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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8

Mr RUDD (2:07 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister and follows on from his answer to the previous question about the importance of taking politics out of water. Given the national water crisis requires that we all work together, and given the premiers are about to arrive in Canberra, will the Prime Minister now agree to provide me with a full briefing from his officials on the details and costing of the national water plan, as I requested in this letter one week ago, particularly, Prime Minister, as those details have been challenged not by us but by officials from the Murray-Darling Basin Commission?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The Leader of the Opposition did write to me. I wrote back to him, thanked him for his letter and drew his attention to the fact that we would be having a meeting this afternoon. I said that, following that meeting, I am willing to provide additional briefings on the outcomes of the meeting. I said that the essential information is already on the public record. I attached a copy of my speech, the detailed explanatory material and copies of my letters to the premiers and the chief ministers. Crucially, in the last paragraph I said, ‘In the meantime, should you seek additional information, please contact my office.’

I would have thought a prudent Leader of the Opposition or a prudent shadow Treasurer or finance spokesman or water spokesman, in picking up that Murray-Darling Basin Commission document this morning and seeing an allegation of a $900 million hole, might have said: ‘Hang on, this mightn’t be right. Maybe the sensible thing to do is to ring up Howard’s office.’ But, oh no! They fell over themselves. They raced to the doors and said: ‘Aha! We have a black hole.’ They know a lot about black holes. The reality is that the opposition has played politics on this issue, despite the fact that the Leader of the Opposition pretended when I first made my announcement.

I conclude by making the observation that the reason the Commonwealth is able to offer $10 billion in an historic effort to resolve this issue is that we have run a strong economy. If our budget had been in deficit, if we had not got rid of Labor’s debt and if we had not run a strong economy, this nation would not be able to afford to fix the Murray-Darling Basin. So the starting point for all of these things is prudent economic management in the hands of experienced economic managers such as the Treasurer, my colleague and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. It is through the quality of his management, above all else, that we have been able to steer this country into a situation where we can afford to fix these issues. All the Leader of the Opposition and his cohorts can do is play politics with the water crisis facing Australia.