Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Question without notice - Murray Darling Basin reform

E&OE Transcript
Parliament House
28 February 2012

MEMBER FOR NEW ENGLAND TONY WINDSOR: Thank you Mr Speaker. My question is to the Minister for Water and relates to water buyback policy. Minister, given recent questions raised about the Government's initiative to seek expressions of interest for water in the southern connected system of the Murray Darling Basin as it applies to irrigation districts and strategic water purchases? Could the Minister comment on those concerns and given those concerns would the Minister also consider attending a meeting of the Regional Australia committee in company with the Murray Darling Basin Authority Chair Craig Knowles to discuss progress on the Murray Darling Basin Plan?

WATER MINISTER TONY BURKE: Thanks very much Mr Speaker and I want to thank the Member for New England, both for the question and also for the work he did when the Windsor Inquiry looked in to Murray Darling Basin reform. One of the key recommendations and at the media conferences that followed, from all Members of Parliament on each side of this house, a key recommendation of that inquiry was a call for the Government to put a pause on all non strategic buyback. At that time we gave a guarantee that we would only buy from river pumpers and in the south of the system the general tenders that had been taking place would not recommence until 2013. Those commitments stand. There have been claims from three members of that inquiry, in this Parliament and outside this Parliament, that the recent expressions of interest that have been launched are in some way a breach of that commitment.

Can I just make clear Mr Speaker and to the members of the Windsor Inquiry, the expressions of interest that have been launched are so strategic buyback can take place. Rather than doing a basin-wide tender, rather than going through the other system which members opposite had always opposed where value for money was the only indicator. To actually have a situation where we look through expressions of interest as to whether or not for that local community the purchase is strategic is exactly what that Inquiry unanimously called for.

I am very happy to meet with members of the Committee. I am very happy to ask the chair of the Murray Darling Basin Authority to meet with members of the Committee about this, because it comes down to one really simple dividing line. Because when we got that unanimous report I actually thought we had from the Coalition members who were on that Committee, a willingness to engage in reform and that they held themselves to the work of that Inquiry, that their issue was whether or not the buybacks were strategic.

What we have discovered today is, regardless of what they did with anonymity on that report, there are members opposite where their argument isn't that it should be strategic they are just opposed to reform. They are just opposed to the reform of the Murray Darling Basin. And the argument that they thrown up in the last few days are a slap in the face to every South Australian member there opposite who thought they had a consensus position from the Coalition. Who thought they were on a constructive past forward.

That is why, Mr Speaker, what has been announced is exactly what the Windsor inquiry called for, exactly in line with the commitment we made and exactly what, until this week had been a unanimous position from the Coalition.