Water Minister Penny Wong is playing politics over water management by using $1 billion in promised water infrastructure funding to help the Victorian Brumby Government get its way, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
Senator Wong this week used a Budget Estimates hearing to reveal she has written to her Victorian counterpart advising the money can’t be committed while non-Labor Upper House MPs block a water allocation to the controversial Sugarloaf or ‘North-South’ Pipeline.
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.
“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.
“Having promised to end the so-called ‘blame game’, it is extraordinary for the Rudd Government to be using promised water infrastructure funding to meddle in a Victorian issue because the Brumby Government can’t otherwise get support for its bad policies.
“The Victorian Labor Government has been obstructionist at every stage of the water reform process. Senator Wong should be insisting they deal with water entitlements from Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the project separately rather than colluding in their 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 not now use politics to hold the Murray-Darling to ransom.”