Dead in the water: 1500 potential jobs lost after two WA-led projects canned

Wellington Dam has high levels of salt in its water, which has previously made it unfit for agricultural schemes. Photo: Parks and Wildlife Service.
Wellington Dam has high levels of salt in its water, which has previously made it unfit for agricultural schemes. Photo: Parks and Wildlife Service.

West Australians will miss out on nearly 1500 jobs after the Federal Government announced it would can two WA-led irrigation projects.

The Myalup-Wellington Project and the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme were two projects developed under the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, and the Coalition Government confirmed it would decline WA's funding application on Friday morning.

The former Liberal Government made a federal funding application regarding the two projects to the Commonwealth in June 2016.

In June this year the State Government again wrote to Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce in order to confirm it would commit $56 million for both the Wellington Dam and the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme.

It is understood Minister for Water Dave Kelly wrote to the Federal Minister, after significant pressure from the opposition for the McGowan Government and former Minister for Water Mia Davies to stop "dragging its heels" in regards to the projects.

Minister Kelly said he would not commit to the project or write to the Federal Government until he could confirm the State cost of the project.

"The former Minister for Water was extraordinarily busy in the dying months of the previous government, committing to numerous projects worth tens of millions of dollars— money that government did not have," he said.

"In the area of Water for Food, I think she turned a $40 million program into a program worth $127 million.

"The former Minister for Water committed to four projects during December and January in the dying moments of the previous government. One of those projects was in conjunction with Harvey Water to try to make good the water resource that is currently Wellington Dam.

"When I get projects on my desk that show the previous government committed tens of millions of dollars' worth of public money on the basis that it was in the public interest and good value for money, believe it or not, I do not take that on face value.

"I do not because I have seen what the former government has done to the state finances! Before I commit $37 million worth of state government money, I will give those projects due consideration. 

"It is one of the many projects that we are currently looking at to determine whether it is money well spent. One of the things we know about the previous government—the previous Minister for Water is a good example—is that it had no idea what good value for money meant."

The Myalup-Wellington project aimed to replace existing irrigation channels inside the Wellington Dam, which are prone to seepage, leakage and evaporation.

The project was also designed to provide a closed pipeline system in order to reinject water from the Wellington Dam into aquifers to service the Myalup agricultural area.

After Mr Kelly's correspondence with the State Government, he said he was "disappointed" to announce the Federal Government had denied the application.

"This is yet another snub to Western Australian taxpayers from the Federal Coalition Government," he said.

"Yesterday's decision by the Federal Government means more than 1,500 Western Australians have missed out on long-term jobs.

"I am incredibly disappointed by the Federal Government's decision. After all, it was the previous Western Australian Liberal National government that made a pitch for Federal funding in the first place."

The Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme was also set to begin construction in June 2019, but Friday's announcement means the project will struggle to find its feet.

The scheme aimed to identify new water supply options and increase availability in the south-west region. It was hoped the project could bring in an additional 12 gigalitres of sustainable irrigation water a year.

The former State Government had previously committed $19 million to the scheme, although it was estimated to cost around $80 million.

The project also relied heavily on federal funding.

Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the State Government's financial commitment to the projects would remain the same, and the government would continue to push for federal funding.

"This is extremely disappointing for growers in the South-West: we prioritised these projects in our review of Royalties for Regions because they were job creators for the region," she said.

"WA has received almost nothing from Federal water initiatives - overwhelmingly money is poured into the Murray-Darling at the expense of WA.

"We have a realistic goal to double the value of our horticultural output in WA but we need real investment from the Federal Government to be able to reach that potential and create new jobs across regional WA."