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Where's the probity?: Why can they get away with it?

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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs Federal Liberal Member for Murray

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Where’s the probity? Why can they get away with it?

The Victorian Labor Government has contracted out key evaluations for the business case for upgrading the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation System, leaving construction firms who are expected to vie for future the project work, to determine whether it’s worth doing the work or not.

The federal funding of the so-called Stage Two of the Foodbowl Modernisation was contingent on a ‘due diligence’ study, which you would normally expect to be carried out by an independent government department, according to Dr Sharman Stone, Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage, the Arts and Indigenous Affairs and Federal Member for Murray.

“When the Brumby Labor Government finally signed on to the Murray Darling Basin National Water Security Plan, they were allocated $1 billion for Stage Two of the Foodbowl Modernisation Scheme, contingent on a due diligence study.

“In an extraordinary move, the Victorian Government has asked the potential contractors to prepare the project evaluation. Some of these contractors are already working on Stage One of the project, which includes the construction of the controversial North South Pipeline.

“This study into Stage Two needs to determine the water savings for the project, which works will be carried out and whether or not the project represents best value for money for the taxpayer. The potential project contractors should not be allowed anywhere near the preparation of the case arguing for best value.

Dr Stone said the Victorian Government’s decision to allow the big engineering companies to basically design their own future project was made behind closed doors. Such a move must call the independence of the report into question.

“Taxpayers need to know the Victorian Government now has quite a history of compromising proper process in relation to water planning in the state. The North South Pipeline, for example, has been set in motion by the Brumby Government without social, economic or comprehensive environmental evaluation. No due diligence was undertaken at all. The recent Auditor General’s report into the state’s water plan slammed this poor practice.

“Already, millions of dollars worth of pipes have been purchased without tender and lie waiting for connection before the Federal Government’s EPBC Act scrutiny has been completed. Landowners along the pipeline route are being pressured to open their properties to pre-construction activity.

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“Taxpayers must be concerned that these projects are not being subjected to proper scrutiny, transparency and evaluation. The Foodbowl Modernisation Stage Two project is critical for the future viability of northern Victoria’s food production and the sustainability of the Murray Darling Basin. Already there are concerns that Stage One is being rushed with shody work and lack of proper planning.

“A proper due diligence study must consider all aspects of the Foodbowl Modernisation plan including the diversion of water via a pipeline out of the Murray Darling Basin. Best value for money considerations must include an evaluation of the alternatives for drought proofing Melbourne and Geelong. These quite clearly include recycling and stormwater harvesting.

“Mr Brumby seems hell-bent on pressing ahead without the usual safeguards. It is therefore incumbent upon Federal Water Minister Penny Wong to step in and insist on best practice.