THE National Irrigators’ Council has criticised the Federal Budget tabled last night for not providing funding to major water infrastructure projects still on the drawing board in New South Wales and Queensland.
“The Federal Budget listed over $872 million of savings from abandoned water infrastructure projects, while pausing an additional $19.1M earmarked for Wyangala Dam Wall Raising and the Hughenden Irrigation Scheme, NIC chief executive officer Isaac Jeffrey said.
“Water infrastructure is vital to ensure we drought-proof our water and food production systems, as best we can, to make sure we can grow produce to feed and clothe Australia and our trading partners, and keep the taps running for drinking water and hygiene.
“Water infrastructure also helps store and deliver water for the environment and keep the rivers
flowing in dry times.
“Cancelling these projects is short-sighted and risks our future food and water security.”
Mr Jeffrey said Budget notes say savings from these projects will be “redirected to fund other Government priorities”.
“It’s reasonable to ask what priorities could be more important that future-proofing our water and food security?”
“Ultimately, the Budget raises more questions than it answers for regional businesses and our
food and fibre producers. It was a missed opportunity to deliver real outcomes, increase
transparency and acknowledge the vital contribution our regions make to our economy,
trade and food security.”
NIC has welcomed the $197M commitment to National Water Grid Authority projects, but is sceptical of the need for $70.9M to increase resources of the authority, particularly with its seemingly reduced workload.
“That money should instead be funding real projects and delivering real results – not more bureaucrats.
“The Budget fails to shed any additional light on the secret funds allocated in October to water buybacks, which are rumoured to come with a multi billion-dollar price tag for the Budget and an even greater cost to jobs, businesses, food security, cost of living, our regions and trade.
“It is again reasonable to ask how much is allocated to buybacks and what alternate options the government is considering?
NIC’s Budget response does not acknowledge the $109M allocated in 2023-24 for construction of the $218M Northern Midlands Irrigation Scheme in Tasmania, which is expected to provide more than 25 gigalitres of high-surety irrigation water for agricultural production across more than 89,000ha.
The Budget also includes half the funding for the $124.2M Sassafras-Wesley Vale Irrigation Scheme Augmentation, also in Tasmania, which will provide more than 14GL of water annually to the existing scheme which services around 19,000ha of farmland.
NIC has speculated the $103M allocated to the Murray-Darling Basin Review would likely be spent on almost 100 new staff going to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
NIC has welcomed the renewed focus on science and urged the MDBA to ensure it considers the socio-economic science when evaluating the MDB Plan, as well as encouraging the authority to allocate sufficient resources to communications and genuine consultation.
NIC remains concerned at the inadequate funding allocated to regional roads, especially after the significant flooding events which left our roads in appalling and dangerous conditions.
“This concern extends to the 90-day review of the infrastructure pipeline which has paused or risks the completion of regional road and rail projects, which are vital to support regional communities, industry and trade.”
NIC has welcomed:
- $158M for low-emission and sustainable agriculture production transition;
- $76M for sustainable agriculture facilitators;
- $36 million for soil health;
- $38M for ABARES to monitor climate impacts;
- $8M for emergency shelter, water and power systems; and,
- $236M for the flood-gauge network.