Environment Minister Tony Burke has slammed the Coalition's leaked draft dams policy as ''incoherent'' and ''completely wild''.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is reportedly considering building as many as 100 dams across the country as part of a plan to prevent floods, fuel power stations and irrigate food bowls at a cost of $30 billion.
It's the second policy idea that has been leaked to the media in as many weeks after a proposal for incentives and beneficial tax rates to encourage people to move to northern Australia.
On Thursday, Mr Burke told Fairfax Media that what the draft proposes is ''completely, completely incoherent in its ideas''.
''It’s completely wild in its size,’’ he said, adding that the Coalition was trying to do too many things with the dam plan.
''They say that they want to use them to avoid drought, they want to use them to avoid flood and they want to use them for hydro power. Now, if you want to avoid drought, you need to manage a dam that is always full.
''If you want to avoid floods, you need to manage a dam that is constantly empty . . . if you want to manage it for hydro it has to be constantly flowing.''
Mr Abbott told reporters in Queanbeyan on Thursday that while the report was not finalised, it was a ''good paper''.
''What we want to avoid is the dam phobia which has afflicted our country for at least a generation,'' he said.
Mr Abbott said that Australia used about 6 per cent of its available water resources when the international average was 9 per cent.
''I'm talking about the potential of our country to be better than we are and we certainly shouldn't have this green extremism which says all dams are bad at all times everywhere,'' he said.
The Opposition Leader said that Australians were hungry for vision.
He played down the issue of funding, saying that at least some of the proposed new dams could be constructed without public funding ''because of the economic spin offs''.
He also brushed off concerns that the Coalition had seen two of its policies leaked within the space of a week.
He said the dams paper and the northern economic zone paper were both circulated together.
''This is just instalment two of one episode.''
Treasurer Wayne Swan told ABC Radio that the draft policy would drill a deeper hole in the Coalition's budget promises.
''They’re out there today with a $30 billion plan for dams,’’ Mr Swan said. ''In the context of already having a $70 billion crater in their budget bottom line.''
Cabinet minister Craig Emerson said the idea was ''policy in chaos'' from the Coalition and accused it of deliberately leaking plans in a bid to garner public support.
''It gets weirder and weirder by the day,'' Dr Emerson said.
The Coalition plan includes a $500 million plan to raise Warragamba Dam in Sydney and flags new dams for the Hunter Valley and along the Lachlan River. Most, however, would be constructed in northern Australia, and would be used to irrigate dry zones and more than double Australia’s food production.
Environment spokesman Greg Hunt says the Coalition has no direct proposal for the dams, but forward thinking is necessary for anyone wanting to run government.
''You can’t just make it up as you go along,'' he told ABC Radio on Thursday.
The Coalition was ''unashamed'' about having plans to tackle floods and build Australia into one of the world’s great food bowls.
''What we have set out is a vision for northern Australia, and linked to that is a vision for new dams,'' he said.
''We are proud of establishing a vision, but these are draft papers.''
A Coalition taskforce will update its ideas and formally release them as the year progresses, he said.
Meanwhile, Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce denied the idea was just a pre-election thought bubble, saying it had been worked on for years.
Senator Joyce said water was wealth and its use from efficient environmentally-responsible storage gave Australia a great capacity to take the next step.
The ''key policy'' showed Australians the Coalition had been diligent in preparing itself for government, he said.
''It won’t just be the same disaster with different bums on the seats,'' he told reporters.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the only part of the Coalition dam plan that was environmental was the word ''mental'.
''It is another kooky idea by Barnaby Joyce,'' she said, adding it was more about being anti-environment than it was about pro-nation building.
''This is an idea from the 19th century.''
With AAP, Marija Taflaga