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Minister wants States to recommit to the National Water Initiative.

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Friday 26 November 2004

Minister wants States to recommit to the National Water Initiative


ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Government will today ask the states to re-commit to t he National Water Initiative they walked away from during the election campaign. The states reacted angrily to the Coalition's Water Plan because the $2 billion policy was funded largely from redirected commonwealth competition payments due to the states. 


Now, as the Murray Darling Basin Commission members prepare for their meeting in Canberra today, which will discuss the $500 million "Living Murray" project, the Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell is calling on the states to reconsider their position. 


Senator Campbell told Alexandra Kirk the National Water Initiative is the key to progress on saving the Murray.  


IAN CAMPBELL: Linked to that intrinsically is a range of projects that will come before the ministers this morning and if they all go ahead - and they can go ahead if the states recommit to the National Water Initiative - you will see about 259 gigalitres of water returned for environmental purposes into that very important river system. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And do you believe that the states will re-commit to the National Water Initiative today? 


IAN CAMPBELL: We are hoping they will today, because as many environmentalists know and many concerned Australians know you've got sites such as the Perricoota Gunbower forest that's under serious stress at the moment. That needs urgent action.  


That forest and a number of the other so-called icon sites, along the river, they are not going to wait for politicians to play games. They need urgent action, they need these projects, they need the money, they need the investment.  


That can occur today so I do hope the states recognise that the game playing of the election should be behind them, as at October the 9th, and serious work on projects on the Murray can commit now if they agree to the National Water Initiative. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the states didn't walk away, in effect, from the National Water Initiative. They walked away from your national water plan, which you announced during the election, where you diverted some of their competition payments into a $2 billion water fund. 


IAN CAMPBELL: Well, that's their argument. That was an excuse for tearing up the agreement on the National Water Initiative. That's a political game. The forests and the ecologies along the banks of the Murray and Darling won't respect those sorts of games.  


We have, you know, potentially $500 million worth of investments which are entirely un-related to that National Water Fund argument, can proceed immediately if the states re-commit to the National Water Fund.  


And there's an important link, you've got to have a nationally consistent measurement system for water and a secure system for environmental flows to ensure that these other investments that can return 259 gigalitres of water to the environment in the Murray, commencing immediately, if we can get this re-commitment from the states. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And has any state indicated to you, ahead of time, that they are willing to take up your challenge of re-committing? 


IAN CAMPBELL: Look, I think it would be unfair for me to sort of give away private discussions amongst the officers from the states.  


There's a true national recognition from all the states in the Commonwealth that work needs to be done on the Murray, that it's important and that the National Water Initiative… I mean they signed up to the National Water Initiative because they all saw that it was an important part of the solution.  


It was torn up by the states in the heat of a federal election campaign, we respect that, that's politics, but the time for that sort of politics stopped on October the 9th. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think the state premiers weren't serious in terms of what they said during the election? 


IAN CAMPBELL: Look, there's no doubt that the state premiers were serious about trying to help elect Mark Latham as the Prime Minister. That didn't work, the people of Australia have voted, we now want to get on with the business of delivering good environmental outcomes and good water outcomes for Australians right across Australia. 


ELEANOR HALL: Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell, speaking to Alexandra Kirk.