My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, and I am pleased to see that she is here in the house.
I wish to address recommendation 9 of the Senate inquiry into the impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin plan and to call on the minister to confirm that the Victorian government will not participate in or appoint a judicial inquiry into the operation of the Goulburn-Murray Water Connections Project.
My electorate is represented by irrigated agriculture. It supports one-third of Victoria’s dairy production and milk processing factories that value-add to the product. Irrigation also supports our production of a significant part of the state’s stone fruit and is also well known for its productive agriculture.
The Senate inquiry into the impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin plan is the latest in a line of reports, reviews and recommendations in relation to the connections project. Firstly, there was the Ombudsman report of 2011 investigating the food bowl project, the largest irrigation modernisation scheme in this country, which was undertaken by the Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project.
While the Ombudsman’s report found that the project was on budget and on time it found that there were a number of concerns, particularly around governance. One of its recommendations was that it be subsumed into Goulburn-Murray Water. This process inevitably led to delays as the Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project was merged into an already existing large bureaucratic organisation.
The Victorian government undertook a midterm review of the project last November. There is some $800 million left in federal funding to complete the connections project. The midterm review last November made it clear that continuing the project without change would involve significant budget and time overruns and would not produce the desired outcomes. Armed with the advice from the midterm review that the ‘do-nothing’ option was a road to nowhere, the Victorian government put in place changes to the project and is currently negotiating a reset of the contractual obligations with the federal government.
I attended a meeting in Echuca where the water minister announced changes to the project, including the appointment of a project control group and a stakeholder consultative committee to take over the project. Most of the complaints that were heard at that meeting and that I have heard throughout my time as a member are about the delays in the delivery of the project. People are concerned about the project being completed on time.
While there might have been useful recommendations in the Senate’s report, I was very disappointed to see that one recommendation was for a judicial inquiry — and potentially an audit — into the operation of Goulburn-Murray Water’s connections project. Irrigators in my electorate are already in report overload, and this is the final straw. They want action on their farms, in their paddocks and on their channels, not on paper.