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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16390

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (2:32 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I ask if he is aware that his 2001 Environmentalist of the Year, Professor Peter Cullen, together with his colleagues in the Wentworth Group, has called for an increase of a minimum of 1,500 gigalitres of environmental flows to restore the health of the Murray River. Is the Prime Minister also aware of reports that his agriculture minister has told irrigators that the final allocation of environmental flows to the Murray River will be closer to 200 gigalitres, not 1,500 gigalitres? Which position does the Prime Minister agree with—that held by the Wentworth Group or that held by his agriculture minister? Will the Prime Minister now adopt Labor's plan to save the Murray River through our riverbank proposal to restore environmental flows?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for a question on an important issue. My advice is that the 200 gigalitre figure referred to and attributed to the minister is a preliminary figure only. We have set in train a series of actions that will provide a solution to this challenge. The starting point is to get an effective system of water title rights, enforceable and recognised throughout the entire nation. Until that is done there is no fair long-term solution to this issue. The people of South Australia are entitled to a Murray River that flows effectively and certainly one that is much fuller than at the present time. Those who have to make a contribution to that in various parts of Australia can only be expected to make a contribution on two conditions. One of those conditions is that entitlements they have acquired over years if taken from them should be the subject of compensation and what is left should be covered by an enforceable title. That can only happen if there is cooperation between the Commonwealth and the states. We at the Commonwealth level do not control water title. We do not control the allocation of water. I would say to the Leader of the Opposition that, if he is serious on this issue, he will tell all his Labor mates as state premiers to cooperate at the COAG meeting later this year, when this matter will come on for discussion.