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Murray-Darling $10 billion water plan may not proceed because of Victoria's reluctance to cede power.

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Friday 20 April 2007

Murray-Darling $10 billion water plan may not proceed because of Victoria's reluctance to cede power


TONY EASTLEY: The Victorian Government says the Prime Minister shou ld scrap his $10-billion water security plan. 


The rejection came the same day that John Howard announced that water for Murray-Darling irrigators will be cut-off if it doesn't rain heavily in the next two months.  


Victoria's Water Minister John Thwaites agrees that the river system is in trouble but he says the Commonwealth's $10-billion plan is no solution. Without Victoria's support, the proposal may never see the light of day. 


Chief Political Correspondent Chris Uhlmann reports.  


CHRIS UHLMANN: Professor Peter Cullen from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists is one of a small band of prophets who have been warning for years that this dry continent is getting drier. 


PETER CULLEN: The period 1950s to 1990 have been unnaturally or unusually wet, and we're now back to a much drier time, something a bit more like what we saw between 1900 and 1950. 


CHRIS UHLMANN: Now everyone is listening. 


JOHN HOWARD: If it doesn't rain in sufficient volume over the next six to eight weeks, there will be no water allocations for irrigation purposes in the basin. 


CHRIS UHLMANN: The Prime Minister got this grim news from the contingency planning report he and the Murray-Darling Premiers commissioned at the water summit in November. He used the platform to call again on Victoria to join the other Labor Premiers and sign up to his $10-billion water security plan. 


Victorian Water Minister John Thwaites is unmoved. 


JOHN THWAITES: I would have thought it's time for the Prime Minister now to drop this plan which is clearly flawed at this stage, negotiate properly with the States and Victoria, and ensure that at the same time we're cooperating to help farmers get through this very difficult period. 


CHRIS UHLMANN: Is there a better plan if you drop this one? 


JOHN THWAITES: Victoria has put forward a plan which is a better plan, which is about cooperation, which is about giving the Commonwealth more power over areas that it needs to have power over, but not a complete takeover which would threaten irrigators' water rights and would not benefit the environment. 


CHRIS UHLMANN: The Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused to be drawn on whether this response derailed the Commonwealth initiative, but says there is no viable alternative. 


MALCOLM TURNBULL: Victoria's plan is no more than a continuation of the existing infrastructure or the existing institutions that have failed us to date. We need to manage the Murray-Darling Basin as one water system. 


CHRIS UHLMANN: The Prime Minister has said that the plan won't work without Victoria's support, and that now looks unlikely. But the nation's environment ministers are meeting in Brisbane today and the Commonwealth still hopes to talk the State around.  


The plan may not be perfect but Peter Cullen believes a unified approach is the only hope for the ailing Murray-Darling. 


PETER CULLEN: Well I think the situation is becoming quite critical and it's quite a difficult one. I think there's a lot of activity and a lot of political attention, and the Prime Minister is very focused on it, and I'm delighted to see, you know, the governments are taking action. 


It's a pity we didn't see some of this coming and move on this five years ago, but there's certainly a lot of activity now. 


TONY EASTLEY: Professor Peter Cullen from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists ending that report by Chris Uhlmann.