Feb 8, 2007

Transcript of doorstop interview – Murray Darling Basin proposal

Transcript of doorstop interview – Parliament House

Thursday, 8 February 2007 E & OE – PROOF ONLY

Subject: Concerns about the Prime Minister’s Murray Darling Basin proposal

ALBANESE: Today, the Premiers and Chief Ministers will be in Canberra to meet with the Prime Minister about the Prime Minister’s national water proposal, which he put forward in a speech on January 25.

It would appear from this leaked document from the Murray Darling Basin Commission, that even the government’s own agencies are saying there are massive gaps in the detail for this proposal.

It would appear that the Prime Minister spent more time on having his office work on the speech than they did on working out the funding details, the timelines and the management detail for this proposal.

It’s now two weeks since the Prime Minister gave that speech. The Leader of the Opposition Kevin Rudd, and myself, have requested briefings on this proposal. Up to now, we haven’t received a response from the Prime Minister.

We are determined to be positive and to play a constructive role because we believe that national water reform is too important to play politics with. But in order for there to be a bipartisan approach, we have to be involved and there has to be the detail.

Today the Prime Minister, if he wants support from the premiers, must put forward that detail which, up to this point, has been sorely lacking.

This document identifies a number of gaps. It identifies a $900m shortfall in the funding of the Commission.

What the Prime Minister must answer is: who will fill the shortfall? Will it be additional funding from the Commonwealth? Will there be an expectation that the states will have to pay? Or will it be irrigators? You can’t have such a gap.

Major questions need to be resolved, including what will happen to the assets that are currently owned by the states?

This is not just an issue of water. It’s also an issue of land management and natural resource management. And the integration of those issues I think needs to be resolved in terms of what will happen on individuals’ properties in the form of dams, what will happen to the assets that are there, and that is identified by this document as well.

Those assets are worth billions of dollars, and the fact that answers haven’t been given is of real concern.

REPORTER: Morris Iemma approved the plan, he said that he’ll sign up to it and leave the officials to work out the detail. Why can’t everyone just give that sort of support outright?

ALBANESE: I think it’s fair to say that we also, Federal Labor, have been constructive in terms of stating that we believe there’s a need for a streamlining of processes.

We want to make sure that it’s water that flows, and not red tape. But we need to get the detail right. National water reform is too important to not have the detail sorted out in funding, timelines and governance arrangements.

REPORTER: Do you think that the federal takeover is the way to go, or is Mike Rann’s idea [inaudible].

ALBANESE: I think there should be constructive debate on all proposals that are on the table today.

REPORTER: Isn’t that just sitting on the fence though?

ALBANESE: No, it’s not. What it’s doing is saying there’s a need to streamline proposals. But let’s have a constructive attitude towards that. Clearly this is a national water crisis. It therefore requires national leadership.

REPORTER: [inaudible]

ALBANESE: The state Labor premiers can speak for themselves. But yesterday in Parliament, we asked the Treasurer whether it was the case that the Departments of Treasury and Finance were consulted well after the Department of Environment was told of this plan on January 8.

It is of real concern that this proposal didn’t go to cabinet, and appears to have not been properly costed.

REPORTER: Isn’t this meeting today all about what you’re talking about – a constructive debate, they’re going to talk about it, thrash it out, and come to an agreement at the end of the day?

ALBANESE: I’m hopeful that today is a constructive debate. I do think that we need to sort these issues out. But it is quite extraordinary, the lack of detail that is there, and the shortfalls that have been identified by the Murray Darling Basin Commission itself.

This is the government’s own agency, over 9 pages, identifying an extraordinary lack of detail when it comes to funding, when it comes to timelines, and when it comes to management arrangements in the basin.

REPORTER: [inaudible]

ALBANESE: I heard Premier Iemma this morning, and Premier Iemma will also be raising a number of issues that he has. He has had a constructive approach to the proposal, and Federal Labor has been constructive as well, in spite of the fact that the Prime Minister has failed to brief the opposition on this plan.