Wa­ter Min­is­ter de­fends the MDBP

The Western Star - - Rural Weekly -

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.

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