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Transcript of doorstop interview: Adelaide Airport: 19 August 2008: Government inaction on the Murray Lower Lakes; Wellington Weir works; possible breach of the EPBC.



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Tue, 19th August 2008 HUNT DOORSTOP - ADELAIDE AIRPORT (15 AUGUST) - GOVERNMENT INACTION ON THE MURRAY LOWER LAKES, WELLINGTON WEIR WORKS, POSSIBLE BREACH OF THE EPBC

The Hon Greg Hunt MP Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Urban Water (to 22 September 2008)

E&OE

JOURNALIST:

The PM came to Adelaide announcing an accelerated buy back and the fact that an independent auditor will have a look over the Murray Darling Basin Commission’s water storage figures. Any of that enough for you?

HUNT:

Well I’ve just come back from the Lower Lakes this morning and the message is very clear. Firstly, to the Prime Minister: Don’t give up on the Lower Lakes. Don’t wave the white flag. The locals desperately want a commitment to the future of one of the world’s great wetlands.

Secondly, we need a package for the environment and what is missing is money to bring forward water savings for farmers and for irrigators which they can share with the environment. Money for pipes. Money for covering channels. Money for lining dams. That money is in the system but it hasn’t been allocated. The farmers are missing out. The environment is missing out and the lakes are missing out. So bring forward the money for fixing up farm irrigation. That’s the missing part of the package.

In relation to the audit, what we want is something very simple. We want an honest audit which analyses all the water in the system. Mr Rudd understated by half, the anticipated water in the system. He perpetrated a fraud on South Australians. He perpetrated a fraud on the environment. We need an independent audit which is genuine and which assesses all of the water in the system which doesn’t hide water which is in the system.

The last thing we need is a package for the people … money not just for farmers in the Lower Lakes area but also for all of those affected businesses that are suffering who are suffering desperately.

JOURNALIST:

In terms of the audit, you don’t think it’s what others have been calling for, because I think what others have been calling for is for an actual independent firm to go out there and check out how much water is around, rather than someone checking from the Murray Darling Basin Commission’s figures.

HUNT:

We want an independent audit which is real, which examines the ground, which takes stock of all the water in the system which isn’t simply a tick for Mr Rudd’s action yesterday in misleading the Australian public. He has form. He has a history of over-stating what he will do and a history of under-stating the water in the system. They promised 35 billion litres and delivered 10 swimming pools. They promised 35 billion litres and delivered 10 swimming pools. He is not somebody I would trust to calculate how much water he can deliver or how much water’s in the system.

JOURNALIST:

Who should do that audit then? Who’s best placed to do it?

HUNT:

We need the best international firms who are independent. We need an international, independent firm, whether it’s based in Australia or otherwise we don’t care but we want people to assess all of the water in the system. It needs to be done immediately. It is what we have been calling for. But a half audit is a half solution for South Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Do have concerns that there were no short term measures to fix the Lower Lakes that are actually dying?

HUNT:

There are immediate actions which can and must be taken. Firstly for the businesses, they need a national emergency declaration which should bring $50 million into the Lower Lakes to help out farmers, small businesses, the tourism sector. The farmers, the small businesses, the tourism sector have all been forgotten. That’s a real tragedy.

Secondly, we need the infrastructure funding right now. It’s been in the system for 19 months. Let’s bring forward part of this $10 billion. $6 billion alone was allocated to infrastructure. None of that has been given to farmers to help them with their water losses. Because if we help farmers with their water losses, we help the river, we help the environment and we help the people of the Lower Lakes.

JOURNALIST:

What do you make of photos showing that water has, perhaps illegally some people are arguing, been extracted from the Paroo River, despite a moratorium set five or so years ago?

HUNT:

I think the message is very clear. Only an independent audit which examines all of the water in the basin will give the right answer for Australians and the right answer for South Australians and the right answer for the river. A full independent audit, no half measures, no hiding behind official figures. Let’s get people out there who have no vested interests to give us the best possible and the biggest real figures, not the half figures Mr Rudd gave us yesterday.

JOURNALIST:

What are your concerns about the Wellington Weir that the State Government is proposing to build? They’re already going ahead with some works just in case they say they do need to build a weir there. Do you have any concern about what’s happening in relation to that?

HUNT:

Only today I’ve spoken with Paul Davis, the Keeper of the Lower Lakes. He’s indicated that core sampling has begun for rock to commence the weir. Surveying for roads. This is a potential breach of the federal environment law. Karlene Maywald and the South Australian Government are potentially in breach of the federal environment law. They’ve commenced work which will lead to the death of the Lower Lakes and they’ve done it without the appropriate federal approval. Mr Garrett must step in if Karlene Maywald won’t wait for the appropriate Federal approval. I think they are potentially in breach of a federal law and both the state and the commonwealth must uphold the law, must protect one of the world’s great wetlands and must be absolutely clear that they are committed not to the death of the Lower Lakes but to the preservation. That is our sacred task.

JOURNALIST:

Can I just ask on that, sorry, we’re in desperate times, desperate measures, is there not a place then to over-ride that intervention, that convention rather, to try and save what we’ve got?

HUNT:

Well I think the way to save the Lower Lakes is not by condemning it to death. All of the environmental groups we’ve spoken with, everybody we’ve talked to has said that if you flood the Lower Lakes with sea water then that is the end of one of the world’s great wetlands. It’s a fresh water ecology. It’s a great wetland and we should be preserving and protecting one of the world’s great wetlands, we shouldn’t be destroying it.