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

26 November 2012

AMANDA RISHWORTH (MEMBER FOR KINGSTON) My question is to the Minister for Water. Will the Minister advise the House of the Government's plan to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health? What are the next steps before the Parliament on this plan?

TONY BURKE (MINISTER FOR WATER) Thankyou very much speaker and I thank the member for Kingston for the question, someone who has been a passionate advocate for restoring the Murray-Darling Basin to health.

Australia now has a Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The plan is legally binding and the establishment of the plan follows a long line of processes which have occurred over the years while government has changed back and forth.

The process that we are in at the moment goes all the way back to 1991. In 1991 there was an outbreak of blue green algae and at that point instead of the Murray-Darling being an negotiation between the states, the river itself negotiated back and it negotiated hard, sending a message back loud and clear that if we didn't manage the rivers properly, none of us would be able to use the water.

The Keating Government followed up in 1994 with a COAG agreement that set the framework which water reform follows today. Under the Howard Government we had the National Water Initiative in 2004 and in 2007 the establishment of the Water Act overseen by the then Minister for Environment and Water, the member for Wentworth.

When the Rudd Government came in, under Minister Wong, we had the establishment of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and large amounts of water started to be acuminated for the purposed of environmental water being reserved to restore the system to health.

We now, under the Gillard Government, have a situation where Australia has, as force of law, a binding Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

In arriving at this plan, the Parliament has been well served by the work of the Windsor Committee where they have brought different members of the parliament together and asked for there to be methods where this reform could be achieved in a way that was sensitive to communities.

And wherever we could reach the environmental objectives that the reform demanded in ways that are sensitive to communities through minimising buyback and maximising environmental works and measures and infrastructure investment, we have done so.

But make no mistake, while we have compromised on the way of getting there, there has been no compromise on the ambition of the reform itself.

This reform does restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health. This reform does mean that we will not see again the drying up of the system at the end of the system at the South Australian end the way we have in the past, that we won't see the drying up of the Hatter lakes or the Narran lakes, that we won't see those sorts of blue green algae outbreaks on the 1000km scale which characterised the early 90s.

I want to refer to the fact that from 5 o'clock today, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will be tabled in this parliament and will be available for disallowance.

I understand there has been a statement from the Greens saying that they intent to move disallowance. I just want to make clear to the parliament if we can only resolve to continue the fight and not reach a solution, we are no better than the generations that have failed before us.