Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Advice from the Windsor Committee, Coalition plan to delay water reform

E&OE transcript
Response in Question Time
10 February 2011

TONY BURKE: I thank the member for Makin for his question.

Over the last few days in water reform we have had some constructive suggestions and we have had some negligent suggestions that have come from various quarters.

I want to thank the members of both sides of the house who have been working with the Member for New England in the inquiry that's been taking place into reform of the Murray Darling Basin and some suggestions and feedback that's been passed on to me from that inquiry.

In the information that's come, it is very much matching what I have been receiving in various consultations that I've been conducting in irrigation communities. And I should inform the house that the concept that has been referred to me from the committee about trying to improve the management of environmental assets is a very real possibility in trying to minimise the adjustment required for individual communities.

I am currently looking at ways of formalizing a process with stakeholders to come up with the best projects that might be able to deal with that.

Similarly it's been put to me from the committee about wanting to maximize the opportunity for strategic purchases and that's very much linked with the recommendation that's come to from them regarding taxation issues.

The Minister for Regional Australia and the Treasurer have been working with me on trying to find ways of maximizing the tax effectiveness of those strategic purchases. And we are certainly very hopeful that we will be able to make an announcement on that soon which I think will very much meet with the wishes of the committee.

There have also been some suggestions which can only be described as not being quite so constructive. It was suggested as an alternative from the opposition, that as an alternative to Australians contributing through the flood levy that we would stop the buyback of water in the Murray Darling Basin.

It's true that buyback, even though it was technically funded by the previous government, was something that they never delivered on. They established the Office of the Commonwealth Environmental Water holder and then gave the Commonwealth Environmental Water holder no water to hold - at all.

I notice some members have glasses of water at their desks. There is more water in those glasses than was ever purchased by the previous government and for environmental water to restore the Murray Darling to health.

That puts at a disadvantage all of the irrigators who've actually invested in improving their infrastructure who then want to put the water that they no longer require on the market. But when they want to do it, this mob opposite us is saying that if they were in government, they wouldn't assist with that. They are saying that would not be available in the repurchase of environmental water.

This is a great victory for Senator Joyce over every South Australian member opposite. Because the South Australian members on this side including the Member for Makin know exactly what the last drought looked like. They know exactly what it looks like when you get acid sulphate soils. They know what it looks like the lower lakes become a bed of a salinity. They know what it looks like when you allow the rivers to run dry because of over allocation.

But every South Australian member opposite has been defeated in a campaign by Senator Joyce to try to stop the reform of the Murray Darling Basin.

And don't forget what that means for irrigators because if you don't engage year after year in a strategic voluntary buyback from people who have chosen to put their water on the market you only have eight years before the final state water plans come into place. And that means that they have created a situation where by being negligent in buyback in the coming years, they would land Australians in a situation of potential compulsory acquisition in eight years time.

If you don't engage in the buyback in a strategic way the concept of willing sellers completely falls off the table. Mr Abbott, the leader of the Opposition, has once again put his political interests ahead of the national interests, he doesn't believe in water reform.