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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Canberra: 25 September 2008: Water ACT Amendment Bill 2008

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PW 191/08 25 September 2008




WONG: Thanks very much for coming. This afternoon the Government introduced into the House of Representatives the Bill to amend the Water Act. And my colleague Peter Garrett introduced this legislation into the House of Representatives. This is important legislation. This Bill is about building a viable future for the Murray-Darling Basin in the face of climate change. This is a Bill that gives effect to the historic, ground-breaking agreement that the Prime Minister and the Premiers struck at COAG. For the first time an agreement to manage the Murray-Darling Basin in the national interest: for the first time to reflect the fact that the Murray-Darling runs across borders and needs to be managed in the national interest. So this Bill is about building a viable, long-term future for the Murray-Darling Basin in the face of climate change.

So the question now will be: What will Mr Turnbull and the opposition do? We call on the Opposition to support this legislation. This is legislation which is the foundation of a viable long-term future for the Murray-Darling in the face of climate change. This was legislation that Mr Turnbull was unable to achieve when Water Minister because he couldn’t get the agreements of… He could not get the agreement of the States. This is a Bill that Mr Turnbull couldn’t bring into the Parliament when he was Water Minister because he couldn’t get the agreement of the States. The question now is will he get the agreement of his frontbench colleagues.

We know that the Opposition are completely divided on this issue. We know that they say one thing down in South Australia and another thing upstream. But, in the national interest, Mr Turnbull should ensure that this Bill is supported by the Opposition, through the House and through the Senate. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: When do you think State Governments will have their legislation through [ineligible]…?

WONG: I understand South Australia has put its legislation through its Parliament. I’m also advised that New South Wales has put the legislation at least through the Lower House and the legislation is being considered by the Cabinets of other States. This is historic reform. This, for the first time, is the relevant states referring powers to the Commonwealth to enable them to manage the Murray-Darling Basin in the national interest.

JOURNALIST: Is there any prospect of speeding up the time-frame under which the new cap could be implemented, that’s been one of the criticisms of this. It’s a very long…

WONG: Yes. Well as I’ve said for sometime now, we need to be clear what we’re seeking to achieve here. This Bill is about building a viable long-term future for the Murray-Darling Basin. It is about ensuring that the management of the Basin for the first time will be in the national interest and for the first time will reflect the fact that rivers run across borders. We want to ensure that the

Basin-wide plan is soundly achieved, is scientifically-based. And we want to ensure that that is done properly. That process − changing the management of the basin, ensuring that we have a Basin Plan − doesn’t mean we don’t act now. The Government absolutely understands the urgency that is required now, which is why we have already purchased water. That is why I have already announced a northern purchase process. That’s why the Government has put in place a range of urgent action which is all about, all about returning water to these rivers now. So in the short and medium term, we need to return more water to the river. We do that through purchasing - the Government’s done that, is continuing to do that. We recognise that this. The Murray-Darling Basin is up against it. We’re facing historic over-allocation, we’re facing the effects of climate change. But at the same time we have to do what we must to better manage this Basin over the longer term.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t that a waste of taxpayer’s money to be buying up land rather than just water. Are you looking at buying other properties or …?

WONG: Look the purchase of land and water together is something that the Prime Minister announced at our Cabinet meeting in August. And what we made clear is that we would look at those arrangements and circumstances where there was environmental benefit in such a purchase and we will do it in conjunction with State Governments. That is the basis on which we proceeded with the purchase of Toorale. There have been a number of calls for other purchases. We will assess any purchase on the basis of value for money for the taxpayer in terms of the environmental benefit. That’s the basis on which we have assessed previous purchases and we’ll continue to do that. OK?

WONG: Thankyou