No support for inquiry

By Country News

A Senate committee wants a judicial inquiry into the troubled Goulburn-Murray Water Connections project but there is not much appetite for another investigation.

The standing committee handed down its report into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and, responding to submissions delivered at Echuca and Shepparton, said the Federal Government should work with Victoria to have an inquiry and conduct an audit.

The VFF wants to see how the new ‘re-set’ version works before another inquiry and the Victorian Government is also reluctant to see another inquiry.

The Connections project is upgrading and modernising northern Victoria’s irrigation network, but it has come under increasing irrigator criticism for failing to deliver what has been promised.

A mid-term report released last year found the project was in danger of not meeting the mid-2018 deadline for completion.

The Senate committee noted:

‘‘... the significant dollar value of the project, and the need for accountability and greater transparency including value for money in the expenditure of public funds. The committee also acknowledges the concerns raised by submitters and witnesses regarding the Goulburn-Murray Water Connections project.

‘‘Many of these concerns have now been substantiated by the conclusions of the Mid-Term Review of the Connections project.

‘‘Improved clarity and certainty around the project would address these concerns, particularly those regarding consultation and transparency,’’ the committee found.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said she did not believe a judicial inquiry would be in the interests of the irrigation community.

‘‘We understand there was some issues identified in the program, but the community have strongly told us they do not want the project stopped,’’ Ms Neville said.

‘‘That’s why only two weeks ago I announced a major change in the delivery model to ensure it delivers the benefits to the agriculture community and enables us to meet the Murray-Darling Basin agreement.

‘‘Any delays to the project would be detrimental to securing the future of this region.’’

VFF Water Council chairman Richard Anderson said he didn’t think Connections needed another inquiry now.

‘‘We need to give them a chance to reset,’’ Mr Anderson said.

‘‘It could be another unnecessary obstacle at this point in time. Let’s see how the re-set goes first.

‘‘We don’t have a year to waste.’’

Mr Anderson could also see no point in another audit.

‘‘What’s wrong with the audits already done?’’

G-MW declined to comment on the Senate recommendation.

The Senate committee wants the Productivity Commission to investigate the value of foregone production and food processing due to reduced irrigation water under the basin plan.

The Senate committee also raised questions over South Australia’s management of the lower lakes and its effect on the water required to maintain the lakes as fresh water basins.

‘‘The committee recommends the government evaluate the effect on irrigators and the environment of the South Australian Government purchasing irrigation water on the water market while declining to use its desalination plant.’’

■More on page 8.