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Kerry O'Brien interviews Malcolm Turnbull -

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Kerry O'Brien interviews Malcolm Turnbull

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

KERRY O'BRIEN: Joining me now in the studio is the new Minister for Environment and Water
Resources, Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm Turnbull, in defining the main problems you've now promised to
solve once and for all in the Murray Darling, is it as simple as saying that over the years there's
been far more water allocated to farmers than the river system could supply, made worse by sharply
diminishing rainfall. That's the core?

MALCOLM TURNBULL, INCOMING WATER AND ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: That's one way, it's a simple way of
looking at it. There has been over allocation, and it's been based the over allocation, we've been
able to get away with the over allocation, if you like, because the last half of the 20th century
was particularly wet and it was if you look at, say, the second half of the 20th century versus the
first half it was much wetter, and there has been obviously a pretty complacent assumption that
those wet years would continue. Now the only sound expectation, sensible expectation, you can have
is that the years ahead of us are going to be dryer and hotter. We've been through them before. It
was like that in the first part of the 20th century. So we have to remember, and the PM made this
point in his speech, it's a really important one, rainfall averages are almost meaningless in
Australia, because the volatility is so great. Every farmer knows that. They might be in a, you
know, 25 inch rainfall area but they never get 25 inches. It's either a lot lower or a lot higher,
and that has a lot of implications, both for the environment and for the type of agriculture that
you support.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Can we be very clear about what you mean when you say Commonwealth control. Do you
plan to take over responsibility for all the management and implementation of policy, not just the
creation of policy, but all the implementation for the Murray Darling basin?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The plan is to take over all of the water management activities in the basin
currently conducted by the States. We would maintain the storages, we would not necessarily need to
own bits of water, you know, storage infrastructure that belongs to the States but we would, as the
MBDC does now, maintain them and operate them.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That's all the dams?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Yes, that's right. Hume Dam and Dartmouth dam and the various weirs, the Menindee
Lakes system and all of those storages.

KERRY O'BRIEN: What about the Snowy dams?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, the Snowy Hydro is a separate business. It's part electricity, part water
storage.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You won't go there at all?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: It's got a very clearly articulated set of agreements and its contribution to the
system is, in percentage terms, is actually not as great as a lot of people imagine. It's
important. I don't think we would need to acquire Snowy Hydro. The most important thing, Kerry, is
to properly manage on a uniform basis, ensuring there is compliance, the water sharing plans across
the basin so that they're consistent and that they are complied with, that we address over
allocation where it occurs, we pump this very large sum of money, there's nearly $6 billion is
going to go into making our irrigation systems the most efficient in the world. We are going to
have we are going to make every drop count and we have to do that, because if we want to maintain a
big agricultural base in southern Australia, and do so in circumstances where we're going to have
less rain and of course hotter temperatures so there will be even less runoff, in those
circumstances you've got to use water as efficiently as you can, and this program will do that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So, we'll come back to some of the detail of how you'll do it but the bottom line
is, it's going to be a Commonwealth bureaucracy rather than a combination of Commonwealth and State
bureaucracies to implement this, so presumably that means you'll end up with a lot of bureaucrats
currently working for the State in this area plus a lot of your own.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: We actually don't have a lot of water bureaucrats, as it happens.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But you're going to.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: We will, and I believe we'll need to have more people because one area where the
management of the basin has been lacking, or has been deficient by the States is ensuring
compliance with water sharing plans. So the States have, and I say this without any recriminations
or partisanship, but the States have not only failed to invest in infrastructure, they've failed to
invest in people. There aren't enough scientists and hydrologists and what you would call water
bureaucrats, but most of them don't spend a lot of time behind a desk, there aren't enough of those
people out there in the field any more and there needs to be more. We've got to bring that talent
together, encourage more people to take up those water sciences because, unless you understand the
water system, unless you can measure it and monitor it and that's why the metering is such an
important part of this program - that's why the water, you know, the hydrology side of it that's
going to be part of the Bureau of Meteorology, that's why that is so important - because unless you
understand what's happening in the groundwater system and the river system then you will continue
to make the sort of mistakes that have been made in the past.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Given that the registers of farmers' water entitlements in the basin seems to be a
complete shambles, will you make it a priority to establish a common register for surface- and
groundwater and, incidentally, how will the Commonwealth tackle the problem of water thieves?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Water thieves is in effect a policing issue, that's a compliance issue.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But that's substantial, isn't it?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Yes, it is, in some areas it is very substantial. Not question about that.
Particularly with groundwater, it's much harder to monitor. That's an on the ground, people
problem. As far as a national basin wide register is concerned, absolutely. The difficulties with
conveying water in the Murray Darling basin make a sort of bleak house old system conveyance look
straightforward. It has got to become very simple, you know, it's a standard gauge issue. It
doesn't matter whether the Victorians have got a better system than the New South Welshmen or the
South Australians, it has just got to be one system. One standard gauge to deal with water in the
basin.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You've already told city dwellers that they're going to have to get used to paying
more for water. Is it also time to be equally blunt with struggling and unviable farmers and simply
buy them out? Is that going to happen anyway?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: That will happen. Struggling and unviable farmers who have water rights will
undoubtedly sell them. They may sell them to the Commonwealth under the program that we're talking
about today. They may sell them to other farmers, but there is a market for water and, of course,
in a sense, this is where water trading is so important because it gives the battling irrigator
something to sell, whereas of course if you're a battling dry land farmer and you're not getting
the rain you're used to, you really have nothing to sell. The irrigators, as long as they've got
that water right, that's going to have some value.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Very briefly, if we can look at the northern Australian plan, which sounds
ambitious. On Senator Heffernan's hopes for northern development, let me put this proposition to
you. That the north is a place of extreme dries as well as extreme wet, that half the year the
benefits of the wet is undone by the evaporation and so on of the dry. Big storage problems and not
a lot of good farming soil for irrigation. I wonder if this, in the end, isn't just a blind alley,
as it has proved in the past?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: All of those points have got it's like the curate's egg, they're good in parts.
There is nearly 70% of all of our runoff can be found in northern and tropical Australia. There is
a huge amount of water there. There is also some very big groundwater systems. Some of the largest
fresh water, fresh groundwater systems are in northern Australia and groundwater systems that are
recharged by the rainfall you're talking about and you're right, Kerry, a lot of the country is
very flat so it's difficult to build big storages but, on the other hand, you do have terrain that
enables you to build storages. The Ord River, Lake Argyle is an example of that. It's a huge,
gigantic area and the fact is, we don't know enough about it. John Howard has been putting tens of
millions of dollars into northern Australia to get a better understanding of the hydrology of the
groundwater systems, how they interact with the surface water and so forth, because we don't want
to make the same mistakes in the north that we've made in the south, so what Bill is doing is not,
you know, rushing off to start developing things tomorrow. We've got to identify the opportunities
looking at it in a very long term way and then make sure that we do our work. There are going to be
some great opportunities there but we've got to get the planning right, we've got to get the
science right and, if we do that, northern Australia will become the new agricultural frontier for
Australia.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So is the Federal Government's number one water boy, you've been dealing in part
with the symptoms of global warming. How do you feel now about having to shape up to the cause,
global warming itself?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, global warming is a fact - climate change is a fact, not a theory. We're
living with it and water scarcity is the most obvious manifestation of it in Australia. So we have
to adapt to it and we also have to address and the Government has been addressing the issue of
greenhouse gas emissions. Australia will meet its Kyoto target or come very close to it. Many of
the countries that have ratified the Kyoto protocol, as you know, are going to miss it by a very
long way. We're also leading the way in terms of the science that will make the difference. Very
interesting paper by the International Energy Authority recently, which identified the ways in
which the world would meet its carbon reduction, its greenhouse gas reduction emission. First, the
biggest chunk of improvement was in energy efficiency. Might be hybrid cars, better light bulbs,
getting more bang out of every unit of energy. The next one was clean coal. Now, John Howard has
been prescient on clean coal. China the most important thing we can do for the rest of the world,
the thing that will have the biggest contribution is to deliver the technology that enables those
rapidly growing economies that are dependent on coal to clean up those coal fired power stations,
because China is going to be dependent on coal fired power for many, many decades, if not centuries
to come.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Yes, but it could take well over one decade to get to a point where we're even going
to know whether you can effectively clean up coal and we're being told within this next decade we
could be past a point where the price to be paid by the world, including Australia, will be
massive?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: That's right, that may be right, Kerry, I'm not - neither agreeing with you nor
disagreeing with you, but the simple fact of the matter is, China has got a lot more coal than we
have, they mine a lot more coal, they burn a lot more coal; India is in a similar position. They
are not going to abandon coal fired power as an energy source. So if you're saying clean coal may
not be a successful mission, well, maybe you'll be right, we'll have a look at it in 10 years time.
But it is clearly, and the IEA, the International Energy Authority, is my authority for this, it
is, after energy efficiency, it is the single most important contributor to the environmental
mission that we're all undertaking and after that, I might add, there's nuclear energy and after
that renewables.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Much more to talk about. Malcolm Turnbull, you'll be back before too long, I would
think. Thank you very much for your time.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Thank you very much.