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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8

Mr SECKER (2:02 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware of an allegation that there is a $900 million hole in the provision of funds for the government’s national initiative on water security? What is the Prime Minister’s response?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I am aware of this allegation. It was contained in a document prepared by the management team of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and sent to partner governments in the current commission arrangement. After it appeared in the papers this morning, it was trumpeted by the member for Grayndler, the member for Lilley and the member for Melbourne. If that was the trumpeting, and that is the history, I can inform the House that the allegation is completely incorrect. I can also inform the House that this has been acknowledged by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, which, shortly before question time, issued a statement saying:

This document contains—

referring to the document issued last night—

a statement that “the available budget for a new Commission will be decreased by approximately $900 million over 10 years”. I am now aware that this statement is incorrect.

That has been issued under the name of Wendy Craik, the chief executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

This little incident illustrates the two faces of the Leader of the Opposition. When I announced my plan, the Leader of the Opposition said, ‘I want to take politics out of water.’ He said: ‘I want to end the blame game. I want to cooperate with the Prime Minister.’

Mr Tanner —Whose document was it? Only the Murray-Darling Basin Commission’s!

Mr HOWARD —He was saying that, and all the while he has his three amigos endeavouring at every turn to undermine the plan. It would have been quite easy—if the Leader of the Opposition or any of his frontbench had wanted to know whether the claim made in that document was correct, all they needed to do was ring up my office or ring up my department and they could have been told. But no, it is rather like what happened last week with Work Choices. There you had the Leader of the Opposition soft selling it to the business community, but the next morning the Deputy Leader of the Opposition brought him into line.

The truth is that the Leader of the Opposition has played a double game on this water issue. He has pretended that he is bipartisan and that he is above politics, but at the first opportune moment he has got his colleagues out there saying there is a funding hole, that there is no bottom line, that the document lacks integrity. This visionary plan—which I believe is the greatest single attempt by any national government to solve the problem of the Murray-Darling Basin—will provide $10 billion of entirely new money over and above—

Mr Tanner interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Melbourne is warned!

Mr HOWARD —the financial provision the Commonwealth now makes. I look forward to my meeting at four o’clock this afternoon with the premiers of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission states and also the premiers of Western Australia and Tasmania, who are likewise attending this meeting. This is an historic opportunity to do something of a lasting and permanent character to solve the problem of the Murray-Darling Basin, and all the opposition has been able to do is engage in cheap opportunism. I table the statement from Wendy Craik of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.