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Transcript of interview with David Speers: Sky News, Sydney: 20 October 2010: National Broadband Network; Murray Darling Basin Plan

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Malcolm Turnbull, MP 

Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband  Member for Wentworth 

20 October 2010



Subjects: National Broadband Network; Murray Darling Basin Plan


DAVID SPEERS: Good morning welcome to the show, I’m David Speers. The parliamentary debate on Afghanistan will resume a little later this morning. We’ll hear from the Greens MP Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie, the Independent arguing why we shouldn’t be involved any longer, along with one lone Liberal MP Mal Washer. But beyond that members of Labor and the Coalition do strongly defend the war in Afghanistan and our ongoing role there and the debate will follow that course. Coming up on the show, we’re going to look at First to the Government’s broadband plan, and since returning to the Front Bench, Malcolm Turnbull as the Shadow Communications Minister, has been on the attack over the $43 billion NBN. He’s going to introduce a Private Member’s Bill which would see the productivity commission investigate wether this is a worthwhile investment of tax-payers’ dollars, and also see a ten year business plan made public. Malcolm Turnbull joins us now, Mr Turnbull thanks for your time.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Good to be here,

DAVID SPEERS: There’s already been an implementation study into the NBN, it cost $25 million, why do we need a productivity commission enquiry.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: What we need is a cost-benefit analysis. The implementation study, which is the study that McKinsey did for the Government, does not seek to examine the merits of this proposal, it doesn’t seek to examine whether this is the right way to go

about it, it doesn’t do a cost-benefit analysis and they state quite clearly those are the limits of their enquiry. McKinsey was simply asked ‘This is the Government’s policy, this is what we’re going to do, tell us how you think we should implement it.’

DAVID SPEERS: So if the Productivity Commission found there is a business case you would throw your support behind it?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I wouldn’t write a blank cheque for anyone, even the Productivity Commission but it would be enormously persuasive if the Productivity Commission came back and said ‘This is a really worthwhile investment of public money, it’s going to have great benefits, it’s going to be good for competition’, and all of those things, that would be enormously persuasive. But I haven’t given blank cheques ever in my life and I’m not going to start now

DAVID SPEERS: The Government says this is a political stunt and a delaying tactic.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well that is a disgrace, and they should be ashamed for saying that. This is a government that said all major infrastructure projects in Australia should be the subject of a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. This is a government that set up a new body, Infrastructure Australia, to oversee the prioritisation and the analysis of major infrastructure projects in the national interest. And here we have the biggest infrastructure project in our history and it is not going to Infrastructure Australia, it’s not going to have a cost-benefit analysis, we haven’t seen a business plan, there is no financial transparency at all. This is a disgrace.

DAVID SPEERS: You need to win over the crossbenchers to get this Productivity Commission enquiry up, how are you going on that?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well we’re talking to them. We’re talking to all members, and I’m hopeful that the Government might see the merits of this. Let’s be quite clear, this is not going to delay construction on the NBN at all, if the Government wants to…

DAVID SPEERS: The Government’s not going to agree to this, you need to get those crossbenchers.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: We’re certainly talking to them and I think if the crossbenchers are committed to the new paradigm of accountability and transparency then they will support the proposal.

DAVID SPEERS: One of them, Bob Katter, this morning ruled out supporting the bill. He says he’ll stick with the Government, he likes the NBN.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well we’ll continue talking to Bob, hopefully when he sees that this is not going to delay construction of the NBN, that’s a matter for the Government.

DAVID SPEERS: In fact he said this morning words to the effect of about you that you obviously didn’t play monopoly as a child because you don’t understand the need to invest in this way. That was his description.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I think I understand a bit about investment.

DAVID SPEERS: Alright, let’s move on to water. The Murray Darling Basin Authority says even after you make water efficiencies where you can to improve piping and infrastructure, you’ll still need to pump three thousand mega litres, at the bare minimum, down the river to restore environmental flows. Do you accept that position?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Everyone accepts that there needs to be more water allocated to the environment. This is how the river got into the problem it’s been in, in the first place. There was an over-allocation of water to agriculture and other consumptive uses, human uses, and very scant regard was paid to the environment. That’s why we had the water plan in 2007. That was a revolutionary plan to put the Murray Darling Basin under Federal jurisdiction for the first time and to have a science-based basin plan. And the Coalition - as Tony Abbott reconfirmed during the election campaign - supports a science-based basin plan. But the critical thing is how do you get that shift of water back to the environment? And

the best way to do that, the way that gives hope and that gives confidence to irrigation communities is to do it as far as possible by investing in water-saving infrastructure.

DAVID SPEERS: But is it holding out false hope to say you can do it all by investing in infrastructure?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well we didn’t say in 2007 that you could do it all.

DAVID SPEERS: So some farmers will have to give up water entitlements?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well let me put this to you….No, nobody’s got to give up anything.

DAVID SPEERS: Well, voluntarily sell.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: That’s right. The Government would buy water back. It will invest in infrastructure and recover a portion of the water saved for the environment. But in our plan back in 2007 we allocated $6.5 billion to infrastructure, $3 billion to water buybacks which would be done in coordination with the infrastructure, so let me give you an example.

Let’s say you’ve got an irrigation area which covers a big area some parts of its system are more efficient than others. What we would do, our plan was - and we put this plan together with irrigators - is that we would invest to upgrade the infrastructure in part of that irrigation area and there would be other parts where it wasn’t worthwhile doing that. That’s where water would be bought from, where there’d be structural adjustment payments and so you would end up with an irrigation area that was using less water over less area, but was more productive. When you move water around efficiently productivity can increase and so you can do more with less water.

DAVID SPEERS: You did task, as Water Minister, the Murray Darling Basin Authority, to come up with a scientific based number which was needed. They’re saying a bare minimum of three thousand giga litres. Is that right? Do you accept that independent finding?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I’m not challenging it, but this is something they haven’t even published the science on which this evidence is based yet and they’ve got to do that. And it is a subjective judgement so there will be a debate about it and it is open to the Government to accept that advice but say, ‘No we will change the plan.’ The Government does not have to accept the Basin plan in its entirety.

When we put the act together we provided for the ultimate responsibility to be with the Federal Water Minister. But there’s a consultative process here, but the critical thing is you’ve got to be prepared to invest in the communities and give them hope for a future of making more food and fibre with less water, to be more efficient.

DAVID SPEERS: What about the water act per say, that you put together as Water Minister, that the irrigators are saying they don’t think the Act can deliver a balanced outcome and even a coalition colleague of yours, Fiona Nash from the Nationals, has questioned whether it can deliver a balanced outcome. Do you stand by the Act?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I do, and the Act has been amended by Labor of course and every big act of this kind gets amended pretty much in every parliament. But I’ll just say this; you’ve only got to look at section 21 of the Act to see that socio-economic issues are taken into account in formulating the Basin plan, that’s number one. Number two; I just remind the irrigators that the Act was drafted in the closest possible consultation with the irrigators and their representatives. In fact we sat around a table for many many many hours…

DAVID SPEERS: Do you need to remind the Nationals of that as well?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well this was a very elaborate consultative effort and the legislation is complex but the critical thing is that there is the mechanism to take into account socioeconomic matters, and in fact there’s an obligation to do so. But I’ll just make this point; the Murray Darling Basin Authority recommends a basin plan to the Government. It is open to the Government to say, ‘Well thank you for that advice, but for the following reasons we’re going to make changes.’ So that mechanism is there, so there is always the opportunity for, in effect, a political judgement to be made.

DAVID SPEERS: Malcolm Turnbull, thankyou.