THE NATIONAL Party is furiously defending allegations Peter Schwarz, the party’s candidate for the Victorian seat of Shepparton at that state’s upcoming election next month, has received funding for drought proofing works on his property that never took place.
It was alleged Mr Schwarz received $850,000, including $473,000 for water savings measures on his irrigated property, as part of the Connections project but that the work was never done.
The damaging claims come at a sensitive time for the party with the Federal Drought Summit taking place today and follow similar bad publicity surrounding the Nationals’ handling of water rorting allegations in northern NSW and southern Queensland.
However, Mr Schwarz has come out swinging, saying he rejected any claims of wrongdoings.
“We are among hundreds of irrigators who have been completely stuffed around for years by Goulburn Murray Water and NVIRP/Connections programs,” Mr Schwarz said in a statement.
“I reject completely any suggestion grants funding has been misused and my family and I are dismayed that such allegations have been made when it is so far from the truth.”
Mr Schwarz said the delay to work at his property was due to a piece of GMW infrastructure and was beyond his control.
However, rival political parties were swift to seize on the allegations and demand a review.
“Reports that the National Party executive was paid $850,000 for drought-proofing that never eventuated are serious allegations,” said Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
She said she would refer the matter to the Auditor-General for investigation.
Sen Hanson-Young said it was another example of the Nationals not taking claims regarding water rorting seriously.
“Scott Morrison’s Special Drought Envoy Barnaby Joyce’s ‘nothing to see here’ attitude in response to these reports of rorting is typical of the former Deputy Prime Minister,” she said.
“The drought is crippling our farmers and to add insult to injury, the Nationals are brushing off these reports like they do with every scandal they find themselves in.
She said the cavalier attitude towards water demonstrated the Nationals could not be trusted with running the budget for drought relief and water management.
“Rorting and misusing taxpayers’ money are serious allegations and another reason why we need a federal anti-corruption body,” she said.