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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8


Mr ALBANESE (4:30 PM) —This week the Prime Minister either forgot, misunderstood or did not hear correctly. But this is not a question of his memory, understanding or hearing. John Howard is a clever politician, but this week we saw him make mistakes that he would not have made two years ago. It is not his age; it is the age of his ideas. When it comes to the challenges of a new century, this is a Prime Minister who is simply not up to the task. His ideas have led to inaction on climate change over the last 11 years. What we saw this week was an attempt by the Prime Minister to define the debate as if you can have a solution to the water crisis without having a solution to climate change. You cannot. There is a direct link between our dwindling water supply and climate change. We need to address both if we are going to succeed.

The Prime Minister also attempted to say this week that Labor were not being constructive in our approach to the discussion that is taking place between the Commonwealth and the states as we speak. It is not surprising that the Prime Minister conceded that he had refused to give the Leader of the Opposition or me a briefing on the details of the plan which he announced on 25 January. It is very clear that more effort went into the writing of a political speech than into the development of fully costed proposals with time lines and management plans.

You do not only have to listen to the opposition on this. Today a nine-page document has been released by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission raising tens of problems with the issues. It raises not only the $900 million funding shortfall—a shortfall which I must say the statement from Wendy Craik, the chief executive, does not address—but a number of other issues. It raises the issue of land management and its relation to water. It raises the issue of assets and what will occur. It raises the ongoing issue of what will happen to the funding of existing programs, such as the Living Murray initiative. When the Leader of the Opposition asked about that today he was dismissed, and the Prime Minister arrogantly ignored his constitutional responsibilities and said that he would tell the premiers and would not be accountable to this parliament. That is not surprising, because it is quite clear, when you look at the time lines, that the detail simply is not there.

We asked the Treasurer on Tuesday: could he confirm that the Department of the Environment and Water Resources and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry were advised on 8 January of the intention to spend $10 billion and whether that was 10 days before Treasury was advised of the proposal and 12 days before the Department of Finance and Administration was advised. The Treasurer effectively confirmed that with his answer.

It was also confirmed by the fact that on the last sitting day of last year, on Thursday, 7 December, the government introduced the Murray-Darling Basin Amendment Bill 2006. There was quite clearly no intention to make a major change to the arrangements that were in place. Indeed, that bill was due for debate in this House today but was of course deferred, just as the Senate committee hearing which was scheduled to be held tomorrow has been deferred. So, as of December and early January, when those timetables were set, it was not envisaged that the Prime Minister’s speech of 25 January would occur.

We have been positive and constructive about this, but we have not had answers from members such as the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. We asked him today about the issue of compulsory acquisition. He has a very different position from the Minister for Environment and Water Resources—a minister who I note was benched today. On the day of the big water announcement he did not get to say a word in parliament. The water minister who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing has been benched by his own government. Water is too important for there not to be a detailed plan. I urge the Prime Minister to engage with the opposition as well as with the premiers in the interests of solving our national water crisis. It does require national leadership. (Time expired)