May 17, 2007

Labor attacks lack of information on water plan – AM

Labor attacks lack of information on water plan

AM – Thursday, 17 May , 2007 08:00:00

Reporter: Michael Vincent

TONY EASTLEY: The Labor Party has attacked the Government for rejecting a Freedom Of Information claim on its $10 billion water plan.

The massive infrastructure project has little detail given its size. So far only 22 documents covering the project have come to light. While the Seven Network sought all the documents relating to the plan, the Environment Department has denied its request.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese says the lack of detail is a farce, but the Government says it’s a big, complicated deal that is still being worked out.

Michael Vincent reports.

MICHAEL VINCENT: As the cliche goes, a picture’s worth 1,000 words. So, what’s in a diagram called ‘Water Management’ that is so sensitive it can’t be seen by the public?

That diagram is one of just 22 documents that relate to this radical, historic and expensive plan that was announced almost four months ago.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s extraordinary that the government argues that those documents shouldn’t be public. I think it’s very clear that the public have a right to know, about what is our most precious natural resource.

MICHAEL VINCENT: The FOI application was initially sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, then handed on to the Environment Department.

Amongst the reasons listed for the rejection, that three of the documents would have caused damage to relations between the Commonwealth and a state.

Those three documents are described as a meeting file note, a draft discussion paper about the governance arrangements in the Murray Darling Basin, and a letter that appears to have been sent to the Australian Government solicitor on January the 9th, 16 days before the Prime Minister revealed the plan.

What’s also revealing about this FOI is that none of the documents are from the Finance or Treasury departments, and the majority of the documents were created in the seven weeks leading up to the plan’s announcement.

Anthony Albanese is unimpressed by the reasons for the rejection.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: They are of course, farcical arguments, given that the states weren’t consulted about the announcement. But not only were the states not consulted, the Murray Darling Basin Commission, the National Water Commissioners, indeed, what the documents show, or the lack of documents show, is that the Government’s own departments of Finance and Treasury weren’t consulted, and indeed the Cabinet wasn’t consulted on a $10 billion plan.

It’s not surprising that the lack of detail has lead to the situation whereby in last week’s budget just one half of one per cent of the $10 billion has actually been allocated in the coming financial year.

TONY EASTLEY: Labor’s Water Spokesman Anthony Albanese, ending that report from Michael Vincent.