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Transcript of interview with Matt Abraham and David Bevan: ABC 891: 24 April 2009: \nclimate change; water for the future.



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PW 108/09 24 April 2009 TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH MATT ABRAHAM AND DAVID BEVAN, ABC 891 SUBJECT: CLIMATE CHANGE, WATER FOR THE FUTURE E & O E - PROOF ONLY WONG: Good morning to you both. JOURNALIST: You don’t find us annoying do you? WONG: Well … Sometimes I do but I don’t live with you so … I was interested with the proposition that your partners would both be silent when asked that question. [laughs] JOURNALIST: They’d have nothing to say. WONG: Maybe we should put that to the test? What do you reckon? JOURNALIST: No, no, that’s all right. We don’t want to embarrass them. JOURNALIST: Senator Penny Wong, you’ve bought the rain with you? WONG: No, I didn’t do that but it has been fantastic, hasn’t it? JOURNALIST: It has been, and actually I’m wondering whether this enables us to eke out things a little longer. We have had, certainly in the Adelaide Hills catchment some 57mm in [Mount] Lofty and elsewhere an average of about 30 to 40mm up there. That’s going to help with the reservoirs. Does it though, continue the hoping, wishing, praying game with the weir. That has gone on now for a long time? WONG: Yes well we have to wait and see to see how much rain we get and what the effect of it will be. As we’ve discussed before, obviously the State Government has made application asking for permission to construct a weir. That was actually made a couple of years ago - the first application - before our election. And they’re going through the process under the Federal Commonwealth legislation that Peter Garrett administers, in terms of their seeking permission under that legislation to construct the weir. I launched a website yesterday that shows the amount of water that is currently in storages. That’s an interactive website so you can go and click on it and it shows historical averages for the various storages, you can look at what the current allocation levels are and it’s updated very regularly. That’s basically to give people the ability to go and look at exactly how much water is in the system and what that all means. And it shows we’re about 17 per cent currently - our current storages.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it odd that the weir is a State Government responsibility? Something as important as that. It’s a huge project in terms of the effect that it’s going to have and yet it’s State Government responsibility. This is closing off the end of a national river system.

WONG: Well, we’ve had a national river system that has been governed by State Governments until we achieved this agreement. And even the achievement of the agreement only has cooperation on some key and important issues such as the Basin-wide plan and the Basin cap where the Commonwealth will have the final say. But the management of the river is still going to be in part a State Government decision. It’s a cooperative approach rather than a take-over, and that’s because we wanted to get an outcome as soon as possible.

Let’s remember we are assisting the State Government in this. We’ve put a couple of hundred million dollars on the table for a long-term plan. We’ve funded the pipelines down there - and I think we’ve discussed that before - pipelines to support the communities and irrigators.

JOURNALIST: But the delays in the weir. Some people welcome them because they really don’t want the weir and any delay is a good thing because maybe the seasons will turn and we won’t need it. But do you subscribe to that, that putting it off, and off, and off is good policy?

WONG: Well look I think I’ve been up-front that my concern and the Federal Government’s concern is looking ahead. And looking at where we understand water availability will go, particularly in an era of Climate Change, that we need to be realistic about that and we need to avoid, at all costs, the acidification of the Lakes. Because if we want to talk about environmental disasters, the greatest problem would be if we had acidification of the Lakes. We all want to avoid some of the hard decisions which are obviously open to governments, and we all want to avoid having to make them. What we do also have to do though is to look at what we think is going to be the likely available water into the future and whether we can continue to manage the Lakes. And I think these are matters that are exercising the minds of obviously the State Government but also Federal Government.

JOURNALIST: And are you of the view that eventually the best thing to do for the people down there is to just get on and do it, rather than death by a thousand cuts - the trauma and the stress that’s going on down there?

WONG: Well I think we’ve got to engage the community and I understand that Minister Maywald has sought to do that through her processes. And certainly Peter Garrett when he put out the guidelines on the environmental impact statement talked a lot about talking to the community. There are such strong views and I understand that - people are very upset with the situation. Whatever solution is arrived at, my view is it’s best if people can have the facts and work out those various issues together. So I hope that can be achieved because if decisions are just made by governments without that kind of community engagement that’s obviously going to be more problematic.

JOURNALIST: Now, that website what was it?

WONG: It’s www.mdba.gov.au - so Murray-Darling Basin Authority and you click on water and then you go to water storages and you get a map and you ... You’ll have fun with it Matthew.

JOURNALIST: I will, I love that sort of stuff.

Leslie Fischer, who you may or may not know, but obviously from the Lower Lakes, has campaigned down there. She wants to know whether: ‘Has Penny got in her hot little hands the

complete Murray-Darling Basin Water Audit Report, on water use extractions and underground water use yet?’ This is the audit of the River Murray system.

WONG: Well that’s actually the basis of the website. We did put up online in September last year after we first announced the audit most of that information. What we said to the department at the time was it wasn’t very user friendly - because a lot of this is very technical. So this website actually will give you access to everything that is in public storages

JOURNALIST: So we know where all the water is buried?

WONG: Wait, everything that’s in private storages, that of course is an estimate. But everything that’s in public storages - I think that will update every week. The private storages from recollection we update every couple of months because that is more difficult to obtain that data. Groundwater is more difficult because a lot of that is not licensed.

In fact that’s one of the issues as we’re working on the Basin plan - we need to better measure and manage groundwater. We’ve put quite a lot of money into mapping that and mapping groundwater use, but we’ve still got a long way to go in terms of State and Federal governments regulating that.

JOURNALIST: Have you got control over groundwater?

WONG: Well, no, the States still have to be the jurisdictions who decide if they’re going to issue licences for groundwater and how that would be regulated. What we want to do is ensure that the Basin plan recognises groundwater resources, and we need to work with the States to work out how we best manage that.

JOURNALIST: But you can’t stop State Governments issuing licences for ground water?

WONG: No.

JOURNALIST: We’ll that’s a worry isn’t it?

WONG: Well I think the issue there is we’ve got a way to go. The National Water Initiative did talk about better regulation of groundwater. Our job at the moment federally is to fund the research, the science, the technical work which helps us understand it and better manage it. Obviously down the track we certainly need to ... integrate the management of groundwater much more.

JOURNALIST: Senator Penny Wong is in our studio here at 891. She’s the Minister for Climate Change and Water in the Rudd Government and is happy to take your calls - has the headphones on.

Barry from Brighton is the first caller, hello Barry.

CALLER, BARRY: Good Morning. Minister, can you explain to me or can you tell me [inaudible] Minister to condone the American-based company, Summit Global Management, buying our Aussie water, when we’re so desperately short of this lifeblood of our nation?

WONG: Well, I have spoken a bit about this and can I start by saying that if there were evidence of unfair trade in the water market, of unfair competition, of foreign investment that was leading - of very substantial levels - that was leading to speculation and unfairness in the market, then obviously the Government would need to look at that and consider its options under various federal legislation. But the actual purchase that’s being discussed is a purchase worth about $20 million in

the Southern Basin I think. One broker has calculated or estimated the water in the Southern Basin to be worth about $12 billion. So $12 billion worth of entitlements; the purchase is $20 million. So we’re talking about 0.16 per cent of the total value of the water in the Southern Basin.

JOURNALIST: What do they do when they buy it? This is an American company.

WONG: Yes well I understand - and I’ve only received advice on this, I haven’t spoken to them - it’s a bit like the sharefarming type of arrangement that you see in some of our wheat-growing areas. So the water is leased to growers or to irrigators to utilise it, so it’s a different financial structure.

JOURNALIST: Is that covered by the Foreign Ownership Review Board?

WONG: Hence my reference to Commonwealth Legislation. You’d have to have a much more substantial interest for FIRB to be even theoretically applicable. As is said it’s about 0.16 per cent.

JOURNALIST: Let’s go to Port Noarlunga. Good morning John.

CALLER, JOHN: Good morning, I was ringing up regarding the weir going up at Wellington. Once that is put in place does that mean the dredge that’s been sitting in the mouth down there in the Murray, for, I don’t know how long it’s been down there now. Probably a couple of years now, working seven days a week. Will that remain there and just keep the mouth open?

WONG: Well look that’s probably an issue that would need to be canvassed with some of the experts in the Environmental Impact Statement.

JOURNALIST: You’d need that for the Coorong almost wouldn’t you?

WONG: I think it would depend on what final sort of arrangement the State Government was seeking in relation to lakes. And to be honest I’m not sure precisely how the various options would impact upon the need for dredging. Obviously that’s been in place for some time because of the very low inflows.

JOURNALIST: John thank you for your call Keith is at Morphett Vale. Good morning Keith.

CALLER, KEITH: Good morning everyone. Good morning Minister. Minister, some time ago, probably about eight weeks, I spoke with our State Commissioner Robyn McLeod. And I said to her: ‘Don’t you think the Federal Government is wanting to have its cake and eat it too over this water issue?’ She replied as she was actually leaving the meeting, she replied she said: ‘Oh we have our obligations and responsibilities to the world order,’ as she left. Well I was quite staggered, what world order? Haven’t heard a word about it, why are we furnishing a world order as such times if in fact that’s correct?

WONG: Keith, I am not sure what was said and what it was that you might have heard or what the Commissioner might have said. Obviously all governments do have responsibility I think to manage water in the best way possible. We have responsibilities not only as the national government to the Australian people to try and deal with the Murray-Darling Basin which is so significant in terms of our economy and our communities, but also in terms of the Convention the Federal Government has signed in terms of Ramsar wetlands sites. And that’s one of the ways in which we do that is through purchasing environmental water which we are doing and will continue to do in order to improve the health of the rivers.

JOURNALIST: Keith thank-you for your call.

JOURNALIST: Minister Penny Wong, I am asking this for Jim who first emailed this in December I think when you were in last and we couldn’t get to it. So he has come back with the same question so full marks for persistence. He says ‘On Adelaide water restrictions, currently Adelaide has a total of three hours a week where as friends of ours that live in Dareton - I have probably got that wrong, a suburb of Wentworth in New South Wales, they have eight hours a week. Adelaide obviously has reservoirs and the Murray to supply water but in the Wentworth area they only have the Darling and the Murray. This seems a bit of a mis-match of water allocation between the states.’

This question of - we often get this question, particularly if they are driving down the river towns and so on and saying, we’ve got three hours, and in other places where sprinklers, they seem to be quite generous.

JOURNALIST: We are always being told that Mildura has got fantastic lawns and … should there be some national consistency?

WONG: There are a lot of people in different parts of the Basin complain about people in other parts of the Basin. That’s not new, but I think that’s improving and I think it needs to improve because we have to recognise that there are pressures everywhere and there is no-one who has it easy. I think I have been on your program before - people have had a go at rice growers for example in New South Wales. And I have made the point that over the last three years these rice growers in some parts of New South Wales not only have not had crops and therefore the factories have closed, but had zero allocation for two years and my memory is that they are around nine per cent this year. (But I could be wrong, that was a few weeks ago that I looked at that allocation level.) There are pressures everywhere. State and local governments make decisions about domestic water restrictions so that’s why Karlene makes decisions here in Adelaide. State Governments have got to manage their water in accordance with, in the best way they think.

JOURNALIST: Wouldn’t it be better through to have a national system of water restrictions so that at least for households.

JOURNALIST: You would love administering that.

WONG: Matt saw me sort of flinch actually when you said it. Can I say let’s just try and get the Murray-Darling onto a sounder footing over the next few years

JOURNALIST: Why is that such a remarkable thing?

WONG: It’s not a remarkable thing. I am just saying that in terms of where we have got to focus I think as a Federal Government, the first thing we have got to focus on is getting the Murray-Darling onto a more sustainable footing, more efficient infrastructure ...

JOURNALIST: But you’ve want the public behind you surely the public... and the pointy end for most people is for household consumption. Now if you want the public behind you, shouldn’t they have faith that anywhere, anybody who is drawing their water out of the Murray-Darling system has the same level of water restrictions in terms of households?

WONG: But I assume David there would be different levels of restrictions because there might be different rainfalls, different availability in different areas. These are issues that may well be important but in terms of the vast bulk of what is taken out of the River, what we have got to reform

is our irrigation sector. We have got to make that more efficient, and we have to purchase some licences, which is what we are doing, because we have got to reduce the take on the River.

JOURNALIST: I mean for instance, people in Brisbane are amazed that we are allowed to water outside. They have only just had their restrictions eased and are able to use hand-held hoses. But they think: well, wait a minute, how come they can do that when Adelaide are meant to be in a parlous state.

Ozzie from Athelstone, as we talk to Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change and Water.

CALLER, OZZIE: Good morning Minister, I have a question in regard to Australia’s carbon dioxide targets at the moment. And looking back recently I think it was only last week that President Obama has raised America’s target to about 40 per cent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and on the news today England has announced they have raised their targets to somewhere over 30 per cent. Now with what we have got currently set at as our targets, we are really becoming the laggard here in regards to western society on carbon dioxide targets. So what are you or your Government going to do to try and raise our targets to match what the Americans and English are doing now?

WONG: Well Ozzie, can I just say first there are a couple of factual errors in the question. The first is what President Obama’s target is. The election commitment by the President was in fact zero. That is for the US to return to 1990 levels by 2020. Now off business as usual that is actually a very substantial reduction, certainly significantly more than the previous administration were suggesting, because the US will grow to about 125 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020. What you might be referring to is a draft bill, which has been released by two Congressmen into a committee of the Congress - so it hasn’t passed out of committee, nor has it gone to the floor of their Congress as yet - which looks at increasing a target, having a minus 7 per cent target, so that’s fairly analogous to Australia’s, which is 5 to 15 per cent. So a minus 7 per cent target but adding to it by the government purchasing forest credits offshore. Now Australia could do that but of course we are currently spending that auction revenue, that amount of money, on things such as assisting Australian families and Australian businesses to adjust to the introduction of a carbon price through the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

In terms of the United Kingdom. What we are proposing to do from now out to 2020 is around the same level of reduction as the UK Government is proposing. So I think they are proposing about 21.5 per cent out to 2020, we are proposing about 22 per cent off our Kyoto target. The difference between us and the UK is they started earlier. They are already below their, they are already reducing emissions in a way Australia hasn’t previously done and they had a much lower Kyoto target out to 2012 than Australia did. As you might recall Australia in fact had a target where we grew out to 108 per cent average by 2012 whereas the UK was already reducing. So we are proposing…

JOURNALIST: I lost you somewhere back in California.

WONG: Yes sorry, the simple answer is that we are proposing to do the same amount of work as the UK from around now out to 2020. The difference is we are starting off a much higher base because they started earlier.

JOURNALIST: I noticed they are setting up a big, well no one worries about billions any more, but I think it’s about a $20 billion carbon sequestration soon. But they are going to export their sort of liquid extracted carbon overseas. Maybe on convict ships or something I don’t know, but where is that going to go?

WONG: Carbon hulks you reckon.

JOURNALIST: Where is that going to go? Talk about exporting your problems.

WONG: I hadn’t read about the carbon hulk idea.

JOURNALIST: No, no, no, but on AM this morning. I was listening to this thing and I thought oh that’s ok, so they’re going to do this the technology is not proved yet...

WONG: I guess they’ve got a small land mass haven’t they?

JOURNALIST: Well right.

WONG: But look...

JOURNALIST: Frankly that’s what they said in 1788.

WONG: I don’t reckon I am going to be the one to defend this issue. But what I will say is this, I agree with Ed Miliband absolutely on this issue, and that is: this is the technology we have to develop. We cannot reduce emissions by the amount we need to, to avoid dangerous climate change, unless we have a lower emissions solution for coal. There is just mathematically no way around it so we have to out the effort in. We commend their investment in this. They are also a founding member of the Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, the Global Institute the Prime Minister announced last week.

JOURNALIST: Your cabinet colleague Peter Garrett has been a little embarrassed this week I think regarding climate change and comments he has made regarding Antarctic ice sheets, and well things maybe aren’t looking so bad in Antarctica. We just this week were talking to Ian Plimer from Adelaide University, he is a climate change sceptic in that attributing it to human activity, climate change. You’re going to impose massive reform for the national economy... based on what? Do you ever have any doubts?

WONG: I challenge any fair minded person to read the IPCC report, the fourth report which is, which was done by thousands, peer reviewed by thousands of the world’s top scientist, probably the most scrutinised scientific document in recent years. I challenge them to read the CSIRO studies of our own scientists here in Australia and not think that a responsible government would have to do something.

JOURNALIST: So you never have any doubts?

WONG: I think it is clear that the consensus science is climate change is happening. It would be irresponsible of us to keep pretending that it is not.

JOURNALIST: And just quickly you are off to Washington?

WONG: I am. Tomorrow. The Major Economies Forum that President Obama announced on climate and energy. Economies comprising 80 per cent of the world’s emissions will be in the same room so hopefully we can get a bit of progress on these negotiations.

JOURNALIST: Senator Penny Wong thank you for coming in.

WONG: Good to speak with you.

ENDS