Feb 6, 2007

Government confusion over Murray Darling Basin plan

Government confusion over Murray Darling Basin plan

MEDIA RELEASE – ANTHONY ALBANESE MP

Tuesday 6 February 2007

The Howard Government is divided and quite confused over its plans for the Murray Darling Basin, and legitimate concerns exist over the planning and costing of the Prime Minister’s announcement.

Government confusion over its policy on the Murray Darling Basin has exposed two Senior Ministers, key Departments, the Government’s legislative drafters and Senator Heffernan’s Rural Affairs Committee.

Two documents being dealt with in Parliament this week show the Departments of Environment and Agriculture were writing detailed Government policy on rural water management in December 2006 that was directly contrary to the Prime Minister’s statement on 25 January 2007.

Today in the Senate, the Government’s official policy response to a Senate Committee report on Rural Water Usage will be debated, but the Government’s official response is at odds with the Prime Minister’s plans for managing the Murray Darling Basin.

Given the Government’s policy on the Murray Darling Basin changed dramatically on January 25, I wonder who will speak in the Senate today for the old policy.

The Government’s official policy response to the Senate Committee report states that the way forward on rural water was to use the existing State-based planning structures and Murray Darling Basin Agreement.

This response was approved by Malcolm Turnbull and signed by Peter McGauran on 5 December 2006. It was officially received in the Senate on 23 January 2007, only two days before John Howard’s announcement at the National Press Club.

Listed for debate in the House of Representatives this Thursday is the Murray Darling Basin Amendment Bill 2006, which was introduced on the last sitting day, 7 December 2006. This Bill is also contrary to the Prime Minister’s 25 January announcement and contains amendments to improve the financial operation and management of the existing Murray Darling Basin Commission.

It is extraordinary that, as of this morning, Senator Heffernan’s Rural and Regional Affairs Committee has a hearing scheduled for this Friday 9 February 2007 into the Murray Darling Basin Amendment Bill 2006.

It is clear the Prime Minister’s 25 January speech was hastily brought together, and still requires detailed work on funding, timelines and governance arrangements.