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Transcript of interview with Leon Byner: 5AA, Adelaide: 10 August 2010: [Menindee Lower Lakes].

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Transcript: Penny Wong, Interview with Leon Byner on 5AA Adelaide

Penny Wong posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010

JOURNALIST: Let’s talk to the Water Minister, Penny Wong. Penny it’s good to talk to you.

WONG: Good morning to you Leon.

JOURNALIST: Now I understand that you’ve made a more specific announcement about the Lower Lakes.

WONG: We’ve made an announcement today about Menindee and the return of water from the Menindee project to ensure both Broken Hill’s water supply and to make the Lakes more efficient. We’ve got a lot of work to do still because this is a very big task. But we have completed the technical work that shows we can do this.

And what’s important is Julia Gillard has secured agreement from New South Wales that any additional water, which could be up to 200 billion litres - any additional water won’t go to irrigators, it will go to the environment. So that’s an important step.

JOURNALIST: OK, now this business of additional water. Is this about - there’s a 640 litre or gigalitre trigger point at which water would automatically flow into South Australia. Does that, if you like, policy announcement depend on reaching that level?

WONG: No, what the policy announcement means is that we will amend those arrangements when we know how much water will be saved. We anticipate from the technical work that could be up to 200 billion litres and the Premier of New South Wales has agreed to the Prime Minister’s request that if there is water savings from Menindee that they will be given to the environment, to the Commonwealth to use for environmental purposes downstream.

Without this agreement, that water could have been used by New South Wales irrigators. So this is an important step. There’s still a lot of work to do. This is a big project, nothing done on it before we came to Government. A lot of technical work is being done to try and work out how you secure Broken Hill’s supply and how you do this. But this is an important step.

JOURNALIST: Penny, have you had any access or knowledge of what’s contained in the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s blueprint?

WONG: I don’t know what’s in the final decisions that the Authority has made. I have made that clear. I have made that public. I’ve said they are an independent authority. Obviously, I’ve dealt with them, just as they deal with the Basin Consultative Committee - that is members of the community who are part of the consultation process.

But I respect their independence. We came to government with a commitment to put in place an independent authority because we believe in looking at the science of what’s required for the River and for sustainable food production. That science is what we should look at, not simply bickering politicians. And we’ve adhered to that, we’ve delivered on that commitment.

JOURNALIST: Ok, question. Would you have preferred that the Murray Darling report be made public before the election?

WONG: There would have certainly been some benefits if some of that information had come out earlier. But I understand that the Authority wants to get it right. I understand that nobody has done this before. We’ve never had a plan across the Basin.

JOURNALIST: But that’s not the reason, Minister, as I understand it. The getting it right is not really the issue. If they’ve got it right, they would say. They are keeping it delayed because it’s too controversial until after the election.

WONG: But what I was going to go on and say Leon - and I also respect what the Authority has said publicly - that this is too an important an issue to be the subject of the political football that we know is part of an election campaign. This is for the long term. I think Mike Young on your program has made similar comments that this is too important -

JOURNALIST: Yes he has.

WONG: Too important to be a political football. So I respect that. What we are doing today with the announcement around water purchase is as the Prime Minister has said look, we understand the Authority has to put its Plan out, but we want to give certainty.

JOURNALIST: Now Mike Young has also said on this program recently, as you might know from your monitoring, that the Government has been far too slow in general water buy back and we should speed things up. And secondly, he was also critical of the fact that we still don’t have a national water register.

WONG: Can I say just on the buyback - I understand it would have been better if all of this had been started a long time ago. But let’s just look at the facts. When we came to government not a single drop of water bought by the Liberal Party or the National Party to return to the River Murray. Since then we have purchased 900 billion litres. That is nearly

five times Adelaide’s water supply in a year. So nearly five years worth of the water Adelaide uses in a year has been bought back from irrigators for the environment by this Government since we came to government.

Now we know there is more to do. We have money for further buyback. But what is important about today’s announcement is this. We are saying that we will continue to purchase water if we are re-elected. But in the years beyond, the Plan coming into place to ensure we deliver all the water that the rivers need.

JOURNALIST: But you see the public will kind of scratch their heads a bit when you’re making announcements about 2014 and ahead. We should be dealing in this campaign and for the purpose of practicality, what will happen in the next three years. Not what you might pledge to do. Because after all, anything you do from 2014 that you pledge could change if a government is then put into power, and it’s not you.

WONG: Well Leon, we are already investing billions of dollars in our budget for the next term of government if we are elected. But I think anybody who is close to this issue knows that there has been a concern if there was a gap between what we returned and what the science says we should have. That’s why today’s announcement has been welcomed by the National Farmers’ Federation as well as by people who have been strongly arguing for the health of the River for many years.

The Federal Government is stepping up and saying we will buy what is needed. We are going to do what’s needed over the near term and the medium term. We will keep purchasing water to return to the River because we will back the independent Authority and its assessment of what is required to return the River to health.

JOURNALIST: Penny Wong, thank you.

Tags: Buyback, Lakes, Menindee, Penny, Water, Wong