Barnaby Joyce has dipped into a water infrastructure fund to grant $5 million to a company well-connected with Tasmania’s Liberal Party elite so they can build a 7km pipeline under Hobart’s Derwent River to water a newly planned, privately owned golf course, reports Callum Foote.
With all the earth-threatening activities going on in Australia, why on earth would we build a 6.8km pipeline underwater to get a golf course looking swish? Maybe the Deputy PM and the Coalition’s network in Tasmania network have the answer.
While Tasmania is Australia’s most rainy state, Hobart is the second-driest capital city, making the proposal to build a golf course on the city’s South Arm, far away from any reservoir, a difficult sell.
Unless of course, the developers of the proposal can persuade the Deputy Prime Minister to reach into the National Water Grid Connections funding pathway to build a 6.8-kilometre underwater pipeline to pump recycled water from across the Derwent to water the golf course.
This funding pathway, made through the $3.5 billion National Water Grid Fund, is exclusively meant for new water infrastructure to increase water reliability and sustainability in regional communities.
The developers of the pipeline, South Arm Pipeline Pty Ltd, note that the South Arm location is but a 15-minute boat journey from the Hobart CBD.
While lip service is paid to the small-scale farming which the water may be used for, “under the controls of [a] contractual arrangement” which has yet to be released the real reason for the water is made clear in the plans:
‘‘The water will enable the re-vegetation and regeneration of the Arm End public playground and golf course.’’
Craig Ferguson, project manager for the pipeline says that the golf course will only use approximately a quarter of the water, the remainder being open to agricultural use which was the basis for the grant money.
An independent report commissioned by the pipeline owners suggests that there are approximately 350 hectares that could be used for agricultural land if the pipeline is built. Ferguson suggested that his company would use the taxpayer-funded pipeline to supply the water to farmers at maintenance cost on a “no commercial return operational model”, saying that “this is the model we’ll run with to start.”
Critics of the pipeline have suggested that the money could have been spent better elsewhere, suggesting that the pipeline is primarily for the golf course.
While the Arm End Pipeline will deliver an estimated 726 megalitres to its destination, another recipient of the same $5 million grant in Tasmania is the Greater Meander Irrigation Scheme Augmentation which will provide an additional 12,500 megalitres of water for irrigators at the same cost.
Craig Ferguson told Realestate.com.au that he and the other developers of the pipeline and golf course hadn’t greatly considered the agricultural use of the water when applying for development approval “when we originally got the development application for the Arm End public site we underestimated the water security issue,” project manager Craig Ferguson said.
The proposal also includes the ‘’ancient proverb’’: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help”.
The company which is building the pipeline and which received the funding, South Arm Pipeline Pty Ltd is owned by another company Mary Ann’s Island Pty Ltd.
Mary Ann’s Island is also the owner and developer of the South Arm Golf Course, indicating that the primary beneficiaries of the regional water infrastructure funding will be the golf course.
A director of Mary Ann’s Island is James Groom. James is the brother of former Tasmania Liberal minister for environment, parks and heritage Matthew Groom. The land on which the South Arm Golf Course is to be built is Crown Land which was leased to Mary Anne’s Island Pty Ltd in 2014 when Matthew Groom was still in charge of the Parks and Heritage portfolio.
Coincidentally, Mary Ann’s Island was incorporated in 2009, the same year that Matthew Groom received his portfolio.
Former minister Matthew Groom did not disclose the conflict of interest when the crown land was leased to a company controlled by his brother. Craig Ferguson told MWM that Michael Groom had stood aside during the decision process.
Matthew Groom made a declaration to parliament on the 15 October, 2015 roughly a year after the lease was signed stating that “In light of the fact that my brother is the chair of that company, which is a matter of public record, I have delegated all responsibilities for that development to the Attorney‑General, Dr Vanessa Goodwin, and I have had no involvement in any decision‑making.”
This declaration was made in response to a question put to him by Greens MP Dr Rosalie Woodruff.
This wouldn’t have been the first time the Brothers Groom ran into trouble in relation to developments on state-controlled land.
In 2016, Minister Groom failed to declare a conflict of interest in relation to his brother’s development at Bernacchi Lodge, inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Matthew Groom signed off on a discredited draft World Heritage Area Management Plan which reclassified the area surrounding Bernacchi Lodge as a ‘’Visitor Services Zone’’.
The ministerial code of conduct is clear that where a minister identifies a material conflict between his or her personal interests and official responsibilities, the minister must declare any such conflict of interest in writing to the premier as soon as possible after becoming aware of the conflict.
James Groom was a partner in a consortium development at Bernacchi Lodge in the Central Highlands, inside the boundary of the World Heritage Area which was the portfolio responsibility of the former minister Groom.
Matthew Groom refused to answer two questions on notice put to him by the Tasmanian Greens regarding the matter and has since been appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal following his retirement from politics.
Matthew Groom supported the controversial Mount Wellington cable car project as MP and put the legislation (Kunanyi/Mt Wellington Facilitation Act 2017) through, before resigning from politics.
One of the individuals who was invested in the cable car venture was Craig Ferguson, who has turned up as the project manager of the South Arm Pipeline project and Arm End Golf course.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that Matthew Groom did make a declaration that he delegated all responsibilities surrounding the Arm’s End golf course to the Attorney-General Dr Vanessa Goodwin and “had no involvement in any decision-making.”