Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Murray Darling Basin plan - water allocations

E&OE Transcript
Interview with the Matt and Dave program, ABC 891
07 October 2010

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Let's got to Tony Burke the Federal Water Minister now joins us. Good morning Minister Burke.


MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well you've just stepped off a plane and you've flown over the River Murray Mouth, what are your impressions Minister?

TONY BURKE: It looks spectacular, although I don't have the points of comparison as I haven't been able to fly over as closely as when, you know, it was so dry not long ago.

I think the most important thing when you see an image like that, and have a sense of some of the optimism that comes with it, is just to know that's not an excuse for ending reform. Some people see something as magnificent as the mouth of the Murray flowing again and say oh well you know, maybe we don't need to drive reform anymore well we still do.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: It makes it hard to drive reform doesn't it? I mean it's going to make it hard now for - we're already hearing the rumblings again from the eastern states, you know, why are you putting all that water in the lower lakes? It's only evaporating and yet you're going to cut our entitlements. It's going to be a hard sell particularly with the Tony Windsors and the Rob Oakeshotts of this world, holding the balance of parliament.

TONY BURKE: I think one of the issues there with any pressure is just to never lose sight of the sort of country Australia is. The end of one drought doesn't mean we're no longer going to have droughts. We have always been a country where we go through a cycle of shocking droughts. When you combine that with over allocations, up and down the basin, then you end up with environmental outcomes and outcomes for the health of the river that have been unacceptable. Those tough times will return and when you get some good rains like we've had, that's the time to push ahead with reform, not to stop it.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Will the state government's decision today to relax water restrictions here in Adelaide make it difficult for you to sell cuts to irrigators across the Murray-Darling Basin?

TONY BURKE: I don't believe so. I think people do understand that we go through cycles in drought and in times of good rain. But there is an overarching problem in the basin where there has been too much allocation.

Now, how you deal with that is difficult, really difficult because you want to drive efficiency wherever you can. You want to make sure our irrigation systems are efficient and also you want to make sure the way we look after the environment assets is done as efficiently as possible because food production is important, regional communities are important. So there's a really tough balance to work through here and I'm hoping tomorrow afternoon's announcement of this guide to the draft plan kicks off a level of consultation that brings all those issues into play.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And are irrigators facing cuts to their entitlements of between 27 and 37 per cent?

TONY BURKE: I been given briefings in confidence from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and I'll be respecting that confidence; 4 o'clock on Friday afternoon...

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well somebody obviously - somebody obviously hasn't. It's all been leaked.

TONY BURKE: Well I'm not going to confirm the contents of what's in the paper today.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well you could tell us if it was wrong I suppose.

TONY BURKE: [Laughs]. I think that would amount to confirming. So I've given my word that the briefings I've received will be confidential. I'll hold to that but the important thing for people to remember is whatever comes out at 4 o'clock on Friday, kicks off a new round of consultation and people who think that the authority might have got the figures wrong, should engage. There'll be people on the environmental side who think that those numbers aren't high enough. There'll be people on the irrigation side, in regional communities, who think that the figures that come out whatever they are tomorrow afternoon are on the high side.

I want that consultation to kick off. I want that engagement to happen. We're more than a year away from actually getting to the point where we have a final plan. And you know, the balance on this only works if people engage in that consultation.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And Minister just before you leave us, is the Murray reaching the ocean a goal, a policy goal of your government?

TONY BURKE: What we want is the good environmental flows.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: But is that the best way to measure good environmental flows? If it's reaching the ocean the environmental flows are good?

TONY BURKE: Look, I do think it's more complex than that. I'd love to be able to just give you a categorical yes on that. There's environmental assets all the way up and down the basin. It's not only at the end of the Lower Lakes and the Coorong.

And there's different issues in making sure we look after the environmental assets all along the basin. I'm not across all the complexity of that. I'm not going to pretend I am. Certainly watching the water flow through today was a great sign of where we're at right now but you know, I don't pretend for a minute that where you can get a good environment at times of high rain doesn't avoid the need for reform long term.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Tony Burke thank you.

TONY BURKE: Great to talk to you.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Safe travels. Federal Minister for Water at the Murray Mouth.