THE Coalition has watered down claims it has slashed water infrastructure funding by half, with Senator Simon Birmingham saying Shadow Water Minister Mark Butler got it “completely wrong”.
Senator Birmingham, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin, said the actual reduction reflected in the government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) was less than half a per cent of total expenditure, not the 50pc as claimed by Mr Butler.
Mr Butler said earlier this week funding for infrastructure projects in the Murray-Darling Basin had been “slashed” and 21 environmental bodies had been “junked” by the incumbents.
“The government’s mini-Budget reveals a $9.8 million cut to the Murray-Darling Basin Joint Program, designed to assist a river system already under severe strain,” he claimed.
However Senator Birmingham retorted: “The fact is $2.3 billion is being spent over the next four years on infrastructure works in the Murray-Darling Basin”, and queried Mr Butler’s command of the facts.
“If Mr Butler can’t get the basics right and understand the difference between the multi-million dollar joint management arrangements in the Murray and the multi-billion dollar Basin Plan reforms, how can anybody have faith that he could ever hope to run the river system?” he said.
The Australian Conservation Foundation recently reported the Abbott government’s cap on water buybacks was undermining the health of the Murray-Darling, and would drive up water costs and reduce the availability of environmental water.
“Tony Abbott has previously slashed funding for Landcare and Caring for our Country projects that were assisting in returning health to the Murray-Darling system,” Mr Butler said.
“It seems he won’t be happy until he has destroyed every environmental program in the nation.”
After abolishing water as a portfolio post-election, this March the Coalition announced a new ministerial working group to investigate water infrastructure projects which could supply Australia’s future water needs.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the Water Infrastructure Ministerial Working Group had identified around 30 projects which should be a priority to progress, from 63 projects submitted by the States and Territories.
Meanwhile, the National Water Commission (NWC) will be wrapped up at the end of the year due to funding cuts under the 2014 federal budget.
During the past 10 years Australia’s water management has been focused by the National Water Initiative and overseen by the NWC, seeing many towns and regions through the devastating millennium drought.
The Productivity Commission, Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences and the Department of Environment will now assume the NWC’s tasks of scrutinising water reforms.