THE ordering of pipes for for Victoria's controversial north-south pipeline was given the go-ahead more than a month before the State Government decided against a full environmental study of the project.
Internal Melbourne Water documents show approval for the pipes was given on November 12, 2007, six weeks before Victorian Planning Minister Justin Madden rejected an environmental effects statement for the 70-kilometre pipeline.
The Opposition, which obtained the documents under freedom of information, said it showed government approval of the project was a formality.
Melbourne Water board meeting minutes state that on November 12, 2007, "subject to approval from the Department of Treasury and Finance, the board approved the ordering of pipe for the Sugarloaf (or north-south) pipeline".
An application was made by the project managers for an environmental statement to be considered by Mr Madden a week later.
On December 28, Mr Madden announced the environmental inquiry would not be held as the pipeline was similar to other water projects.
He ordered an impact assessment report and the pipeline, which will carry water to Melbourne saved by irrigation upgrades, was given formal Federal Government approval in September 2008.
Coalition country water spokesman Peter Walsh accused the State Government of ignoring scrutiny and due process. "Consultation was just a charade," he said.
"Clearly, Melbourne Water knew the Government never had any intention of carrying out an EES, otherwise it wouldn't have gone ahead and placed the order."
But Mr Madden's office said the north-south pipeline was subject to the most comprehensive environmental approval process of any pipeline in the state's history.
"Due process was followed by the Independent Advisory Committee, who considered a number of expert reports and over 100 submissions to the project, before providing recommendations to the Minister for Planning," spokeswoman Sofia Dedes said.
Melbourne Water project director Rod Clifford said manufacturing the pipes required a long lead time.
"They were ordered on the proviso that production would cease if the project wasn't approved and any pipes manufactured to that point would be sold," he said.
The controversy comes as Vic Water Minister Tim Holding defended the Government's forecasts on the amount of water saved by the project, after a new report predicted dramatically less water than was expected over the next four years.
Mr Holding said the Government maintained that an average of 75 billion litres of water would flow to Melbourne when the project was completed in 2013-14.
He said claims it would be a "low-flow" pipeline were not true.
"We always said that the savings, as they became available, would be shared one-third, one-third, one-third — to the environment, water (Melbourne) and irrigators."
He said the pipeline was ahead of schedule, with 10 gigalitres to be available in the first half of next year.
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