Nov 6, 2006

Transcript of Doorstop Interview, Marrickville – Water Summit

Transcript of Doorstop Interview, Marrickville Town Hall, Marrickville

6 November 2006

Subject: Water Summit, Melbourne Cup, interest rate increase

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Howard Government has promised buckets of money but they have stalled at the barrier when it comes to actually delivering water to the Murray Darling system.

After ten years of inaction, the Howard Government it would appear has discovered in the last few days that the Murray River is actually in crisis. The hastily convened summit convened on a few days notice, on Melbourne Cup day and on the day that the Reserve Bank Board meets to put up interest rates, would indicate that once again the Prime Minister is all about politics rather than long term policy development.

It is clear from the frameworks that have been put in place with the National Water Initiative that the government should just get on with delivering. Yet under the Living Murray initiative, it has failed to purchase any water from willing sellers and failed to deliver a drop back into the Murray. When the Howard Government has been confronted by big issues, such as the purchase of Cubbie Station offered by the Queensland Government, it’s failed to get to the barrier again.

With this hastily convened summit they forgot to invite the Queensland Government, where the headwaters of the Murray-Darling begin, or the ACT Government which has an important role in the Murrumbidgee and is a participant in the Murray Darling Basin Commission.

In a report released today the CSIRO predicts temperatures in NSW could rise by some 6.4 degrees and a 40% drop in rainfall. These dire predictions add up when other scientific surveys are taken into account. The fact is that you can’t resolve a water crisis without addressing climate change. Whilst the Prime Minister continues to be sceptical about climate change, Australians are entitled to be sceptical about his new found conversion.

Just two weeks ago on 18 October in the House, one of the lead government speakers in a matter of public importance debate about the drought and rural policy Ian Causley said the following –

‘In fact the quality of the Murray river down stream is now better than it was 10 or 15 years ago because of the intervention schemes and the policies of all governments, state and federal to stop the contamination and salinity of the Murray system’.

That was Ian Causley, a senior coalition member arguing just weeks ago.

That fact is, the Howard Government has been in denial about climate change and it has been in denial about water problems because it has failed to listen to the scientists about what the problems are and failed to listen to the economists about what the solutions are.

JOURNALIST: What would you like them to do now then?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well certainly it is a pity that after ten years of inaction this has occurred, but what clearly is needed is to get on with the business of purchasing water to put it back for environmental flows in Murray Darling System. We have at the moment under the National Water Initiative a framework for water trading and yet the Commonwealth has failed to deliver. This is because there is conflict between Malcolm Turnbull who on the one hand says that water trading is good and purchase of water by the Commonwealth is appropriate, and on the other, Peter McGauran the Agriculture Minster, who has stated that purchasing of water by the Commonwealth is not appropriate. So we have had a lot of promises from the government.

Prior to the 2004 election they promised to put 500 gigalitres back into the Murray Darling. That is one third of the 1500 gigalitres that scientists and the Murray Darling Basin Commission says is necessary to restore the health of the river system. They should up their commitment and match Labor’s commitment of getting 1500 gigalitres back into the Murray Darling and they should get on with the business of actually returning water to the river.

JOURNALIST: That’s not going to solve the problem right now though is it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well yes it would. If the Commonwealth would actually get on with purchasing water to return those environmental flows into the system that would make a substantial improvement. But what we have seen is delays and prevarication because this is a government that only believes in spending government money when it is politically suitable and that, of course, tends to be in the run up to a Federal election.

What we actually want to see is those commitments resulting in water back into the system and a co-operative approach between the Commonwealth and the states and territories which has got off to a bad start given they haven’t even invited all the relevant states and territories.

State governments have been trying to get climate change and water on the COAG agenda for three years and the Howard Government has failed to take up those initiatives and now, in a hastily convened meeting, has put together tomorrow’s summit.