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Transcript of interview with Leon Byner: 5AA: 7 March 2012: Murray Darling Basin reform

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Transcript ­ 5AA ­ Wednesday 7 March 2012 

07 March 2012 in Media

E & OE

Subjects: Murray Darling Basin reform

Leon Byner:

Jamie Briggs has called for an increase if you like in the amount of water that the environment will get to dilute

salinity. Jamie Briggs, where have you got this information from and good morning?

Jamie Briggs:

Good morning Leon and thanks for having me on the program. What I’ve said in my submission is not

inconsistent with what I’ve said previously, which is that I am not an environmental scientist, I’m not a water

management expert, but what I have heard consistently from my community is that the real test about a

successful Murray Darling Basin plan, and let me say Leon, I want a successful Murray Darling Basin plan - I

think people are over the 120 years of bickering and parochial politics by states and different regions, is that we

want salinity testing in the lakes to give us a real indication about whether the numbers in the plan are achieving

what they are setting to achieve, because the salinity measure in the Lower Lakes is a great indicator of whether

the water that is being returned to the system is achieving what we’re seeking to achieve through this

reform. Now, I don’t have a personal view on whether 2,800GL is enough or whether it needs to be 4,000GL. As I

said at the beginning, I’m not a scientist. I don’t pretend to be. But certainly I think it would be worthwhile to

ensure that we’ve got the testing equipment that the State Government I might add is taking away from the Lower

Lakes; they are removing the current testing sites that are testing salinity in the Lower Lakes and I think that...


Do you know why?


I think it is purely just a budget saving, Leon. They put them in during the drought and now they are taking them

away because there is a perception that the problem has ended. Now of course the problem hasn’t ended. We

are seeing these increase flows, and that is obviously a welcome development, it will increase the health of the

system, but we know from the last drought that the system has been stressed for a long time. I absolutely agree

with your comments at the beginning. We need to ensure that we get, continue to get food and fibre out of the

Murray Darling Basin. It’s our great food source. It’s a great opportunity for farmers with unbelievable growth in

our region for farmers to take advantage of that, and we’ve seen some really encouraging growth in the farm

sector in the last couple of days with some statistics released. With 2.7 billion extra middle class mouths to feed

in our region in the coming years, farmers have never had this sort of opportunity. So we need to ensure that we

get the best out of the Murray Darling Basin. At the same time, we need to see the results of the over-extraction,

the misuse of water for too long, resulting in the problems we saw late in the last decade. You remember better

than most, Leon, they were terrible and they were on the brink of a disaster.


Jamie, you would know that we are getting a substantial amount of gigalitres a day as a result of these

floodwaters coming in. So mother nature is going to do pretty much what’s statutory authorities have been

incapable of doing?


Well indeed, but you will have flood events and you will have droughts, that is the way the system has always

been. But we do regulate the system more than ever. We take more out than we’ve ever taken, and the point I

think John Howard made when he made this announcement in January 2007, which is a long time ago now, was

that the system of management of the Murray Darling Basin has not worked. The states arguing with each other,

and I am very sad to see Jay Weatherill continue this argument right now, it hasn’t worked. South Australia...


Are you criticising Jay for wanting to go to Court if we don’t get a fair deal?


Yes, indeed. Because ultimately I think what we want is independent authority, we’ve argued that for a long time,

we can’t stamp our feet and chuck the toys out of the cot if we don’t get everything we want. We should be

arguing strongly...


Yeah but Jamie, the independent authority has been set up, other states have to agree to it and if they don’t the

independent authority has no ability at all to enforce anything...


You’re right and that was a mistake.


Well yes it was, but you know if we’re getting duded by the states upstream, don’t you think the government of

the day has a right to put their hand up and say this is wrong?


Well in the end, Leon, it depends on the outcome we want. If we want a return to the system of everyone arguing

over the amount that we get each year, we can return to that by going down Jay Weatherill’s path. If we want to

get an outcome where we have a plan for the future, we need to lobby hard now to ensure that we get the best

outcome that we can, and that’s why I’ve put a submission in. I said to my constituents in December when I wrote

to every single one of them that that is what I would do. But at the end of the day, I have been a supporter for a

very long time of having a national approach to this, because the days of the state governments sitting in rooms

arguing about this has to come to an end, because while we say here that we are not getting a fair deal, let me

tell you those in the Riverina and upstream also say that they are not getting a fair deal. There is no simple and

easy compromise to this and 120 years of bickering has told us that.


Jamie, thank you for joining us and I guess there is more to come on this one.