Transcript of Media Conference, Parliament House, Canberra
Tuesday, 9 May 2006
E & OE – PROOF ONLY
Subject: Murray River
ANTHONY ALBANESE: After ten long years of the dry Howard Government the Murray River desperately needs a drink. It is Peter Costello’s shout but, if Budget speculation is correct, he is buying the Murray a shot glass when it needs a schooner full of water.
Experts agree that the Murray River needs 1500 gigalitres. That is three times what speculation would suggest Peter Costello is offering in this Budget. The Howard government has sat back and watched while the Murray River has been reduced to a trickle. This giant river that sustains the nation has been reduced to the point whereby it needs dredging more often than not just to leave the mouth open.
This is catch-up politics from the Howard Government. In Simon Crean’s budget reply in 2003, Federal Labor put the Murray on the agenda. The South Australian Rann Labor Government is continuing to take action on the Murray and yet what we have seen is a series of promises from the government. We have seen a commitment to the Living Murray initiative from the Howard Government that has failed to see a single drop yet actually return to the Murray.
What we see is promises from the government, but those promises do not result in flows to the Murray.
JOURNALIST: How can you deliver 1500 gigs without destroying irrigation communities?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is quite clear that with a responsible plan, in consultation with the National Farmers Federation and agricultural communities, you can actually have outcomes. What we have seen from the government is a confused position. We have seen government Ministers say that they are opposed to buying back water rights for example to return those flows to the Murray. If speculation is correct then perhaps we will see that reversed in tonight’s budget.
It is quite clear that for the good of the agricultural community, and the food basin that is represented by the Murray Darling, that we need to deliver those environmental flows if we are going to achieve those outcomes in the long term.
In the long term the failure to take action on the Murray River threatens the livelihoods of those irrigators and agricultural producers in the Murray Darling Basin. It also threatens the whole of Adelaide in terms of access to water and that is why we need talk about not the cost of action but the cost of inaction.
JOURNALIST: 500 million is better than nothing though, isn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: 500 million is certainly better than nothing, but we must remember 500 million is the same amount that is part of the Living Murray initiative.
When journalists examine the budget papers in the budget lock up today, I hope that they look at the allocations that have been there in the past – the Living Murray Initiative, the allocation for the National Water Initiative – and have a look at the massive underspend that has occurred.
The Prime Minister himself earlier this year acknowledged it when he said ‘we need to put a bomb under the process’. Well that’s a bomb under his own process because what we have seen over a period of ten years now is first of all no action whatsoever, then a series of promises, but we have seen a failure to deliver when it comes to increasing the flows of the Murray.
JOURNALIST: What about some of the broader issues say salinity for example?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, on salinity I certainly hope that there is action as indicated in the speculation – obviously a government designed leak. We need to look not just at flows, but we need to look at salinity. Certainly one of the areas that there has been a massive underspend is on the national action plan on salinity. That was criticised by the National Productivity Commission who recognised that at one stage they had spent less than one in five dollars that had been allocated to the national action plan on salinity.
JOURNALIST: And what about the State Governments? You mention the Rann Labor Government efforts. What about NSW and Victoria and the failure to get interstate water trading up and running?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly New South Wales and Victoria, both of them, NSW last year in an announcement indicated that they would be supporting buying back water and increasing the flows there. If you look at the actions of NSW and Victoria with regards to returning flows into the Snowy and therefore downstream into the Murray, there has been strong action there.
The Victorian Government certainly has been ahead of the game when it comes to taking action in this area. And South Australians certainly know that they are very much dependant on the mighty Murray and they have a real interest and that is why today Steve Georganas is here.
I pay tribute to Steve Georganas, Kate Ellis and other South Australian Federal Labor members for maintaining the pressure that they have on the Howard government to take up these issues.
JOURNALIST: What is your views on Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed buy back scheme for the water saved through efficiency gains through irrigators?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I certainly support buy-back. I support where we can to buy-back water so we can then increase environmental flows in the Murray Darling system. If Malcolm Turnbull has those suggestions put forward then I welcome them. But I must say that on the Snowy Hydro debate, Malcolm Turnbull didn’t even bother to make a contribution to the debate in the House of Representatives. The first legislation that has come forward here he failed to state an opinion. I think what we need from Malcolm is actually more action and less publicity stunts.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.