Scepticism over Connections reset

Reset meets with scepticism

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Concerns remain about the Goulburn-Murray Water Connections project

Northern Victorian irrigators have reacted with scepticism  to the latest reset of the troubled $2billion Goulburn-Murray Water (G-MW) Connections irrigation program, saying there wasn’t enough money to finish it.

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Loddon Valley irrigator Ken Pattison described as “rubbish”, claims by Water Minister Lisa Neville there was enough money left to finish the project.

“I don’t think there is a shortfall, the Project Control Group have advised me the issue is more about time and we will probably need an extension of time,” Ms Neville said.

It was now likely the project would be finished in 2020, two years later than originally planned.

 “We think we are able to deliver this, within the budget,” Ms Neville said. 

‘There is absolutely no cash shortfall, this money is sitting in the department, some of this will be made available now, there is $47million winter works, new meters and new channels - the money is absolutely there.”

Last week, Ms Neville announced $388 million of uncommitted funding was left to finish the project.

Mr Pattison, Fernihurst, said many irrigators believed that was not enough and they were still seeking a true figure on what was required to finish the project. 

“The rest is already allocated in contracts they will have to honor,” Mr Pattison said.

“They are talking about a hybridised system – it’s not hybridised, it’s a bastardised system. “Hundreds and hundreds of people will find themselves with nothing happening and that’s going to be a terrible disappointment. Do you build half a railway line, or half a bridge, or freeway ?”

He said it was time to return the project to local control, while listening to the expertise of the water distribution officers, who knew how the system worked.

“We are sick to death of them coming out and say the light’s coming over the hill, and it never does; it’s not going to, because the money is not there,” Mr Pattison said.

“If their project hasn’t worked out they way they wanted it, it’s not our fault.”

He said Federal and State Labor governments had mismanaged the project, but Ms Neville was now trying to shift the blame to G-MW by saying it had been “set up to fail.”

CONNECTIONS SCEPTICISM: Fernihurst mixed farmer Ken Pattison is among irrigators who are sceptical about the latest reset of the Connections project. Picture: Andrew Miller.

CONNECTIONS SCEPTICISM: Fernihurst mixed farmer Ken Pattison is among irrigators who are sceptical about the latest reset of the Connections project. Picture: Andrew Miller.

Another Loddon Valley mixed farmer, Chris Harrison, said “I think you’ll see world war six out of this one.

“The amount of money left is a bit of shock, some areas have only got 40 per cent of irrigators connected, just on the maths that looks like a shortfall,” Mr Harrison said.

“If you were lucky to get connected in the first instance, you are going to have a far beter outcome, than if you are last on the list.”

He said it was very disappointing to hear Ms Neville speak about water savings, and ignore issues such as higher and more reliable flows.

“They have gone out the window.”

And Mead, near Cohuna, dairy farmer Dianne Bowles, who runs a 248 cow herd with her husband on 210hectares, said there was an urgent need for clearer communication.

Ms Bowles said there was still no credibility, around the project, particularly around the channel by channel assessment, recommended by the Project Control Group.

“Didn’t they do that when they set the project up, hasn’t G-MW got a list of all those channels, so why are they doing it again?,” Ms Bowles said.

“Or are they just saying they are doing it again ?”

Full modernisation of her property would save a hundred megalitres of water, “which is a lot of money, when water is the price it is.”

She said she was deeply concerned the reset would create two classes of irrigators, those with modern systems and those left with older irrigation infrastructure.

“Those farms are going to go down hill,” she said.

Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) Water Council chairman Richard Anderson said there would have to be some tough decisions made on how the project was to be rolled out.

He said it could not continue in its current form, given the wastage that had already been identified.

“We’ve already identified that 15 per cent of the new meters put in as part of the project haven’t been used,” he said. “We need to draw a line in the sand and prioritise how the remaining funds are spent.”

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