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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5408


Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) (3:01 PM) —Yesterday, Senator Birmingham asked a question of me. I seek leave to table some additional information in response to that question.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

Question Without Notice (Sen Birmingham) —On Farm Water Efficiency Expenditure

Yesterday Senator Birmingham raised a number of matters regarding on-farm irrigation efficiency expenditure over the last 12 months to which I said I would respond.

A key component of the Australian Government’s $12.9 billion Water for the Future initiative is our plan to reform the Basin by taking action on over-allocation, declining river health and the emerging impacts of climate change.

Our plan to help Basin communities meet these challenges has three main elements: extensive investment in more efficient irrigation systems; purchasing water from willing sellers to return to our rivers and wetlands; and a new Basin Plan that will set new scientifically-based, sustainable limits on water use.

Investment in irrigation efficiency is being delivered through the 10 year, $5.8 billion Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program.

In a little over 18 Months, the Rudd Government has invested in a range of projects under this program, including $98 million of the Government’s $99 million commitment towards the Wimmera Mallee pipeline in Victoria, $2.1 million towards the $400 million Menindee Lakes project, and $28.4 million of the Government’s $120 million commitment towards water supply pipelines to South Australia’s Lower Lakes communities.

As part of last year’s Intergovernmental Agreement on Basin reform, the Australian Government committed $3.7 billion to Murray-Darling Basin States for priority projects, primarily directed to modernising irrigation delivery infrastructure and on-farm water use efficiency.

Some of these state priority projects include specific on-farm efficiency components, including $300 million for NSW on-farm water efficiency projects, and $115 million for Queensland on-farm efficiency projects.

As part of the NSW State Priority Project, applications opened in June this year under the $650 million NSW Private Irrigation Infrastructure Operators program. Proponents are able to include an on-farm irrigation efficiency component in their project proposals.

Given the scale and scope of all Basin state priority infrastructure projects, good planning is an essential pre-requisite and this takes time.

That’s why the Australian Government has already spent more than $4.25 million to date on both irrigation Hot Spot assessments and irrigation Modernisation Planning grants. These grants are intended to assist in the development of plans to upgrade regional irrigation systems.

Overall I am keen see further progress on Basin State Priority irrigation project proposals. The Government stands ready to invest as soon as project business cases have been submitted and subjected to due diligence assessment.

Following-on from my announcement last year of the Australian Government’s On-farm Pilot program, I approved $5.6 million in funding for three successful projects earlier this year.

The Lachlan Catchment Management Authority and Border Rivers-Gwydir Catchment Management Authority have signed funding agreements for two of these projects, and work is now proceeding. The first payments for these projects will be made shortly.

A funding agreement for the third project, developed by Murray Irrigation Limited, is expected to be signed soon.

Importantly, the development of these projects has paved the way for the $300 million On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program which I announced in May as part of the 2009-10 Budget.

Running over four years, this $300M program is focused on the Lachlan and southern connected system of the Murray-Darling Basin.

After a period of close consultation with irrigation stakeholders over June and July of this year, I expect to be able to open the first funding round soon.