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Minister's outlook focused on drought aid and water policy.

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AFFA03/046WT - 4 March 2003

Minister’s Outlook focused on drought aid and water policy

Despite widespread rain, it was premature to declare the drought over, Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss told the annual ABARE Outlook Conference in Canberra today.

Mr Truss said once the drought was behind the farm sector he planned to convene a meeting of national and State farm organisations to discuss Commonwealth and State drought assistance.

He said that if agriculture ministers could not agree on better and more timely assistance measures the next drought aid reform push could go to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

“I propose that, arising out of the drought meeting, an options paper will be prepared. I would prefer that the matter then be settled by agriculture ministers However, if that again proves impossible, then we may have to take it to COAG,” Mr Truss said.

Focussing on water issues, Mr Truss told the conference at Canberra’s National Convention Centre that the debate on environmental flows for rivers could not be divorced from property rights for farmers.

He said a water market was an essential step toward helping both farmers and the environment.

“Without certainty about the access to and use of water, we cannot secure the environmental health of our rivers and catchments.”

Laying down some markers for future progress, Mr Truss said it was critical industries and communities adversely impacted by water allocation changes received adjustment assistance from governments.

He called on governments and landowners to focus on increased system and on-farm water use efficiency.

Mr Truss said Murray Darling Basin communities were currently engaged in debate on three reference points for increased environmental flows in the system — 350, 750 and 1,500 gigalitres.

“Before advancing, we need agreement on the need for additional environmental flows and, if they are necessary, where they will come from, what environmental objectives will have priority, how much extra water will be needed and who will pay for it.”

Further media inquiries:

Minister Truss' office: Tim Langmead (02) 6277 7520 or 0418 221 433