Australia’s Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has asked the auditor-general to review taxpayer-funded water buybacks; Labor is certainly edging closer to supporting a major inquiry into a controversial $80 million purchase.
Littleproud wrote to the auditor-general Grant Hehir on Tuesday asking him to look at water buybacks over the past decade. "I'll be asking the auditor-general to look at all purchases of all political persuasions over the last period since 2008 to make sure that we can give confidence to the community," the minister told reporters in Tamworth.
Questions have re-emerged during the election campaign about a buyback of 28.7 gigalitres of water from two Eastern Australia Agriculture-owned Queensland properties, Clyde and Kia Ora, for $78.9 million.
Bill Shorten has hinted he would back a judicial inquiry into the issue, which has put then-water minister Barnaby Joyce under pressure.
The Labor leader said unless the Agriculture and Water Resources Department provided unedited documents about the buyback by 5pm on Tuesday, he would back a wide-ranging review.
Scott Morrison insists the water buyback program has been run strictly within the rules and subject to regular reviews by the auditor-general. The prime minister dismissed suggestions there was anything wrong with Eastern Australia Agriculture donating $55,000 to the Liberal Party four years before the sale.
The Greens have pushed for a royal commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan over the water buyback. But the government has rebuffed those calls, arguing there is not enough evidence to necessitate a costly inquiry.
Mr Morrison is confident Mr Joyce acted appropriately despite questions over the high price and the company's links: "The minister has acted in accordance with the legislation."