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Conroy, Sen Stephen
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL ANSWERS
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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Senator CONROY (Victoria—Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (15:23): Senator Xenophon asked me questions at question time about funding for water projects in the Riverland. I table additional information in response to the questions and seek leave for the additional information to be incorporated into Hansard.
The answer read as follows—
MINISTER FOR SUSTAINABILITY, ENVIRONMENT, WATER, POPULATION AND COMMUNITIES
Senate Question without Notice
On Wednesday, 20 March 2013 during question time, Senator Xenophon asked me a number of questions as Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities concerning the $265 million funding announcement to support irrigators in the Riverland.
Thank you, Mr President. My question is to Senator Conroy, representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. On 28 October 2012, Minister Burke, in a media release titled 'Gillard government supports the Riverland', announced $265 million in funding for water projects and industry support for the Riverland in South Australia: $180 million for the Water Industry Alliance, and $85 million for research, regional development, and industry redevelopment. During Senate estimates on 12 February this year the first assistant secretary of the department, Mary Harwood, said the South Australian government was 'still developing the business case'. Ms Harwood was referring to the $180 million fund. Can the minister advise when a draft business plan from the South Australian government was submitted, when was feedback provided by the Commonwealth, and when are these desperately needed funds expected to flow to the Riverland?
The Commonwealth has committed $1.2 million to the South Australian Government to undertake a feasibility study and to develop a business case for the River Murray Improvements Program. In accordance with this agreement, South Australia was required to submit by 21 December 2012 a draft business case that met milestone requirements specified in the business case funding agreement.
On 21 December 2012 the Commonwealth received for discussion purposes part of what was described by South Australian officials as a "preliminary draft" business case for the $180 million River Murray Improvement Program (RMIP), with further material provided by South Australia on 10 and 17 January 2013. Further detail was sought from South Australia. Discussions on requirements continued between SA and Commonwealth officials during January and February 2013. South Australia submitted a partial draft business case to the Commonwealth on 28 February 2013, with other material being provided on 1 March 2013. The Commonwealth provided South Australia with feedback on the draft business case on 14 March 2013, South Australia is continuing to develop the business case. These are significant projects that need a large amount of detail and clear governance arrangements. Negotiation on such projects can take some time.
Once a final business case is submitted for the RMIP, Commonwealth due diligence assessment will be conducted. Following due diligence assessment a recommendation will be provided to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, including on any conditions required for the program to proceed, if approved.
If approved, a funding agreement will be put in place with the South Australian Government, including any necessary conditions, governance, implementation, monitoring and reporting arrangements for the final program.
Subsequently, the South Australian program managers will receive and assess applications for funding under the program.
I ask a supplementary question. The Commonwealth response, in Senate Estimates, seems to imply that the South Australian government has failed to promptly act in relation to the funding. Is it not the case that the draft business plan was provided by the South Australian government over two months ago, and has still not been finalised in conjunction with the Commonwealth?
See response above.
I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister make an unequivocal, urgent undertaking that these funds, namely $265 million, as promised by Minister Burke, will be spent on the Riverland community—and, if so, when?
The $265 million commitment has two components, the $180 million RMIP and $85 million for a separate SA Industry Futures Program. The scope and content of the latter initiative is still being developed by South Australia. Funding for these programs will flow as and when the programs pass due diligence, are approved for funding and the required funding agreements are put in place.