MP seeks urgent audit of water buybacks

MP seeks urgent audit of water buybacks

Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie and her Senate colleagues have signed their names to a cross-party letter calling on the Auditor-General to urgently investigate the $180 million spent on water buybacks under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The letter raises allegations of overpayments, poor water returns and improper procurement processes and urges the Auditor-General, Mr Grant Hehir, to audit the purchases to verify that they were within Government guidelines and that the taxpayer received value-for-money.

Besides Rebekha and Centre Alliance Senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff, other signatories to the letter were Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Australian Conservatives Senator Cory Bernardi from South Australia and Labor’s water and environment spokesman Tony Burke.

“We’ve spent billions of dollars on water buybacks and efficiencies and yet it’s still not clear whether the taxpayer and the environment have achieved value for money,” Rebekha said this week.

“This is why I and my colleagues recently called for the Australian National Audit Office to audit the Murray-Darling water buybacks, especially in light of allegations that the Government has significantly overpaid big irrigators for their excess water rights.”

It is alleged that recent buybacks of water rights from three large properties as part of the Murray-Darling basin plan proceeded without a proper tender process.

"Analysis and reports carried out by water experts on the buybacks allege that the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (which manages the purchase of water) significantly overpaid vendors," said Senator Rex Patrick.

"The money that was used to purchase this water was taxpayers’ money and therefore needs to be spent with value for money to be foremost in official’s minds. Where allegations are raised that this hasn’t happened, proper scrutiny of the spend is warranted."

It is alleged the Government paid more than twice the market price for water buybacks in the Warrego catchment, paying about $1,600 a megalitre versus payment of around $720 a megalitre for similar licences in the same region.

There are also questions surrounding the purchase of 29 gigalitres of water for $80 million in the Condamine-Balonne Valley.

The sellers wanted $2,200 per megalitre but the Government ended up paying $2,745 with allegations the purchased water had no legal status outside the farm gate.

And in June 2017 it was reported that the Government paid $78 million for “unreliable” water entitlements associated with the Tandou property near Broken Hill, more than twice the sum recommended by its own official valuation.