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“National disgrace”: Aussie taxpayers fork out $40 million to expand irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin

“National disgrace”: Aussie taxpayers fork out $40 million to expand irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin

Australian taxpayers have given a large corporation more than $40 million, which has enabled it to expand irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin under an environmental scheme that has been labelled a national disgrace.

Four Corners revealed that more than $4 billion in Commonwealth Funds have been handed over to irrigators. This has allowed them to expand their operations and use more water under the $5.6 billion water infrastructure scheme.

The scheme is intended to recover water for the rivers by giving farmers money to build water-saving infrastructure in return for some of their water rights.

Some beneficiaries of the scheme are foreign-owned corporations according to the ABC.

Maryanne Slattery, a former director at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority says that it’s horrifying a scheme that’s designed to help the environment has allowed irrigators to use more water.

"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," she said.

"I think Australian taxpayers will be really shocked to find out that that money is actually going to foreign investors as well."

UNSW river ecologist Professor Richard Kingsford has been studying the Murrumbidgee River for more than 30 years. He has said that the new dams are trapping water that would have otherwise flowed downstream into habitats and farming communities in the Murray-Darling Basin.

"I find that astounding. I mean, why are we building these large dams for private gain at public cost?" he said.

"Essentially it increases the take from the river system and ultimately decreases the amount of water in the river. That to me is where, in fact, we may be seeing more water taken out of the rivers than water savings."

Maryanne Slattery says that the region is unsuitable for dams because of the high rate of evaporation.

"You just see dam after dam after dam, these massive on-farm dams, in a place that is as flat as a table, that just should not have dams," said Ms Slattery, who is now a senior water researcher at the Australia Institute.

"And then when you realise they're being paid for by the Commonwealth, under a supposedly environmental program, that's just horrifying."