Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Interview with David Bevan, ABC 891, Murray Darling Basin
Interview with David Bevan, ABC 891
15 September 2011
DAVID BEVAN: Federal Minister for Water, Tony Burke joins us now. Good morning Minister.
TONY BURKE: G'day Dave.
DAVID BEVAN: Minister, will the 4000 GL of water as originally promised be returned to the Murray?
TONY BURKE: The last time the Authority came out with numbers they had a range between 3000 and 4000. The latest that I've been briefed on is they are currently heading towards 2800. My priority has never been how many litres, it's been what is the outcome and I have made absolutely clear in every private conversation and in public statements that I expect minimum environmental standards to come out of this report, one of them is that mouth of the Murray should be open nine years out of ten.
DAVID BEVAN: How can you have an outcome if you don't returned the required amount of water? We say the required amount of water and the general opinion by the experts seems to be, for environmental flows out of the murray mouth you're going to need about 4000 GL.
TONY BURKE: No, the 4000 figure, when the different scientists come up with that, that's not only about the mouth of the Murray its about a very large number of environmental sites throughout the Basin. A lot of that water goes to those environmental sites not all of it comes through the mouth.
DAVID BEVAN: Oh ok, so you don't care about them you only care about the mouth of the Murray so if you can keep that open with 2800 GL that's fine and too bad about the other bits.
TONY BURKE: You know that's not the case and you know that's not what I said is there is a very large number of these different sites and some of them are not measured. For the ones that are not measured, there is a judgement call when people are working out how much water might be required to look after these many many hundreds of particular sites that they've identified throughout the Basin. What I've identified throughout is some of the RAMSAR sites, some of the most important sites, some of the things like the mouth of the Murray, which aren't only important to the people living there, its necessary for the whole system to be able to flush out salt. This isn't just water going to waste going out into the ocean, this is essential for the health of the entire system. That's why I've put minimum standards on those. To be able to put a minimum standards on every one of the hundreds and hundreds of environmental sites, where some of it is a judgement call because there's no measurements attached to it is something where I think those judgements are best left to the Authority. But if they comes back with numbers that don't meet the minimum standards that I've been talking about then in those circumstances I don't think the reform will be met.
DAVID BEVAN: So if you're told that 2800 GL will not look after all of those other sites plus keep the Murray mouth open then you will reject 2800 GL and ask for a higher figure?
TONY BURKE: Not every one of the hundreds of sites, and we've said this the whole way through, if you have to make a decision, say in the far north of the Basin, if they make a decision that there is a particular small wetland somewhere that they are not going to prioritise for the use of environmental water or there are system constraints on being able to do it that has an effect on the total numbers required but you've got to make sure that you're not having knock on problems the whole way down the system. That's why the scientists need to be engaged, that's why you need to have solid science, fully reviewed by the CSIRO to make to make sure you get these judgments right. But the questions I keep asking is what's the outcome, hydrologists can argue about how many megalitres back and forth you need to achieve a whole range of outcomes. My priority here is in making sure that we meet the environmental standards that have been set for this reform and when the authority comes back, so long as they meet those environmental standards then we've got a reform to implement.
DAVID BEVAN: Isn't this why your Government is in trouble? We were told that climate change was the greatest moral challenge and then it wasn't. We were told by Julia Gillard during the last election campaign whatever the Authority recommends for the Murray River will be Government policy and its recommendations were dropped after irrigators burned a few reports. Isn't this symptomatic of why your Government is in trouble?
TONY BURKE: The recommendations weren't dropped after people burned a few reports. What happened after that was I said the same thing that I've said about that document the whole way through, that was a guide for a draft of a plan, it was the beginning of a long process of consultation, that's how I always described it.
DAVID BEVAN: During that election campaign, which wasn't that long ago, we repeatedly asked Julia Gillard on this program as did other media outlets, the Murray River is the big issue in South Australia, we were still in the drought, what are you going to do? Every time we asked that question she said whatever that report said we are going to implement. We all knew the report she was talking about, that was the one that was about to be released after the election campaign so people clearly had an impression that that would be adopted. Some people burned some reports, it was dropped, and now we're not looking at 3-4000 GL we're looking at a lot less.
TONY BURKE: No, Dave the words of the Prime Minister during the campaign were to say that whatever ends up in the Murray Darling Basin Plan would be implemented. Something that is a guide to consultation is a different document to the Plan. But what numbers it comes out with, I don't know the answer to that, the independent Authority will do that but the one thing I've added to the mix since I came in is to make clear that there are some environmental standards that we must not go below so if you've got a frustration with the comments that I've been making its only that I have put more environmental constraints and made sure that there are minimum standards that the Authority must not go below if we are serious about reform.
DAVID BEVAN: Tony Burke, thanks for your time.
TONY BURKE: Thank you.