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 - Parliament House

  • 31 October 2012
  • Nick Champion- Member for Wakefield: What steps does the Government need to follow in order to have a plan to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health? What are the obstacles to achieving this outcome?

    Tony Burke Minister for Water: Thanks very much Speaker and I want to thank the Member for Wakefield for his question. Australia has never been closer to the reform of the Murray-Darling Basin than we are today. I want to commend not only the Member for Wakefield, but indeed all of those South Australian members on this side of the House for the arguments that they have run relentlessly in pushing for the restoration of health for the Murray-Darling Basin. I also want to acknowledge the contribution of the Member for New England in making sure that in going down this path, we go down it in a way that works with communities.

    And in that way we have made sure that we have got the minimum standards required to be able to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health. But wherever we have been able to meet those environmental standards in ways that work with communities, we have taken those options.

    Shortly over the next few weeks, once the Senate has dealt with the legislation that went through this house last night, I expect to be able to sign off on a Murray-Darling Basin Plan. That plan will have a bench mark of 2750GL with the environmental consequences attached to that. I do not believe, and the science does not believe, that those environmental consequences on their own are enough to restore the basin to health.

    The reason the Authority could only go that far is because of capacity constraints in the system. Which is why we had the guarantee given by the Prime Minister at an event with the Premier of South Australia last week to say the Government will provide the money to remove those capacity constraints and then provide the money to provide the additional 450GL that means you can, you can actually provide the dividend that the Murray-Darling Basin so desperately needs.

    That does not only provide an environmental benefit for South Australia, that also provides environmental benefits across the basin. Whether you are at the Macquarie Marshes, Menindee Lakes, whether you are at the Hatter Lakes, the Ramsar wetlands up and down the Murray-Darling Basin all stand to benefit from a return to health here.

    And given the history of some of those opposite, people such as the Member for Wentworth, who have played a role in getting us to this point over the years. I was astonished to hear the Member for Sturt describe Murray-Darling reform as being part of a blizzard of distractions, a blizzard of distractions as a description of Murray-Darling reform.

    We have an opportunity in this house to actually do what generations before us have always failed at. And I know the Member for Sturt was saying just today, apparently he described the South Australian Premier's role as making him a weakling. Now that is always a mean thing to say, but to be called a weakling by the Member for Sturt I think would hurt in a very big way.

    But let me make no doubt, that it is the case that anyone who stands on the side of restoring the system to health is on the right side of the debate. Is on the side that the basin has been waiting for for generations and that the house will deal with soon.