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Election 2004: Opposition Leader announces $1 billion to save Murray-Darling River system.

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Thursday 16 September 2004

Election 2004: Opposition Leader announces $1 billion to save Murray-Darling River system.


MARK COLVIN: Labor took advantage of the water impass e today, and used its star recruit Peter Garrett to beef up its Green credentials, as it promises more money for the Murray River. 


Mark Latham today stood on the Murray's banks to announce that Labor would spend a billion dollars on its plan of returning more water. 


He says the Government's plan on the Murray is hopeless and Labor is the only party with a plan to save what he calls the "grand old river system". 


Louise Yaxley reports. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: A riverside park at the point where the Murray and the Darling rivers meet was Mark Latham's backdrop for reminding voters that Labor promises to put more water into the Murray River. 


The local waterbirds cruised by as Mark Latham made his announcement. 


MARK LATHAM: You know, this is our $1 billion commitment to save the grand old river system - the Murray Darling. This is one of the huge environmental issues we face as a nation, and we owe it to future generations of Australians to restore environmental flows and restore the river to its full health.  


Labor's got a commitment of adding 450 gigalitres of environmental flow in our first term in government - that's what's needed, according to the experts, to keep the mouth of the Murray open. That's absolutely vital to set that target and then reach it, through environmental flow and financial commitments. And over a 10-year period we're committed to 1,500 extra gigalitres of environmental flow to bring this river back to its proper health for the future. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: The Labor leader's clearly a bit scratchy on the complexity of water policy, but Labor's aim today was to have the image of the Labor leader beside the waterway he's taken to calling "the grand old river system". 


Beside him on the riverbank he had his environment spokesman, Kelvin Thompson, and also his star recruit, Peter Garrett. 


PETER GARRETT: This is a great day for the Murray River system. It's the first time that the political party has stepped up to the mark to spend the money necessary to get the water flowing through the system and to bring this river back to life. It's a great, great day for the River Murray. Absolutely top-class environment policy, very, very solid, with a capacity to deliver a healthy river system, which all the scientists and the experts tell us is nigh overdue. 


When you've got the machinery down at the mouth of the river working 24 hours a day to try and keep the river mouth open, when you've got your native fish species starting to decline in numbers and health, when you've got a river system which is really crying out for help, it takes the Labor Party to step up to the plate and deliver for the Murray River. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: It was water, not trees, at the top of Labor's agenda today. But the party knows that soon that could be reversed. 


Labor's playing a waiting game on Tasmanian forests, while the hints come thick and fast that the Government might pull out a lot of money to try to stop old growth logging in Tasmania. 


Mr Latham had his star recruit to this campaign, Peter Garrett, at his shoulder today - an environmental campaigner who's been extremely strong on that issue. But Mr Latham wouldn't bite. 


MARK LATHAM: We'll have more to say about that issue in the future. Any other questions from people who haven't had one yet? 


LOUISE YAXLEY: And while the new recruit, Peter Garrett, attracted plenty of attention, Mr Latham promises that it would be Kelvin Thompson, who's the Environment Minister. 


MARK LATHAM: Absolutely, yeah, he'll make a great environment minister, and he'll be back here many times saving the Murray and ensuring that all these investments are used for the environmental benefits that come from our policies, absolutely. Last… 


KELVIN THOMPSON: Really good answer. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: On the Murray, Peter Garrett's new party is promising to put more water into the river than the Coalition, but it looks like trees, rather than water, will be the hot green issue of this campaign. 


PETER GARRETT: Yeah, this is the really good stuff. 


MARK LATHAM: A really good thing to do, absolutely. 


PETER GARRETT: Yeah, terrific. 


MARK LATHAM: Two voices, same script.  


Louise Yaxley reporting from the Murray's banks there.