DARLING RIVER JOURNEY
DARLING RIVER JOURNEY

Shock probe into Australia’s Murray-Darling water crisis

Billions have been allocated to help the Murray-Darling Basin, however a new investigation questions whether the plan is a massive waste of taxpayer funds.

Tonight, ABC's Four Corners program will detail its investigation dubbed 'Cash Splash', which looks at where the billions allocated for the environmental scheme have been spent.

The scheme is meant to help to restore the fragile river system, which has experienced severe drought and mass fish kills in recent years, but its instead helping companies to boost their irrigation and access large amounts of water.

 

Receding waters in the Menindee Lakes system in February 2019. Picture: AAP
Receding waters in the Menindee Lakes system in February 2019. Picture: AAP

 

The investigation found taxpayers have given more than $40 million to one corporation alone.

It's reported Webster Limited, one of Australia's largest irrigated farming producers, received $41 million from the scheme to expand operations in southwest NSW.

The company is Australia's largest producer of walnuts, which requires a lot of water, and is said to be expanding its nut business.

Webster hasn't revealed how it has changed its water usage since receiving the funding, but told Four Corners it had led to a decrease in water per hectare.

A former director at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority slammed the government's plan as doing the opposite to what it was intended for.

"That program was supposed to reduce the amount of water that was going to irrigation, when it's actually increased the opportunities for irrigation … all subsidised by taxpayers," Maryanne Slattery told the program.

 

February 2019: Drought affected water levels on the Darling River. Picture: AAP
February 2019: Drought affected water levels on the Darling River. Picture: AAP

 

Former government officials shockingly claimed to Four Corners that no government authorities check whether work paid for by the water infrastructure scheme delivered results on water savings.

Farmers tell the government an estimate on how much water their proposed infrastructure will save, but if they're successful in securing Commonwealth funding their claims are never checked for validity.

"Governments are very motivated to get the savings on paper, and they've got deep pockets … you'd have to expect that some of the savings aren't real, and that money has gone to projects that haven't yielded what they were supposed to," Ms Slattery claimed.

Farmers have also questioned the scheme, some claiming the government overpaid them for water.

One couple claimed they were paid $100,000 for earthworks to reduce water run off from their farmland.

However, they said the work they were paid for was something they had planned to do anyway.

Four Corners investigation 'Cash Splash' airs from 8.30pm tonight on ABC.