April 22, 2019 14:35:29
Pressure is mounting on a government agency to provide more answers over an $80 million taxpayer-funded water deal, with Labor demanding documents explaining the purchase be made public.
- The company at the centre of the buybacks was once associated with Energy Minister Angus Taylor
- In 2017, water licences were bought from two Queensland properties owned by that company, for $80m
- The Agriculture Department has stood by the deal but Labor wants related documents made public
In 2017, when Barnaby Joyce was the water minister, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources bought 28 gigalitres of water from Eastern Australia Agriculture, a company once linked to now-Energy Minister Angus Taylor.
The deal was part of a series of controversial agreements which saw the Federal Government spend $200 million buying environmental water under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The buybacks occurred without an open tender process.
Opposition water spokesman Tony Burke has today written to the department asking it to publish, in full, documents relating to the due diligence and value of the deal.
Mr Burke is also seeking documents showing the department received advice from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, State Government and Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder on the deal.
The letter follows a statement released by the department at the weekend defending the $80 million water buyback.
EAA is controlled by Eastern Australia Irrigation, which is based in the Cayman Islands.
Mr Taylor, a co-founder and director of Eastern Australia Irrigation, ended his association with the companies before entering Parliament in 2013.
Both he and Mr Joyce deny any involvement, but Mr Burke said the deal raised several questions.
“On the face of it, it looks like, for floodwater that only exists in very rare circumstances, that effectively, have paid very top dollar for it,” Mr Burke said.
“You don’t pay Versace prices for water that you get from The Reject Shop, and that looks like what Barnaby Joyce has done.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended the deal.
“These arrangements were conducted at complete arm’s length from any ministers,” Mr Morrison said.
“The department has appeared before the Senate inquiry and has gone through the process that led them to that price and how it was transacted.”
In its statement on Friday, the department said the purchase “represented a unique opportunity to secure a significant volume of water in a catchment of particular strategic importance to achieving the triple bottom line outcomes of the Murray Darling Basin Plan”.
It also said claims the water could not be used off the property were false.
Mr Burke asked department secretary Daryl Quinlivan to respond by close of business on Tuesday.
The Greens have renewed calls for a royal commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
April 22, 2019 14:23:45