the minister, saying it was critical that that money started flowing within a six-week period. I think that was the time frame. I would hazard a guess that it was more like eight or 10 weeks ago now. What seems to have been the delay since the-
Senator Wong-Senator, I would not, as a member of a government who did nothing on this have a go on a six-week time frame, seriously. As a member of a party at the moment-
Senator BIRMINGHAM-Come on-is that the best answer you can give?
Senator Wong-No, seriously, I just think-I do not mind you criticising things-
Senator BIRMINGHAM-Minister, it is five to 11 at night. Is that the best answer you can give?
                                    Senate Committee Hansard, 28 May 2009 
“It is extraordinary for a Water Minister from South Australia to try and avoid scrutiny on funding for the environment and the Lower Lakes in particular,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“Professor Di Bell and other local representatives travelled to Canberra in the week beginning 16 March to urge that this money start flowing into local remediation works within six weeks. It is now eleven weeks since Professor Bell’s visit and sixteen weeks since the Government announced this urgent funding.
“While Minister Wong’s performance in Estimates was simply astonishing, it is her failure to progress this funding so that works on the ground can begin that is the biggest problem. Having promised the money the Minister must urgently ensure it is made available to relevant local bodies where it can make a difference as soon as possible.”
Senator Birmingham is Deputy Chair of the Senate Environment, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee which questioned Minister Wong and departmental officials as part of Senate Budget Estimates.