Feb 5, 2007

PM under fire over management of water initiative – The World Today

PM under fire over management of water initiative

ABC Radio – The World Today

Monday, 5 February , 2007 12:25:00

Reporter: Peta Donald

ELEANOR HALL: While the Prime Minister tries to wrangle the States into line on his water plan, he’s now being criticised for not consulting his own departments on the $10-billion initiative.

A report in today’s Financial Review newspaper says the package was prepared in extreme secrecy in January, by a small group of bureaucrats, overseen by the head of the Prime Minister’s department.

It says the package, that’s likely to be one of the biggest single spending initiatives this year, was not considered by Federal Cabinet, and that the Federal Departments of Treasury, Finance and Environment were not consulted.

Mr Howard’s office says preliminary discussions began in November, and continued over the Christmas break, and that the departments were involved in putting the package together as appropriate.

But that’s not good enough for the Federal Opposition.

Labor’s Water spokesman, Anthony Albanese, has been speaking to Peta Donald in Canberra.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The fact that it didn’t go to Cabinet and didn’t have the involvement of key economic and environmental departments would indicate perhaps that that detail is still being worked out.

PETA DONALD: What evidence do you have that this $10-billion water package was put together quickly?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I think anyone who has a look at the single page document with just a few lines on it and concluding numbers in the billions of dollars, without any detail or any timeline, would see that this is a document that’s been put together in a rush.

PETA DONALD: Well, the Prime Minister’s spokesman says the discussions on the package began in November and work continued over the Christmas break.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s surprising given that on December 7, the Government introduced into the Parliament the Murray-Darling Basin Amendment Bill that goes to governance arrangements and financial arrangements of the way that the Murray-Darling Basin Commission will operate.

And if it was the case that on December 7, it was envisaged this massive significant change would be made to the operation of the Murray-Darling Basin, then I don’t think that Bill would’ve been introduced in it’s current form.

PETA DONALD: Well, does it really matter? There’s no doubt, is there, that the $10-billion is available, as the Prime Minister says, thanks to the Government’s good economic management, and if this has been put together quickly, does that really matter if it’s good policy?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, what matters is that we get to the detail of the announcement. We’ve asked for a briefing since the day the announcement was made, it’s unfortunate that hasn’t been made available yet, but we look forward to that.

We’re determined to be constructive about this, but I do think that there is an entitlement before the States will refer their powers to have detail as to exactly what the financial arrangements are, what the timeline of delivery will be, and what the governance arrangements will be.

PETA DONALD: Are you hoping that when the State Premiers come to Canberra and attend this summit called by the Prime Minister that they will then agree to refer their powers over the Commonwealth?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I’m hoping that on Thursday both the Commonwealth and the States will take a constructive relationship to this discussion, because I think that the Australian public don’t particularly care about delivering mechanisms. What they want to know is that there’s action on water.


PETA DONALD: Does it surprise you that such a major package would be announced without the involvement of these key federal departments – Treasury, Finance and Environment?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it certainly would be normal procedure for the Cabinet to be consulted and for key departments such as Treasury and Finance to be consulted, given the $10-billion figure that’s attached to the Prime Minister’s announcement.

PETA DONALD: Why do you think they wouldn’t have been?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s really up to the Government to answer why that isn’t the case. It is certainly, I think, quite extraordinary.

Certainly what Labor is asking for are the details of this announcement, in terms of funding arrangements, in terms of timelines for that expenditure and the governance arrangements to be made available.

What we need to make sure is that promises aren’t just made, promises are actually delivered on.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s Labor’s Water Spokesman, Anthony Albanese, speaking to Peta Donald in Canberra.