MDB $78 million Darling cotton deal “stinks to high heaven” - Bernardi

February 20, 2018

Australian Conservatives leader and South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi says he is appalled by a deal for Murray-Darling Basin water sealed last year by Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce which he says, “stinks to high heaven”.

Senator Bernardi told the Senate last week, “I will not stand for the hypocrisy…every time you turn around you get this stench of crookedness and corruption.” (see the video below).

One of Australia’s biggest corporate cotton farms has been quietly gifted a year of free access to large volumes of scarce irrigation water in the northern Murray-Darling Basin under a deal negotiated last year by Deputy Prime Minister Joyce.

Today’s The Australian reports that locals in Western New South Wales are angry that ASX-listed agribusiness Webster — Australia’s largest owner of water entitlements — has been able to grow a $35 million cotton crop this summer on its vast Tandou Farm near Broken Hill using irrigation water from the troubled Darling River.

Yet last June Webster sold Tandou Farm’s full annual water licence of 21,900 megalitres back to the federal government in a controversial buyback deal personally negotiated with Mr Joyce, who was then federal agriculture and water­ minister.

Webster was paid $78 million from the public purse, three times the going value of Lower Darling water entitlements and more than double the price recommended to the commonwealth by its in-house advisers, the Australia ­Bureau of Agricultural Economics and ­Sciences.

But the deal — which is being investigated as part of a larger NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into water management in NSW — also allowed Webster to grow a final cotton crop on scarce Darling River water at Tandou in the current financial year, despite ­having forfeited its water access rights.

With cotton now selling for $530 a bale, the 5600ha crop thriving in the fertile green bowl 100km southeast of ­Broken Hill will add a further $35m to Webster’s coffers when harvested and processed on site in late-April, in addition to the ASX-announced $37m profit the corporate farmer made from its water buyback windfall to the government last year.

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