Water Minister defends the MDBP
WATER Minister David Littleproud has defended the Murray-Darling Basin Plan after a federal scheme to make irrigation more efficient was criticised for favouring cotton and almond farmers.
Under the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program, the federal government hands out grants for projects to recover water for the environment. The
ABC’s Four Corners program aired allegations earlier this week that the program had benefited major cotton and almond producers, despite being designed to benefit the river system.
The claims sparked a fierce backlash from farming and irrigation groups, along with Mr Littleproud. “The Coalition is proud to invest in water efficiency projects because they return water to the river system whilst protecting rural jobs and communities rather than decimating them as water buybacks do,” he said.
“It is unfortunate Four Corners did not mention this crucial fact.” The ABC reported billions of dollars flowed to corporate irrigators under the program, helping them to plant crops which required vast amounts of water. Mr Littleproud said the scheme helped farmers grow more with less water, through projects like replacing leaking drains with modern pipes.
“As trade-off, the farmer gives up some water entitlement which goes back to the river and is not available for purchase by irrigators again,” the
Nationals MP said. Labor water spokeswoman Terri Butler described the allegations as explosive, saying the government should explain the details of 72 payments worth more than $1 million each made under the program. National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson savaged the report, accusing the ABC of reckless and ill-informed reporting and vowing to lodge a formal complaint.
The Greens have demanded a freeze on money for Murray-Darling projects until the auditor-general can review payments and water recovery.