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Transcript
Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

ABC Canberra (2CN) - Drive
Wednesday, 12 November 2003, 4:55 pm

Subject: Murray River Flows


Rod Quinn, Compere:
Now time to talk to Dr David Kemp, he's the Federal Environment Minister. Dr Kemp, good afternoon.

Dr Kemp:
Good afternoon Rod.

Compere:
Is it the case that you can't get 1500 gigalitres, or is 500 enough?

Dr Kemp:
Well, 500 isn't enough, 500 is a first step. I thought those comments of Tim Fisher's were pretty good, there's hardly anything that he said that I would disagree with, or have reservations about. I think, as he said, the science tells us that we need more than 500 for the health of the Murray River as a whole. But 500 is a very good first step, and it's important that we take a very substantial first step which this one is, because we need to learn how best to actually provide the environmental outcomes we're looking for. And that's why these five key sites have been chosen.

Compere:
So, in fact if you had released 1500 gigalitres, then maybe it would have been wasted. You need to find out how much is needed?

Dr Kemp:
Well, that's right. I mean, you could simply flood water down the river, and you wouldn't achieve substantial benefits at any of these sites. So, at each of these sites what we're going to have to do is manage the water in particular ways. The Barmah forest is probably the greatest river Redgum forest in the world. You just need to get the water there, and there are some engineering works that will help you flood that floodplain, and through that forest. And with that, you can produce bird-breeding events, and help with fish breeding and so forth. But nature will broadly take its course there.

But when you get to the Perricoota Gunbower area, you're actually going to need to pump water to make sure that you get the area flooded, that you want to. By the time you get down to the Chowilla floodplain, a lot of that has become very heavily salinated at the moment. We're going to have to select particular areas, and take particular actions to get the water there, and so it's going to take a lot of management to achieve the environmental outcomes. And I think we do have to accept the fact that the Murray River is what's called now a working river, and in order to get the environmental outcomes we want, we're going to have to manage that river for the indefinite future. There's no way we can achieve those outcomes without doing that, and this first step, which is a very substantial first step, is going to give us a lot of important knowledge about how we can actually achieve that.

Compere:
But releasing say 500 gigalitres, which is the plan at the moment, and that doesn't as you say preclude later releases, does it take the urgency out of the problem without actually really addressing it?

Dr Kemp:
Oh no, I don't believe it does, because there is a huge community desire, both in the Murray-Darling Basin and in the wider Australian community, to see that river restored to health. And there are a lot of interests in doing so. I mean it's not just an environmental interest, although that's very strong of course, but it's an industrial interest, there are commercial fishing interests for native fish have been devastated by the carp. We need to help those native fish breed. The farmers really rely on successful bird breeding, because the birds of course are important ways of controlling insects. So there are lots of spin-offs from looking after the environment for the industries and the communities.

Compere:
How much will it cost to buy 500 gigalitres, is this part of the problem?

Dr Kemp:
Well, that's a very good question, and I suppose the real answer is that nobody knows precisely at the moment. But roughly speaking, you could equate $500 million to 500 gigalitres. Now, that may be an over-estimate or it may not be, we'll have to find that out. But if you did equate the two, then you'd be saying we'd be prepared to spend $1000 a megalitre. And that's quite a lot of money for a megalitre of water, and that's an average figure…

Compere:
So, that's about a dollar a litre, is that right?

Dr Kemp:
…the money that the Prime Minister, through his leadership, and the Premiers, have made available, will be more than enough to enable us to get the water that we need to achieve the environmental outcomes for that first step.

Compere:
OK, it's about a dollar a litre then?

Dr Kemp:
Well, yes, $1000 a megalitre, yes.

Compere:
Well, so, there's 1000 litres in a megalitre?

Dr Kemp:
Well, that's why we've got actually a million…

Compere:
A million in a megalitre?

Dr Kemp:
We've got a billion in the gigalitre.

Compere:
Ok, alright, I'll try and work it out during the news. Dr Kemp, thank you very much.

Dr Kemp:
Good. Thanks very much, righto.

Compere:
…cause I'm trying to work out whether it's cheaper to buy a bottle of water in the supermarket, or even at the movie theatre where they're usually about $10 a bottle for 350 mls.

**ENDS**

Commonwealth of Australia