Transcript of interview with Stephen Martin on ABC Radio Ballarat
31 July 2007
Subject: Water issues in Ballarat, Goldfields superpipe, Labor water policies, Murray Darling Basin.
ALBANESE: Good morning Steve
JOURNALIST: What’s the purpose of your visit to the region Anthony?
ALBANESE: I’m here with Catherine King campaigning on Labor’s urban water strategy that includes strong support for the Goldfields superpipe. We’ve committed $90 million as part of the $115 million dollars that we’d commit for the superpipe to go to Bendigo and through here to Ballarat.
The Government of course have conceded in the past that the project meets the guidelines of the National Water Initiative, but they haven’t come up with any money.
You would have heard this morning the implications of that for each and every person in Ballarat, paying more money for their water bills because Central Highlands Water will have to come up with the funds from somewhere. We’d reiterate our call for the Federal Government to match Labor’s commitment so that each and every consumer doesn’t have to pay.
On top of that, we’re here campaigning on what households can do. We’ve got a national rainwater/greywater plan, which is a subsidy of $500 on top of existing subsidies, for people to either get a water tank in their home or to have greywater piping installed. That’s an initiative which is on top of the $10,000 zero real interest loan that we’ll make available for households, to get a solar panel on their roof, or get a water tank or even get insulation for their homes. I was here last night and it’s pretty cold in Ballarat.
JOURNALIST: You’ve certainly got one of the busier portfolios in relation to water at the moment. Let me ask you about those price rises we were just talking about it prior to the news. 20% price rise for homeowners without federal funding to this superpipe, as a general figure is a 20% price rise acceptable to you? Because the cost of water has to go up, the money does have to come from somewhere. In a broad sense are those sorts of price rises unrealistic?
ALBANESE: I’m not going to comment on the specifics as that’s up to Central Highlands Water to deal with. It’s clear that the price of water will increase, and it is of concern that residents and businesses in the Ballarat area could be paying an increase of 20% on top of what could be the normal price rise for all Australians.
I think that all Australians will have to pay a little bit more of their water, that is a fact, but what we can’t afford is for there to be essentially a huge increase because of a failure of the Federal Government to acknowledge that when it talks about a national water plan it actually needs to involve the 17 million Australians who live in our towns and cities, such as Ballarat.
JOURNALIST: Do you accept that in some circumstances were there are substantial price rises for residents that industry should be insulated from those? One of the concerns with the 20% price rises that are talked about is that it could make an area such as Ballarat, unviable for business to operate here and they could look to other areas, particularly the heavy water users.
ALBANESE: We certainly need to look at that, and that’s one reason why we think the Federal Government really needs to fulfil its commitment. The money is available, and why at a time when you say there’s a national water crisis you announce a fund of $2 billion which they did in 2004 and then just sit on the money is beyond me. In last year’s budget for example there was $337 million allocated and only $77 million or one quarter of that was actually spent. That’s extraordinary complacency at a time of the national water crisis and projects such as the Goldfields superpipe, which is a practical solution, needs the support of a Federal Government.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect the Federal Government to come on board with something like this? It is an election year as we learned just prior to the news the deadline of today for the prices to go into the essential services commission is not much of a deadline, the prices can be adjusted if funding comes through. That would apply if Labor is successful at the election as well.
ALBANESE: We know that this is a Government that doesn’t do anything that’s not motivated by politics. Perhaps they’re just stringing it out until closer to the election to announce their support. They announced their support for the pipeline to go to Bendigo, and that’s the smaller amount of money that’s needed of course – just $25 million. But they haven’t added the $90 million on. So I call on the Government, if it is just playing politics and it is going to announce support for this project during the election campaign, to stop playing with people’s lives and the Central Highlands Water having to make contingencies based upon not getting funding when they can’t assume that it’s there. The Government should just make the announcement now rather than later.
JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese, can I ask you about the National Water Plan as such, which appears to be dead in the water as they say, at this stage as far as Victoria is concerned. What’s the idea or what’s the thinking of Federal Labor at this stage? I ask in the context that on your website I had a look yesterday, of all the press releases, the press release that came out from your office, was basically four sentences when it was announced that Victoria and the Commonwealth had come to an impasse and it was announced that the Federal Government was going to try and take over water systems. It would indicate perhaps that you’re not sure which way to go on this?
ALBANESE: We will wait until we see the legislation, but our position has been very clear from day one. We support a nationally controlled single entity controlling the Murray Darling Basin. We don’t think it makes sense to have different jurisdictions. Water doesn’t recognise state and territory boundaries. We’re very supportive of the principle of national water reform, we’ll vote for or against the legislation on its merits. We are very critical of the fact that more effort went into crafting of a political speech by the Prime Minister on the 25th of January than went into the detail of the plan. There was no funding details, no timelines, no governance arrangements in pace. It’s not surprising that it’s taken months of negotiation to get some detail out.
This week of course we’ve seen the Queensland Nationals oppose the plan. The National Party have continued to undermine the plan by opposing doing anything about overallocation of water entitlements.
We think that the Federal Government is going to have a decision to make of whether it will govern in the national interest or the National Party interest, because we don’t think they’re the same.
We are supportive of the concept of a national water plan and we think it’s unfortunate that we haven’t been given the courtesy of being shown the draft legislation. Nonetheless, we’ll determine our position based upon the principles we’ve put forward.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you if, as a party, you support desalination? And I ask in the context of this rainwater and greywater plan that’s been announced, because there has been a bit of comment that if more houses had water tanks, in fact if most houses had water tanks, a lot of the water issues would be solved. Water tanks would be a cheaper option than a $3 billion desalination plant.
ALBANESE: Well, we think that every house has the potential to be a water harvester and it should be. That’s commonsense – for too long water has been overallocated, undervalued and misdirected and we think that households can do their bit. At the same time, though, we do need major projects as well. Desal is one option which can’t be taken off the table. People do expect their governments to provide them with security of water supply. So all options – desal, recycling in particular, we have a 30% water recycling target by 2015, and also these household programs so that we actually don’t have the situation whereby water simply flows out to sea or is wasted.
JOURNALIST: You say all options – does all options include more dams? Because that’s also a common call that comes around.
ALBANESE: Well, of course in some places dams are appropriate. We think that you have to look at each and every case on its merits. We need to plan to have water security for all our towns and cities and we need to consider each and every option. In some cases that’s not appropriate. The Federal Government has floated, for example, plans to dam the Clarence in northern NSW and somehow pipe the water up into south east Queensland. They forget that there is mountainous terrain up there and the cost in terms of energy, let alone the cost to industry, particularly the fishing industry centred around the Clarence, would be quite devastating. So we don’t support that proposal. But we do think that you need to look at each of these options on their merits, and we need governments to do their bit and we also need to encourage householders to do their bit.
One of the things, particularly in Victoria, that’s been shown, with the extraordinary performance whereby individuals have outperformed what was expected of them in terms of water savings, is that people want to assist in this process. There’s a great recognition even compared with just five years ago that water is a precious finite resource that we need to value.
JOURNALIST: In relation to Victoria and water, again referring to your website, I did a quick count yesterday of your press releases and topics that you’d raised through press releases. 9-2 – in terms of central coast and Queensland press releases, 2 for Victoria. One was that four sentence press release on the National Water Plan that came out on the 24th. The other, for Victoria, was in May, the 29th of May, that I found for Ballarat. Does that show that the central coast of NSW and south east Queensland is where the most critical aspect is, or does that show that Victoria doesn’t rate in the water debate, necessarily?
ALBANESE: No, in the cast of Central Coast of course they were literally running out of water. And you talked about desal before, they were proposing to have desal plants, mobile desal plants on their beaches – on the Central Coast. They had an absolute crisis. Of course most tragically they then had floods where you had people lose their life. So the Central Coast of NSW has certainly been a focus. But so has Victoria. This is another visit by myself to Ballarat. This is the third visit I’ve made here – the first with my hat on as Shadow Water Minister. But we certainly have been prioritising water here in Victoria. I’ve given a number of major speeches and indeed I want to take the opportunity, given I’m on Victorian media, to say how much I enjoyed working with John Thwaites as Water Minister. I think he did an outstanding job.
JOURNALIST: You don’t know who the new Minister will be at this stage?
ALBANESE: I don’t know. I know as much as you do about those issues, I’m afraid.
JOURNALIST: I’m sure you know more than I do.
ALBANESE: I don’t know. I was in Hobart and the Huon Valley in Tasmania yesterday, so I’m not sure.
JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese, thank you for you time. Enjoy your time in the region.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.