Apr 21, 2007

Transcript of media conference – Water, MDB, Lucas Heights

Transcript of media conference – Electorate Office, Marrickville Rd, Marrickville

Saturday, 21 April 2007


Subject: Water and climate change crisis in the Murray Darling Basin, Wellington Weir, lack of detail in Government water plan, filming of Liberal Party advertisement in the Murray Darling Basin, Prime Minister saying Lucas Heights nuclear reactor was Sydney’s third great icon.

ALBANESE: The Stern Report told us that the cost of climate change could be severe. It also told us that if we act early, the cost would be far less. What we have with the water crisis is a situation where the economic cost as well as the personal cost for our hardworking farmers could be devastating in the coming months.

All Australian’s will be impacted by the water crisis. The crisis in the Murray Darling Basin of course hasn’t occurred overnight, and it shouldn’t have taken an election year to get a response from the Howard Government.

What we have is the Howard Government, dominated as it is by climate sceptics, refusing to take action on climate change issues and on our water crisis.

We know that internationally the world is talking about the water crisis for Australia being one of the first impacts of climate change on a developed nation.

We also know that the causes of the current drought are very complex, and certainly no politician can be blamed for the current drought. But we do know that blame can be laid for the failure to act on climate change. And we know that senior economic advisers, in particular the Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, have expressed grave concerns about the failure of the Government to take economic advice on dealing with climate change and dealing with the water crisis.

REPORTER: So, what will a Labor Government do instead – to fix the problem?

ALBANESE: A Rudd Labor Government will fully implement the National Water Initiative. We think the issue of proper water trading and the other policies in the National Water Initiative need to be pursued. What a Labor Government will also do is take serious action on climate change. The Howard Government is incapable of addressing climate change because they don’t believe it exists. Well, we’re seeing the reality of climate change already hit Australia in a number of ways.

REPORTER: [ inaudible ] companies operating mines are worried they are going to be left out in the lurch? Will you guys consider giving them special exemptions?

ALBANESE: Certainly we need to look at the full impact of the water crisis on agricultural communities, the impact it will have on people living in regional towns and communities, the impact it will have on industries including mining. We need to make sure we respond to that in a way which is fair and equitable, and respond to that in a way which actually makes the adjustment that is necessary. At the moment you have the National Party undermining the Prime Minister’s statement of 25 January, the National water plan, you still haven’t had any purchase of any over-allocated water – which is recognised to be at the heart of this problem. What we have is just a political response from the Government.

REPORTER: ABC reported this morning about a Federal Government plan to put a weir on the Murray River down near the mouth to provide water to Adelaide, and also drain eight wetlands. [ inaudible ]

ALBANESE: There has been a South Australian Government plan in place for some time to put a weir near Wellington on the Murray, towards the mouth. What it will need is for all Governments to co-operate to make sure that Adelaide in particular and other regional towns do have access to water. That must be the first priority. Adelaide is a city that is particularly vulnerable because it is at the end of the Murray Darling system. So that needs to be a priority and there needs to be a plan – and I know the Rann Government has been working for a considerable period of time to make sure of Adelaide’s water security to get us through this crisis. But in the long run we need the full implementation of the National Water Initiative including the purchase of over-allocated water licences if we are going to be able to address these issues.

REPORTER: What is Labor’s reaction to the draining of eight more wetlands?

ALBANESE: The priority has to be securing town water supplies, so Labor would support that as the first priority. We also need to take full account of the long-term damage that may have on the environment, and you wonder how we could get to a situation where we have to take such extreme action because the Howard Government has been complacent over climate change and our water crisis over 11 long years.

REPORTER: [ inaudible ]

ALBANESE: It certainly is urgent, but the water crisis hasn’t developed overnight. This has been developing for a number of years. It was way back in 1994 at the COAG meeting that we had for the first time the initiation of a national water plan for the Murray Darling Basin. It took 10 long years for the National Water Initiative to emerge in 2004 and since then the Howard Government has been very slow in putting in place the support that is needed.

REPORTER: How bad is the situation now?

ALBANESE: The situation is in crisis. It’s in a crisis that has developed over a period of time, and what we need is a long-term plan on climate change because if you don’t have a plan to address climate change, you won’t be able to address the water crisis. And that plan needs to look beyond what happens next week and next month into years ahead, and only Labor has a plan to address climate change.

REPORTER: Is the Government’s $10 billion water plan enough then?

ALBANESE: The concern that we have with the Government’s plan is that more effort went into writing a political speech for the Prime Minister on 25 January than went into the details of the plan. Detailed funding arrangements, detailed timelines and the governance arrangement details remain outstanding. And it’s not just Labor saying that – it’s the Secretary of the Department of Treasury Ken Henry, it’s the National Farmers Federation, its NSW Irrigators and its farmers when they met with Malcolm Turnbull during his tour of Victoria in the last fortnight who are demanding to know the detail of this plan. The Prime Minister needs to come up with the full detail of the implementation of the national water plan, and we need all Governments to put politics aside and to work in the national interest to avert this national water crisis in the immediate term, but also deal to with climate change in the long-term.

REPORTER: Mr Albanese, are you aware of the Federal Government filming an advertisement to exploit the political seriousness of this situation?

ALBANESE: It’s extraordinary that there have been reports that the Liberal Party were out filming political ads in the Murray Darling Basin just prior to the Prime Minister’s announcement of this week.

This is a Government and this is a Prime Minister who is a clever politician who is prepared to manipulate situations including a national crisis to suit his own political ends. And given the complacency of the Howard Government over 11 long years, it is extraordinary that reports are there that they’ve been out filming political ads rather than dealing with the detail of the measures necessary to deal with this national water crisis.

REPORTER: What’s your evidence of the political nature of these advertisements?

ALBANESE: Well, these ads, as I understand it, were filmed by the Liberal’s Party’s advertising agency, commissioned by the Liberal Party and they were filming footage of the Murray Darling Basin. We have a Prime Minister who always acts politically first, always puts the Liberal Party short-term political interest before the long-term national interest. There is nowhere where that is more acute than his failure over 11 long year to deliver real policy on climate change and the national water crisis. For 11 years, the Howard Government has been dominated by climate sceptics, but that doesn’t stop this clever Prime Minister being prepared to take advantage of the water crisis and the results of climate change in order to seek political advantage.

I call upon the Prime Minister to prioritise the national water plan and prioritise making sure the country is properly prepared for the this national water crisis, rather than prioritising his electoral interests at the end of this year.

It shouldn’t have taken a federal election year for the Prime Minister to get action on the water crisis, and it shouldn’t be the case that the Prime Minister is out there seeking to gain political advantage out of this.

REPORTER: Are prayers good enough?

ALBANESE: Well, prayers are useful, but I think what Australians want is action from the Howard Government. And they expect that their political leaders will show leadership on the issues of climate change and the national water crisis. Leadership on climate change and the national water crisis has been sorely lacking for 11 long years and I think Australian’s will be pretty cynical about the Prime Minister, in an election year, seeking a political advantage from the water crisis.

REPORTER: How would the Prime Minister get a political advantage? What’s he doing?

ALBANESE: If the Prime Minister is out there and the Liberal Party is out there filming ads in the Murray Darling Basin just prior to making the announcements this week then that is consistent with a Prime Minister and a Liberal National Party Government that for 11 years has put its own short-term political interests before the national interest.

REPORTER: So you don’t know the content of the ads – it’s just supposition?

ALBANESE: We know this is a Prime Minister who’s got form. We know from reports that an advertising agency was commissioned to film in the Murray Darling Basin, and we know that immediately after that we had the Prime Minister making announcements this week. It is perhaps the latest example of a Prime Minister who is clever, who is tricky, and who will do anything to get elected, and seeks that short-term political advantage over the long-term national interest.

REPORTER: Aren’t political parties allowed to film advertisements

ALBANESE: Political parties are allowed to film advertisements, but this is a Government that for 11 years has had people in senior roles, including the Prime Minister, the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and the Finance Minister Nick Minchin who are all on the record year after year as denying the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Now, in an election year, they seek to gain political advantage rather than look after the national interest.

I mean, yesterday the Prime Minister said the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor was the third great icon of Sydney behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House – agreeing with Ziggy Switkowski. The Prime Minister is attempting to use nuclear issues to appear to do something about climate change. I think people in Sydney and in Australia might regard icons such as Bondi Beach and the Blue Mountains and the GPO and tens of other heritage buildings and other natural heritage sites well before they’d regard the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor. It just shows how desperate this Prime Minister is. Desperate in an election year to seek short-term political advantage over the long-term national interest.