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Transcript of press conference: Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Sydney: 25 January 2006: Water; Petrol; Iraq.

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Subjects: Water; Petrol; Iraq

RUDD: I’m intending to work on a positive, cooperative basis with Mr Howard on the national water crisis which we confront, and Mr Howard’s response to it. In recent days I’ve called for the establishment of a single national water agency in Canberra. Mr Howard’s done that. I’ve also called, in recent days, for the appointment of a single national Water Minister, and Mr Howard has done that. Because I have called for these things, I want to support them and I do so today.

As for the rest of the package which Mr Howard’s announced, I’ll be approaching him to make available his officials to brief both myself and the Shadow Minister for Water on the details of it. We’ll be making a similar request to the relevant Premiers of the country and Chief Minister of the ACT so that we can be apprised of their position on his proposal when it comes to the rest of the package.

But what I would say again is this: that I want to work on a positive bipartisan basis with Mr Howard in the national interest to deliver a national response to what is a national water crisis, both for the three million people in the Murray-Darling system and the 17 million people in the rest of the country as well.

JOURNALIST: So, do you think there’ll be any problem with the Commonwealth taking over control of water from the States in terms of (inaudible)?

RUDD: What we are seeking, of course, is relevant briefings from officials on that. This is a complex area, both of law and institutional arrangements, and that’s why I think it’s appropriate we take a seasoned response to it, that is both with Commonwealth and State officials in the days and

weeks ahead. And we’ll deliver a final response to that once we are properly briefed. These are significant matters and it’s important we have a duly considered response on that element of it.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s too early for Malcolm Turnbull to be talking about legal challenges (inaudible)?

RUDD: I believe we need to develop a cooperative national response to what is a national water emergency. That means dealing cooperatively between the Commonwealth and the States and the Territories so that we can have a long term national solution to this problem for the three million people in the Murray-Darling system and also for the 17 million people in the rest of the country, including urban Australia.

JOURNALIST: In NSW, Premier Morris Iemma has (inaudible) water plan (inaudible) solution, not politics. Are you confident that it is about solutions?

RUDD: I’m adopting a positive bipartisan approach to this. I’ve called, in the past, for a national water summit. I want to see a positive national solution to what is a genuine national emergency on water and, therefore, we’ll be bringing that approach to bear.

The national water crisis of this country should be placed above politics and I want to see real national solutions both for the three million people within the Murray-Darling system and the 17 million people in the rest of the country and I want to work with Mr Howard on that.

JOURNALIST: What about John Howard’s (inaudible) adopted your policies?

RUDD: Well, on the question of the appointment of a national Water Minister, we’ve put that forward before. On the question of the appointment and establishment of a single water agency, we put that forward before. But Mr Howard has supported that and I welcome that fact. I think that’s good for the nation. It’s in the national interest.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, what about the plans to move a task force to the north (inaudible)?

RUDD: Well, I know Senator Heffernan and I’ve spoken to him before about water myself. We’ll have a further discussion with him about his specific proposals for agriculture in northern Australia. I come from the land myself. I know a little bit about farming. I’ve probably got more to learn as well, and other parts of farming that we didn’t do in our part of South-East Queensland. But I’m all for looking at positive solutions for the long term and I’ll be adopting a positive approach to that committee as well and I’ll be having a chat with Senator Heffernan, as I often do.

JOURNALIST: What would you say irrigators who might be (inaudible)?

RUDD: Well, when it comes to the detailed implementation of the plan, I think what we’ve got to look for is relevant briefings from the relevant officials. These are affecting a large part of rural and regional Australia and we’ll want to be fully briefed by the relevant Commonwealth and State officials. That’ll take some time. I don’t believe that on something like this you simply take a quick political reaction. I think it’s very important to adopt a positive bipartisan approach and that’s why Mr Albanese and myself will be seeking relevant briefings.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, will you be (inaudible) the Labor Premiers, all those Premiers involved, will you be coordinating your efforts or will they be allowed to negotiate with (inaudible)?

RUDD: The Premiers, of course, will speak for themselves and we’ll be seeking, ourselves, as the alternative government of Australia, to be adopting a positive national approach with the Prime Minister, Mr Howard.

I think when it comes to big questions like water, it’s really important that we put the politics to one side and work together. And that’s what we intend to do when it comes to the proposal which is before us now and that’s the attitude we’ll be adopting. Anything else?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) the States agree to have over the power of the Murray-Darling Basin to the Commonwealth and if they do, is it going to actually improve anything?

RUDD: Well, what I said before is on the decision by Mr Howard to establish a single Water Ministry and a single Water Minister, we called for that before ourselves and therefore we support it. As for the rest of the package, there are details associated with it, including that particular aspect of it, and we’ll be seeking detailed briefings and you’ll have a considered response from us in due time.

JOURNALIST: Just on petrol, (inaudible) what’s been said about petrol today, the price has gone up 12 cents in the past 24 hours. It seems oil companies are again ripping off drivers ahead of a long weekend (inaudible).

RUDD: It’s time Mr Howard turned the ACCC from being a watchdog into being an attack dog when it comes to the petrol prices which people are having to pay across this country.

JOURNALIST: Just on another topic on Iraq. Mr Howard said today that Australia supports American policy risk ratting on an ally. Do you think that’s something (inaudible) view of?

RUDD: As a long standing supporter of the US alliance for longer than I can remember, certainly my 25 years in public administration, can I say that the question of Iraq hinges now on whether or not Mr Howard’s four year long strategy will succeed - one which he has supported from day one, one

which has now seen the death of 3000 American servicemen, one which has now seen the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and one which has cost the Australian taxpayers $2 billion. I think Mr Howard is on very shaky ground when it comes to providing any moral lecture to anybody else on the question of the future of Iraq policy. Thank you.