Opposition leader Matthew Guy said the coalition would sell Victoria’s 29 per cent share in Snowy Hydro to the Commonwealth and use the money to upgrade 55 of Melbourne’s most congested intersections.
The decision met with criticism from Victorian irrigators, who said they’d be pressing for some of the sale price – estimated to be up to $1.8billion – to go back to the bush.
But opposition Water spokeswoman Nationals Euroa MP Steph Ryan denied country Victoria was being short changed.
“This is the first announcement of many we will make,” Ms Ryan said.
“There will be significant investment that we will make in rural and regional Victoria, this is one announcement and only the first announcement.
“People should hold their judgement, until they see our full suite of policies – I don’t think people should be jumping to conclusions on this one announcement,” she said.
Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) Water council chairman Richard Anderson said there were still “a lot of unanswered questions” over the plan.
He said water from the Snowy system was available to Victorian irrigators, during drought, although it had to be paid back.
“You just want to make sure you get the right checks and balances in place, to give you some protection,” he said.
Irrigators would be looking for a better return than from the sale of the Port of Melbourne (PoM) lease.
“We didn’t do too well out of the port sale, when you think about it, so we would be going hard to make sure we get a few other ticks out of it, in the water space,” he said.
“We would want a bigger cut of the pie.
“Without putting a dollar value on it, there are a lot of smaller projects that should be able to be funded.”
Australian Dairy Farmers’ Murray-Darling Basin Task Force chair Daryl Hoey said Snowy Hydro did provide water for Victorian irrigators.
“If it was sold, or privatised, do we have any control over when that water is released? “ Mr Hoey said.
“There’s water in there, which is ours to use, at any time.”
Mr Hoey said ensuring irrigators were not disadvantaged by any sale was paramount and he was struggling to see any upside in the sale.
“We have seen rural and regional Australia has been burned by privatisation of electricity, the Telcos, the Port Of Melbourne,” Mr Hoey said.
‘We have never seen the benefits come back to regional and rural Australia.”
“History has told us we have never come out better in these deals, why would we come out better this time?”
He said irrigators would look at supporting the sale, if there was a “100 per cent guarantee” the money was spent on infrastructure upgrades and modernisation of irrigation districts.
“Anything short of that, I don’t see what the benefit is for irrigators.”
Ms Ryan denied the National Party had been caught unawares by the announcement, as the sale was coalition policy.
She said the Commonwealth government had already indicated it wanted to buy the state’s share in the scheme, so it could advance its plans for its Snowy Hydro 2.0 electricity generation project.
“This doesn’t change the public ownership of Snowy Hydro,” Ms Ryan said.
The State government had also said it was looking at selling Victoria’s share.
‘This is not a new thing at all, we will have significant announcements in the lead up to next year’s election.
“Victorian irrigators are facing real issues with increases in power prices, not just in the diary industry, but in places like the Sunraysia district.
“I think irrigators want to see energy certainty and security and the Snowy 2.0 project is one way of doing that,” Ms Ryan said.
“In order for that to progress, Victoria needs to sell its share to the Commonwealth.”
Water Minister Lisa Neville said the opposition should explain how they could justify selling the Snowy Hydro scheme to pay for their ill-considered projects in Melbourne, without considering the water rights and entitlements that were so vital for regional communities.
"The Nationals remain silent when it comes to protecting the water interests and entitlements of regional Victorians,” Ms Neville said.
"We will work with Victoria communities to ensure water rights are protected to ensure any proceeds best support communities across the state."