18 August 2020
Previously secret valuation documents obtained by Independent Senator Rex Patrick reveal the taxpayer paid almost double the nominal value and well above an independent valuer’s maximum recommended price for water from Clyde and Kia Ora, the properties at the centre of the #Watergate scandal.
"The truth has finally come to light and, sadly, Australian taxpayers have been ripped off with prices paid well above the market value for these water licences," said Senator Patrick. "It's no wonder the Liberal-Nationals Coalition Government went to such great efforts to keep the valuations secret. They were reckless the with taxpayer’s coin and they did not want taxpayers to know the truth."
"This sort of recklessness by public servants, overseen by Coalition Ministers, undermines public confidence in both the Government and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan more generally.""This disgraceful saga reinforces why we need a Federal Murray-Darling Royal Commission with full powers to obtain documents and compel witnesses to give evidence. Only then will we be able to restore faith in the Plan.”
Senator Patrick has been pursuing the truth for well over two years. "On my first day in the Senate I lodged a motion to have the Government disclose this documentation to the Senate. Documents were provided to the Senate, but the independent valuations were hidden from view."
That led to confrontations in the Senate followed by a year-long Freedom of Information battle. The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment had maintained that the information was commercial-in-confidence even when the valuation made it clear that the “value assessed may change significantly and unexpectedly over a relatively short period of time” and warning that it should only be relied upon for up to 90 days.
After being advised the Information Commissioner was on the cusp on making a decision, the Department decided to release the supposedly confidential information to Senator Patrick.
"I am very disappointed at the manoeuvring that both Ministers and officials have engaged in to prevent this information from being available to the Senate and the public," said Senator Patrick. "It is my view they have obstructed the Senate in the conduct of its oversight role and that is something I will be pursuing vigorously when Parliament returns."
"At best there has been recklessness, perhaps it goes further than that. Notwithstanding considerable and deliberate obstruction I have managed to achieve transparency in this instance, I now need to achieve accountability. Too often this sort of incompetence goes without consequences, and that should not be so in this case.""Australian taxpayers, stakeholders in the Murray-Darling Basin and that great river system all deserve much better."The valuations obtained by Senator Patrick can be found here.