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Waste comment a vote grab, says Williams

Tuesday, 23rd March, 2010

Claims by a South Australian Senator that floodwater used to fill lakes Menindee and Cawndilla will be wasted are a grab for votes, local MP John Williams said.

Senator Simon Birmingham said the floodwater would be wasted as a result of continuing delays in promised infrastructure works to the lakes. He said that federal Labor's own 2007 election policy document indicated that 200 billion litres could be saved every year from reduced evaporation and increased efficiency through the $400 million reengineering of the Menindee Lakes.

"This project was fully funded by the Howard Government in 2007 and in Labor's election policy was at the very top of Murray-Darling projects," he said. "But the sad fact is that not one bit of engineering works has been undertaken..." Senator Birmingham said that federal Water Minister Penny Wong last week revealed in Question Time that no works had been started to reduce water losses, just investigative studies.

"Senator Wong also refused to address the question of whether there will be further delays to any infrastructure works as a result of the lakes filling by NSW, to potentially 1,700 billion litres (1700 gigalitres)," he said. "Sadly, Menindee Lakes is just one example of the Rudd Government's failure to deliver on water saving infrastructure."

But the Member for Murray-Darling, John Williams, dismissed the Senator's comments as an "ill thought out" statement made to gain South Australian votes. "The media release by Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham ... clearly focuses on the ongoing fallacy that reworking the Menindee Lakes scheme is the Pandora to solving the problems of the Murray-Darling Basin," Mr Williams said.

"The suggestion that spending $400 million dollars re-jigging the current surface area of Lake Menindee, thus reducing evaporation and providing a solution to lack of flows in the Murray and greater availability to eastern NSW irrigators is a complete crock." Mr Williams said although the proposed channel from Lake Cawndilla to the river seemed to have some validity, it would never happen due to problems with Aboriginal sacred sites.

"The most recent focus on alternatives for the Menindee Lakes was generated by the Maunsell report, the real truth about this report is that is was established by the Minister of the day, Ian McDonald, who was trying to appease the water hungry irrigators of the Namoi Valley who at that time saw the water in the Menindee Lakes as the reason why they had no water, despite the fact it had passed their front door two years earlier," he said.

"I have many questions for Simon Birmingham, including what is the cost benefit analysis of the evaporation savings versus $400 million, what do we pay the people of Lake Menindee, Pooncarie, Ellerslie and Pomona etc., when the reduced capacity in Lake Menindee causes their communities to be subjected to flooding?

"Does the Senator understand that a decision to fill Menindee Lake will only be made when a flood is imminent and therefore the maximum capacity is required, and does he understand the history of the Menindee Lakes Scheme, and realise that if the scheme never took place, during this flood and the previous events the lakes would be filled as many more lakes along the Darling are filled, and there would be no ability to return that water to the river over time?

"Has the Senator fully costed the project and once its completed will future intakes be lost to seepage due to altering the natural clay base and reconfiguring levee banks and does he realise that the Darling River at best contributes ten per cent of the flow of the Murray River and will never solve the problem of the lower Lakes in South Australia?"

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