Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Murray Darling Basin plan - water efficiency - allocations - water restrictions
Interview with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan, ABC 891 Adelaide
21 September 2010
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well, for most of the long drought, South Australia has had a South Australian handling water federally in what was then the Rudd Government and that was Senator Penny Wong.
Well, she's now been promoted in Cabinet in the Gillard Cabinet to be Minister for Finance. It's now raining and the waters are coming and Tony Burke is the new Minister for Water, Sustainability, Environment, Population and Communities and he's in our studio on his first Adelaide visit as Minister. Good morning to you.
TONY BURKE: Good day, good to be here.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: So that's lucky, isn't it? Penny Wong gets the drought, you get the breaking of the drought.
TONY BURKE: So you're not opening by giving me any credit for that, I take it?
DAVID BEVAN: No, no, none at all, Minister. Now, we're seeing, of course, here the Lower Lakes being reconnected. There's some talk last night and on ABC News that the regulator, as they call it, the Clayton, may have to be opened.
We're told the water is very high on both sides anyway. I received an email saying it's just lapping the top of it. So there's a fair bit of water in the system at the moment.
How are you going to sell the draft Basin Plan, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan when we finally get to see it in early October to irrigators who, for the first time, are looking at getting healthy entitlements?
TONY BURKE: I think the starting point on all of this has to be that there will be periods of drought, periods of rain. No matter which way you look at it though, the river has been over allocated and there has been a whole lot of pain at this end of the river because of over allocations that have happened further upstream.
Regardless of whether we're in a period of drought or whether we're in a period now where there's a fair bit of water about, we still need to go ahead with the reform which had been already undertaken by Penny Wong.
DAVID BEVAN: So do you remain completely committed to implementing all of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's recommendations?
TONY BURKE: Well, we're talking about recommendations that I haven't seen yet and I'll just start at the very beginnings of the briefings. But certainly every commitment that Penny gave continues on. There's no change on that.
The one extra thing that I'm wanting to see a level of emphasis on, which I'm getting some briefings on are within the legislative framework we've got, how can we also have a heightened focus on the impact on communities?
I think we've made a really important commitment during the campaign with irrigators to say in order to meet the long term targets, we'll keep buying from willing sellers. That there won't be forced acquisition of water entitlements. I think that was important to make.
But there's this added principal of well, when an irrigator does sell out their water entitlements and they then leave the community, the money and the jobs associated with that leave a community as well.
I'm just very conscious as to whether or not we've got enough in place to make sure that we keep strong regional communities in those areas.
DAVID BEVAN: Well, was that a softening on the Government's line because just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Julia Gillard stood next to Penny Wong and basically said, whatever the Authority recommends, we will implement.
That was Labor's water policy, just a few weeks ago. Has that changed in any way?
TONY BURKE: What I've said is every commitment that was made during the campaign stays. The only extra emphasis that I'm wanting to look at and it's not - it doesn't go against the grain of any commitments that have been made, I just do have a concern whether we've got enough in place to look after the regional communities when water goes.
DAVID BEVAN: Okay. So regardless of what the Authority recommends, it might recommend quite severe cuts in allocations to certain regions in the Murray-Darling Basin? Regardless of what those recommendations are, you'll implement them and you'll implement them according to the Authority's timetable?
TONY BURKE: Well, the first recommendations that we'll see will only be a draft plan. That'll be on 8 October when that comes out and I don't want anybody to see the draft plan and think that's the end of the consultation, government goes ahead and starts implementing because what happens in that draft plan is there's then another round of community consultation.
I want people to be active in that. I want people to engage with the Authority during that time.
DAVID BEVAN: But it'll be the Authority, at the end of that community consultation which decides on the amount of water which is pulled out of the system and the timetable?
TONY BURKE: There is no change in the respect for the Authority and the independent role that he has. No change.
DAVID BEVAN: You've now got these upstream independents delivering new government, have you not? Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor. Are they going to put some pressure on you because some of the phrases we heard coming out in that period when there was no effective declared government in Australia weren't all that reassuring about attitudes to the food production along the Murray in this end of the Murray, for instance.
TONY BURKE: My commitment to making sure that we can be a strong producer of food has always been within the context of we need to be able to do more with less.
We have a challenge that when you've got over allocation, the only way you're able to deal with over allocation is to have the sort of reform that means you do end up with some buying back of water entitlements.
DAVID BEVAN: Will we see regional communities close down along the Murray-Darling Basin because there simply won't be the water that they're used to?
TONY BURKE: I hope not, I hope not. I hope we can find ways forward for regional communities to have a life of their own, for them to be able to, either whether it's because of the reform of how effectively water is used in those communities or are there opportunities for them?
But the answer is going to be different in each community and this is why right from the beginning I've flagged three issues. One, the election commitments made by Penny all stand.
Two, no change on the horizon in terms of the legislative framework. The legislative framework that we have is there, it's been in place on a pretty much bipartisan basis for a long time now and we should work within that framework.
But three, I also want to make sure that we start to look at regional communities, the ones that are going to be most affected and try to make sure that we do what we can to give them a strong future.
DAVID BEVAN: Are you going to take a hard line on the agreement for funding the desalination plant and that is that in order for a couple of hundred million dollars in full to go to the desal plant, Adelaide has to reduce its draw on the River Murray?
TONY BURKE: I caught up with Paul Caica and last night we had a broad discussion on this. We'll be again together today. I haven't been fully briefed on everything at the Commonwealth level on that particular project.
The commitment of funds from the Commonwealth is there. The details on everything that those funds are contracted with is still being worked out but this early in the portfolio, I'm not going to pretend to be fully across that brief.
DAVID BEVAN: Okay. You're listening to Tony Burke, Minister for Water, a lot of other things as well. But Tim from Meadows, good day, Tim.
CALLER TIM: Good morning, good morning, Minister.
TONY BURKE: Good day.
CALLER TIM: My question is with regard to efficiency, when will all of the Basin irrigators be properly metered because I understand that a large proportion of Australian irrigators, there is no meter whatsoever on their taking?
TONY BURKE: Tim, not sure of the answer to that across every catchment. Certainly where you've got meters, you're able to deal with your water efficiency in a much more effective way, simply by virtue of being able to get a more effective form of measurement.
But not sure of the answer to that. Hopefully next time I'm on I'll be able to provide more on that.
DAVID BEVAN: Okay. Paul from the Adelaide Hills on 891 Morning as we talk to the new Federal Water Minister, Tony Burke. Good morning, Paul.
CALLER PAUL: Morning. Minister...
TONY BURKE: Good day, Paul.
CALLER PAUL: ...what I'm wondering is that considering that South Australia has not given out a new water licence since the 1960s and so therefore South Australia should not be and is not, over allocated in their water and that we have more efficient irrigators in Australia, is there going to be any entitlement taken away from the irrigators in South Australia?
TONY BURKE: Well, first of all in terms of the level of efficiency in South Australia, I've got to agree with you from what I've seen when I held the Agriculture portfolio of just how efficient irrigation is, particularly in the Riverland.
I've seen some of the best work there that I've seen anywhere across the country in the time that I held that portfolio. The extent to which any of the cut backs on entitlements are shared across the whole Basin is something where we'll have a better idea as to how that happens when the draft plan comes out.
DAVID BEVAN: Now where's your seat in the east?
TONY BURKE: I'm not far from Sydney Airport.
DAVID BEVAN: Right. So you're an inner city-ish MP?
TONY BURKE: Yes, a fair description. I've lived in the same part of Sydney all my life.
DAVID BEVAN: Okay. Are they quarter acre blocks, red rooves, red bricks?
TONY BURKE: Yes, a mixture of that. Units, you know, you've got the full mix. There's not enough parklands.
DAVID BEVAN: It sounds a bit like the Darryl Kerrigan, you know, living under the airport scenario from The Castle. But do you have water restrictions? Are you allowed to run your sprinkler? Are your kids allowed to run under sprinklers?
TONY BURKE: No, not any more. There was one heatwave day over summer where the government made an announcement, turn the sprinklers on and let the kids run under it, which they did.
But we've got about four water tanks on the side of the house. They go back into - they do the flushing, they do the laundry and they do the watering of the garden all from the water tanks.
So there's more harvesting that you can do now when you design places and certainly every new house that goes through in my part of Sydney now, water efficiency is better than it used to be.
DAVID BEVAN: But you're able to wash your car with a hose in Sydney, aren't you? When I was up there, people just washing their cars in the street. This was a few weeks ago.
TONY BURKE: Yes. Normally you're encouraged if you're doing it to actually park the car on the grass so you get the double benefit with the lawn rather than getting...
DAVID BEVAN: We're not allowed to do that here.
TONY BURKE: But I've actually got a - like a servo up the top of my street where the water goes round and round. So you put some coins in the side there, you get out the high-pressure hose, wash...
DAVID BEVAN: Okay. Yes, we've got those here in Adelaide.
TONY BURKE: Yes, yes. I do that.
DAVID BEVAN: We're right up with it now.
TONY BURKE: It's not hard getting the kids to come with you with that but not too much water gets sprayed on the car.
DAVID BEVAN: Tony Burke, thank you for talking to us. Thanks for coming in to our studio.
TONY BURKE: No. Real pleasure.
DAVID BEVAN: Good on you. Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Quite a grab bag there but Tony Burke and as he gets a better grip on his portfolio, it is very early days, we'd love to have him back in the studio.
TONY BURKE: I look forward to it.
DAVID BEVAN: Thank you. Tony Burke on 891 Mornings. Matthew Abraham and David Bevan.