Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
QLD floods - Tony Abbott dam proposal - SA water allocation
Interview with Graham Gooding, 5AA
7 January 2011
GOODING: The Queensland floods are dominating the news. It's having an effect on massive areas of Queensland and in turn that will have huge effects on the rest of Australia, not the least of which is the flooding flowing into more southern rivers and streams it's going to have a huge effect on the costs, we all will end up paying more for fruit and vegetables. Federal Water Minister, Tony Burke, is there any sign that it's easing?
BURKE: G'day Graham, happy new year.
GOODING: And to you. It is of concern but is there any sign that its easing?
BURKE: The problem that we've got now is that as you go through those northern reaches of the system the soil moisture is just so high now that you're liable to get flash flooding much more quickly than you would previously when your storms come. So we have a situation now where levels of rain which two years ago would not have resulted in floods now will because the system is so full. So that's the change in the situation which has changed so fundamentally in just a few months.
GOODING: I know a couple of days ago more rain was forecast, do you know if that's changed?
BURKE: I'm not sure of the latest of that. Certainly for much of NSW that's true but for Queensland I'm not sure of the latest on that.
GOODING: They certainly don't need any more do they?
BURKE: No. There'll be an opportunity in some months down the track where there are some really good outcomes for soil moisture that come from this and there'll be some really good productivity out comes but getting over the hurdle in the middle at the moment is an extraordinary effort.
GOODING: Yes, the focus must be on the rescue, recovery and helpoing those people who have lost so much. But if we can step back a bit and Tony Abbott has said today that he will set up a taskforce to look into setting up dams that would not only retain water for the drought times but perhaps mitigate any flood possibilities.
BURKE: There's some dam proposals where, particularly one like Chaffey Dam up in New England area where we've made specific commitments about upgrading the capacity. There's some of those sort of proposals that we carried through as election commitments and are now delivering on. In terms of building new dams we certainly don't have a policy against it; the states usually take the lead on picking the sites and one of the problems is there's not that many available sites. You need the topography to be in precisely the right place to get a dam to work and then you've got to work out what impact does that then have on everyone downstream.
GOODING: Now back here to South Australia, our irrigators are facing a ludicrous situation in the Riverland at the moment where they've got so much water flowing past them, they're in virtual flood conditions and yet they're not able to take more water out of the river because they've reached their allocation. Are you aware of that?
BURKE: I am, I don't have direct control over this one but I think I can probably help explain some of what is going on there.
South Australia has been given its full allocation through this agreement that we have across the Basin states, but South Australia also has a system, which works in the favour of irrigators, of being able to carry over their water entitlements from one year to the next. Some of that carry over water has taken up part of this year's entitlement, so in terms of actual number of litres the full amount of water is available for South Australian irrigators when South Australian then works out how do we allocate that property by property, you end up with a lower percentage on many properties because of the carry over that's happened from previous years.
GOODING: The irrigators are actually having to purchase water if they need any more. Isn't that a ludicrous situation considering there's floodwaters flowing outside their front door?
BURKE: I can absolutely understand the frustration but we do need to remember that part of what's washing out of the system at the moment is some really high salinity rates that have built up over time. So the flush of water going through does have a long term benefit for irrigators up and down the system.
GOODING: All they need is less than two days supply of the current flow.
BURKE: I do hear what you're saying there. The principle there to able vary something would involve those Basin states having to strike a new agreement. Hopefully with some of these issues we can find a smart way through them when we come through with the Basin Plan which I'm still wanting to be pretty well advanced on when we get to this time next year. That'll be when at federal level we finally deal with these issues Basin wide rather then state by state.
GOODING: I know you can't control it but this seems a ridiculous situation, it's not helping the irrigators who are bleeding, they need the water, the water is rushing out to sea and it's going to continue to do so for the next several months, would you put pressure on the State Governments or suggest to them that it might be say 'Use all the water you need'
BURKE: My understanding is some of these conversations are happening. One of the challenges though, as I understand it, has been that every time you try to reopen or renegotiate any of these agreements between the states, every state starts pursuing their own agenda and often South Australia doesn't come out the best in those negotiations. So if this is one of the reasons why if we're not able to get a better deal for people over the next few months I'd certainly hope that we're able to strike a much more sensible balance both for the health of the river system and for the people who draw their livelihoods from it, in having a Basin plan as early as we can next year.
GOODING: It's been great to talk to you
BURKE: Great to talk to you.