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Vic water management in tatters: report -

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Vic water management in tatters: report

The World Today - Thursday, 10 April , 2008 12:28:00

Reporter: Jane Cowan

ASHLEY HALL: As it tried to carve out a deal on the Murray Darling Basin, Victoria was telling any
and everyone how well the state could manage its water.

But an auditor's report has criticised Victoria's future plans to manage the water crisis within
its own borders, through contentious projects including a desalination plant and a pipeline to pump
water from the country to the city.

Critics say the Victorian Government's water credentials are in tatters.

Jane Cowan reports.

JANE COWAN: Victoria held itself up as a model of water management when haggling over the Murray
Darling but those credentials have been dealt a blow at the hands of the state's financial
watchdog.

Peter Ryan is the leader of the Victorian Nationals.

PETER RYAN: Well, the report is a damning document. The Government really did not have a response
to Melbourne's water needs in particular.

JANE COWAN: The Auditor-General criticises the way the Victorian Government developed the two
projects that form the centrepiece of its $5-billion plan to supply water to Melbourne.

The Auditor says both a desalination plant at Wonthaggi on the South Gippsland coast and a pipeline
to pump water from the state's north were inadequately researched to assess the costs, risks and
benefits.

In one case, the Government relied on figures from a lobby group rather than independent costings.

Inadequate information was provided to the community and there wasn't enough documentation to
verify the water savings predicted to flow from the north-south pipeline project.

The Nationals' Peter Ryan says the Victorian Government's response to the water shortage has been a
combination of panic and ignorance.

PETER RYAN: It's fallen upon a couple of propositions which when you look at the Auditor-General's
findings, justifiably, will give rise to grave concerns in the minds of taxpayers.

JANE COWAN: Peter Ryan says the Auditor-General's report throws into question the stance Victoria
took has taken on national issues including the Murray Darling.

PETER RYAN: Well, there is no question that such is the case. We've had the Premier chortling this
week in Question Time about purported advantages that he was able to obtain out of the arrangements
which he recently struck with Mr Rudd.

Now in fact, we had those same arrangements. We the Nationals, had those same arrangements
confirmed to us by the then minister Malcolm Turnbull in correspondence of April 2007.

Is it any wonder that people look at this and just shake their heads.

JANE COWAN: But the Victorian Government, curiously, welcomes the report.

The Water Minister Tim Holding is choosing to draw out what positives he can.

TIM HOLDING: What his report says is firstly, the work that went into the white paper and then the
work that went into the central region sustainable water strategy which were the first two major
documents that the Government relied on to develop and articulate its water strategy were sound.

He then on goes to say, and if I can quote from the foreword, he says "the unprecedented low
inflows of 2006 required immediate and additional actions. To address this situation a $4.9-billion
infrastructure plan was quickly developed over a six month period. Given the speed of the response,
it is not surprising that the processes used to respond to this emergency, fell short of those used
to form the white paper and the central region strategies".

JANE COWAN: And there's no sign of Victoria changing its approach.

TIM HOLDING: That's the Government vision. We've put it out there. There will be controversy.
People will debate it and question us but nevertheless, we think we've got in place the best
possible framework.

JANE COWAN: Dr John Marsden is a water economist who's advised government up to the level of the
Prime Minister.

He says the Victorian Government definitely waited too long to respond to water shortages.

JOHN MARSDEN: I think there is no doubt that if you do things in a hurry, you will consult less
than if you do them in a relaxed way. So lack of consultation, yep, that's probably true.

Were the estimates adequately refined before the Government made its decision? Well, you can always
refine estimates and the Government had to make decisions because Melbourne was running out of
water and still is.

JANE COWAN: So the process might have been flawed but the outcome is still the right one?

JOHN MARSDEN: Given the timing situation, yes.

ASHLEY HALL: Water economist and consultant Dr John Marsden, ending Jane Cowan's report.