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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5189

Senator BIRMINGHAM (2:24 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. Is it true that under the government’s much vaunted Water for the Future program not one cent has been spent on on-farm infrastructure and irrigation projects in the past 12 months?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I thank the senator for the question. We certainly have a significant amount of money committed, including through the state priority projects in the $5.8 billion program, which is a range of programs investing in infrastructure, in irrigation efficiencies and so forth. I may have to take on notice the precise amount actually spent to date. I had previously provided—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator WONG —I was going to say that I had previously provided it to a Senate estimates hearing and I am happy to see if I can get advice on expenditure to date. For example, I do know that in the good senator’s home state of South Australia, as part of our $330 million investment in the Lower Lakes area, we have funded a pipeline for irrigators. I do not know why Senator Fisher is shaking her head quite so vehemently—we have. We certainly have also funded on-farm planning projects. That is in order to enable farmers to plan better for irrigation efficiencies. I would have to take on notice the precise details of expenditure to date so that I can give the good senator an accurate indication of the progress of that program.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Firstly, will the minister confirm that nothing has changed since I received an answer to her question on notice yesterday indicating that not one cent has been spent under the Water for the Future program in the last 12 months? Further, does the minister believe that to maintain food production while also reducing water use there must be increased investment in irrigation efficiencies? Why is the government refusing to invest in on-farm water infrastructure?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I invite the senator to consider the Hansard. I think his allegation was not what had been spent out of the Water for the Future package. That is self evidently not true. I will come back to the senator on the project status, as at today’s date, in relation to the totality of the $5.8 billion program. It is a very large program. It contains both off- and on-farm; it contains state priority projects, where obviously the Commonwealth is working with the states to implement these. As I have indicated to the senator previously, I will come back to him with the detail.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Does the minister agree that the government’s approach of all buybacks and no infrastructure spending is placing at risk Australia’s food security, jeopardising the future of regional towns and the opportunity to save even more water for our rivers and waterways?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —The government has a strategy that is both about purchase and investment. I invite the senator to remember that his party, when in government, supported buybacks. Mr Turnbull did not actually manage to get around to purchasing any water, but certainly their policy was to support buybacks. In fact, my recollection is that Mr Briggs, from the other place, has said, ‘We need to get the buybacks happening more quickly, buybacks that actually deliver water.’ Yet again we have the Liberal Party divided on this issue, depending where they are and depending who they are talking to. They will say one thing to communities down in South Australia and will say another thing upstream. We are about reform. This will take time because we were bequeathed a mess by you. (Time expired)