Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Complacency about water must end, Turnbull sa -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Complacency about water must end, Turnbull says

Reporter: Maxine McKew

MAXINE MCKEW: Of course, it's not only conservationists who feel a sense of urgency on this issue.
Only last week the Business Council of Australia said it was high time to get moving on the
measures already agreed on in the National Water Initiative. It would appear from today's news that
the government has got the message. A short time ago I spoke with the Federal MP who has carriage
of all of this, Malcolm Turnbull.

MAXINE MCKEW: Malcolm Turnbull, to what extent is this new office, perhaps, something of a
reflection of your own frustration at the glacial pace, as some see it, of change in the area?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I don't think the pace is glacial. I think that's a bit tough. It's been slower
in some areas than it ought have been, particularly with respect to water planning and getting the
new water plans, which strike the right sustainable balance between the claims of agriculture and
industry versus the claims of the environment.

MAXINE MCKEW: I was certainly thinking of the BCA, the Business Council of Australia came out last
week and said, "Look, hurry up, you've had that National Water Initiative there for quite some
time, but the measures haven't been enacted."

MALCOLM TURNBULL: A number of them have been, but you are right and they are right, the states
haven't progressed as quickly as possible. A number of the states were penalised, in fact, in the
last National Water Commission review of the National Water Initiative for not implementing their
obligations, fulfilling their obligations quickly enough. But the BCA also is looking at urban
water and the failure of mostly state governments to make the necessary infrastructure investments
to ensure our cities and towns have the water they need and that has just been the water shortages
that we have in our cities are in large measure a product of years of complacency and just hoping
that it will rain next year and we won't have to spend the money.

MAXINE MCKEW: Isn't the argument then the need for gutsy decision making by the Government, by
yourself and the Prime Minister? I mean, that being the case, when we look at one of the key
issues, we've got a situation where very big agricultural producers in this country have overly
generous water allocations. This still hasn't been tackled.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: That's not true. There's been restructuring of water allocations in many parts of
Australia. Just in New South Wales, there's been a program that we have contributed to, in terms of
the structural adjustment funds, restructuring groundwater allocation in a number of valleys in NSW
where there have been over-allocations. But you are right to this extent, there are a number of
areas and the lower Balonne in Queensland, which is what I'm sure you are coming to, is one where
the plans haven't been finalised and there's been a lot of contention whether the allocation of
water to agriculture as opposed to the environment is at a sustainable level.

MAXINE MCKEW: You are talking about Cubbie station there, and they don't want to give up a litre of
water. But I'm just picking up on what the --

MALCOLM TURNBULL: They haven't much to give away at the moment.

MAXINE MCKEW: The Prime Minister said today, he says he wants this new body to press ahead with a
sustainable allocation of water entitlements.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: We are driving that agenda.

MAXINE MCKEW: For that to be meaningful, though, it means some producers have to give up something?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, there's no question. That's the whole premise of the National Water

MAXINE MCKEW: And the point, I would have thought he was making, it's not happening quickly enough.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: That's true. In some areas it isn't. I just want to be very clear, Max, the
National Water Initiative was a great step forward. The fact is that we've made quite a bit of
progress in other areas and we're on track, we're just not moving down the track fast enough.

MAXINE MCKEW: Another thing the Prime Minister highlighted was the need to accelerate big
transformative water infrastructure projects. I'm assuming the Commission has come forward with
some, but what would be on your list, the big things you'd like to see movement on?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, I would like to see major recycling projects and reuse projects in a number
of our big cities. Now we've already got one on the agenda for Brisbane, the Western Corridor
Project, and that's what I was meeting with Anna Bligh in Brisbane about on Friday. They are
seeking substantial funds from us to support that. We'll be working very closely with Queensland.
The Deputy Premier and I had a very constructive meeting and we are going to set aside a whole day
to sit down from dawn to dusk, if necessary, to just go through every aspect of their plan so we
are completely at one in understanding what their needs are and what their objectives and measures
are and we want to do that in every big city around Australia.

MAXINE MCKEW: Mentioning Anna Bligh, of course, highlights the fact that she is the Deputy Premier.
Premier Peter Beattie straight after the election put her in charge of the water grid, so she has
his ear absolutely on this. Shouldn't you be at the Cabinet table as well on this? In fact, this is
what Peter Cullen from the Commission is saying, that this should be an issue discussed around the
Cabinet table.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I'm sure it is discussed. I'm just not there. The Prime Minister is very aware of
my views, so I'm sure he can convey any contribution I have to his Cabinet colleagues.

MAXINE MCKEW: It may be the next step, though?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, that's up to him. He's the boss.

MAXINE MCKEW: Another issue Peter Cullen has raised is pricing. He says, as we have just heard
there, that this is the bullet we have to bite. Whether it is industry or consumers, we simply have
to pay more for a scarce resource.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: There is no question about that. This is generalising wildly, because in some
areas water pricing is much closer to the real mark than it ought to be, but as a general rule,
Peter is right. Water must be priced at a level where it is properly valued and in particular in
the cities and the towns it reflects the cost of any new source of water. So if the cost of
bringing on new water is $1.50 or $2 a kilolitre, then that should be the price of water because
you've got to provide the incentives to ensure there is investment in new water infrastructure and
it isn't brought on and we have had water water has been too cheap. Just compare if you live in
Sydney or Melbourne, Brisbane for that matter, compare your water bill to your electricity bill and
you'll see what I mean. Urban water has been too cheap. In rural areas, of course, it has to be at
a much lower cost, but the cost of delivering it is a lot less, too.

MAXINE MCKEW: You also feel -- that's on the demand side. There's too little being done on the
supply side.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: No question. Look at Ssuth east Queensland as a classic example. You've got a big
city, probably our fastest growing capital city with dependent on one big dam, like Sydney is
dependent on one big dam. Brisbane's dam is 26 per cent full. They're going into a long, hot
summer, El Nino is on the horizon. All the augmentation measures, water supply measures they are
looking at, are great but they will take time to put in place. The fact is you cannot add 100
gigalitres or even 50 or 20 gigalitres of supply to a city in 5 minutes. It takes a long time.
That's why the days of complacency about water have got to end. We've got to be on the front foot.
We cannot be solely reliant on surface water resources which are climate dependent. We have to
recognise that we must put in place the water our cities need. Now, we can afford to do so, and the
point that the Prime Minister and I have been making repeatedly is that urban water is a very
profitable business. That's why these water utilities pay such big dividends to their government
owners. There's been a failure to invest, which has suited state governments and some local
governments because they have pocketed the cash, but now they've got to spend it. There is plenty
of money in the system for water. Money is not the problem. What's missing has been leadership and
determination from the states. I suppose you could say that the Prime Minister is filling that
vacuum, that need for leadership, driving it from the national level when historically it hasn't
been a national priority.

MAXINE MCKEW: We trust this will be done in the spirit of cooperation between the Commonwealth and
the states.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: We are always cooperative and collaborative, but nonetheless we need to be moving
in the right direction.

MAXINE MCKEW: Malcolm Turnbull, for your time tonight, thank you.