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Transcript of interview with Virginia Trioli and Paul Kennedy: ABC 2 News Breakfast: 15 October 2010: the parliamentary inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin

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Transcript of ABC 2 News Breakfast interview with Virginia Trioli and Paul Kennedy

15 October 2010 SCT011/2010

Main Topics: The parliamentary inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Simon Crean is the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and he joins us now in the studio. Simon Crean, good morning.

SIMON CREAN: Virginia, Paul, how are you?

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Why is this parliamentary inquiry needed?

SIMON CREAN: I think to get the balance right in the final solution. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority when it put out its guide last Friday essentially identified, based on what it said the science showed, the amount of water flows that had to be put back into the system. What it didn't take proper account of was what's referred to as the socio-economic consequences, if you like, the human costs. We want the parliamentary process to help us find the balance between the two because that's where the solution will lie.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Indeed, and I guess that sort of surprises me, why that was not part of what the Authority decided to do. Because when you look at the terms of reference for the review of the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, that's actually in the terms of reference, that you've got to look at, better define the rights of and improve water security for individuals, communities and the environment.

Both sides of it are there. Why didn't the Authority include that?

SIMON CREAN: I think you only have to look at the public statements that the chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Mike Taylor, has been making at these public meetings where he has been saying that in his view his hands were tied, that he wasn't

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: They don't seem to be tied.

SIMON CREAN: That's another issue.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: What do you - but what do you think, looking at those terms of reference, do you reckon their hands are tied?

SIMON CREAN: I'm saying the terms of reference regardless, we cannot solve this problem unless we take into account the socio-economic consequences and I believe we can get the balance right, Virginia. That's the important point.

I think we've got to cut through the public anger, we've got to set up processes that involve serious negotiation and consultation, to try and get an outcome.

I've seen it happen before. I've been Primary Industries Minister before.


SIMON CREAN: I've had to deal with these difficult water issues, I know it can be done. We want to get it back on track to getting a sensible outcome. That's what part of the parliamentary process will do.

PAUL KENNEDY: That's a major oversight though, isn't it, if they haven't taken into consideration these communities? And we saw the anger from the farmers spill over yesterday. There must be somebody being held accountable for ignoring the social impact for the last few years.

SIMON CREAN: I think it's important, Paul, to understand that the actual terms of reference and the way in which the Minister - the Authority proceeded, were actually on the instructions of the pervious in the Liberal government, Malcolm Turnbull, actually, as Minister for the Environment. Now, look, you can go back

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You're buck-passing, Simon Crean.

SIMON CREAN: Well, I'm saying you can go back through the history as much as you want, Virginia. That's my point.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But the history goes back so far. We have the terms of reference and they're pretty clear.

SIMON CREAN: No, then we've got to look to the future. That's what I'm saying.

Well, they might be clear but if they haven't produced the balance that we're looking for then they haven't been too clear.


SIMON CREAN: They've been pretty turgid and


SIMON CREAN: we've had some pretty interesting reaction so what we've now go to

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: No, I suggest - I'd suggest if they're pretty - if they're pretty clear and the Authority - the Basin Authority has not actually done its job according to these terms of reference, you go back and you talk to the Authority rather than setting up a brand new parliamentary committee?

SIMON CREAN: We're talking to the Authority but ultimately

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Will you be asking them to change what they're doing?

SIMON CREAN: We will be working with the Authority. We now have to develop processes that complement what the Authority has given by way of a guide. That's the process.

I mean, the guide that was coming out was never going to be final plan, Virginia. This is important to understand. The Government doesn't have to make its decision in terms of its plan until well into next year. Therefore the negotiating process needs to occur.

But it's also important to understand that as a government we've committed substantial resources to addressing this problem. There's $12 billion already appropriated. There have been significant not just buybacks but significant investments in community infrastructure and efficiencies.

The balance to achieving this outcome is to recognise two things have to be achieved: we have to restore the health of the river system and we have to sustain regional communities. We have to look at the way we do that, community by community, because if you go and look in the valleys and visit out there, as I've done, as Tony Burke's done, as Joe Ludwig's done, as all of us have done, there are real solutions, practical solutions out there that are working.

What we've got to do is to amplify that task, get those results in the other areas that are affected. That'll only happen not by expressing anger but by genuinely engaging the stakeholders in practical outcomes.

PAUL KENNEDY: How difficult is it to find a balance between what these farm-owners need and want and getting the environmental outcome that is so needed and does the rise of green politics in the past few years make it even tougher for you?

SIMON CREAN: Well, it's - it's difficult, Paul. I think you know it's difficult by the reactions that we're looking at at the moment but it's not impossible. I mean, I know it's not impossible because I've actually been involved in these discussions on previous occasions. It is capable of being done.

Now - and I think what is interesting, that in the engagement that I've had as recently as yesterday with all of the chairs and chief executives of the regional development bodies that cover New South Wales - all of them, a vast number of them are in that Murray-Darling Basin area - they are all working on strategies now that recognise that they have to work in a water constrained environment in the future, but that they want to sustain their future economically.

They want to engage in this task of finding the sustainable solution for the future: sustainable in economic terms, sustainable in environmental terms.

That goodwill has to be tapped. This parliamentary process will be seen as - as a recognition by the Government that we want to engage that but we announced last week, when the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's report came out, Tony Burke actually said last Friday, when it came out, this is not the end of the process. We're going out there to have these consultations.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: We understand the process continues and it's going to be a lengthy one but I guess I'd just like to know practically speaking how do the two elements work together and, in the end, which one has ultimate decision-making responsibility for what the outcome will be, when you've got the Basin Authority doing its inquiry and, as you say, coming up with a draft plan then a final plan, you've got the parliamentary inquiry at the same time, how do they work in with each other?

SIMON CREAN: Well, they complement each other and the final decision will be that of the Government and it has to be approved by the Parliament.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So you'll look at - you'll look at what both those rather expensive, I should imagine, endeavours will bring back to you and then you'll make a decision?

SIMON CREAN: Well, I mean, the cost of doing this is expensive, Virginia. Let's face it. We've committed $12 billion already to achieve the problem. Is that going to be sufficient? Who knows until we have the inquiry? So I think we need

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Which one has seniority? Which one actually has more authority than the other?

SIMON CREAN: The Government. The Government.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: In terms of the two processes?

SIMON CREAN: The Government. The Government, the Minister, on behalf of the Government, will make the final decision and that decision has to be approved by the Parliament. That's the discipline that's on us and I think it's a discipline when people of goodwill know it's the discipline and want to achieve a constructive outcome that will help us get the balance right.

PAUL KENNEDY: What part will the future of water management play in this? Different states have got different approaches to water management. Victoria's got a desalination plant. When they came up with that we were in drought. Now there's been lots of rain. Are you looking at long term strategies for water management? And as one farmer yesterday put it bluntly, there's one solution to this: build more dams.

So are you looking at water management as something that runs alongside of this?

SIMON CREAN: Of course, and that's the issue. It's not just about water buyback. Buyback is a mechanism for doing it and it has already been successful. But investing in more water-efficient practices, and they can take many forms, also is part of the solution. The question of what works where I'm sure is what the consultation process will better inform us on.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Simon Crean, time is a bit tight but I just very quickly wanted to get a response to you to the fact that the Auditor-General's office will hand down its report today into the federal Government's scrapped home insulation scheme. What lessons do you reckon you'll be learning from what you find in that report?

SIMON CREAN: Let's see what the report says but I think it is important and I've made this a key plank of what we're doing in the regional development monies, that the allocation of them should be transparent, it should be open to scrutiny and it should require people to be putting forward proposals that stack up and produce a more efficient use of the nation's resources.

So any guides we can get from the Auditor as to how to achieve that greater transparency and that greater efficiency, will be welcome.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Simon Crean, good to see you again. Thank you.

SIMON CREAN: Thank you.


Last Updated: 15 October, 2010