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Transcript of press conference: Brisbane: 8 September 2008: Murray-Darling Basin water buyback tender; water purchases.

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PW 168/08 8 September 2008




WONG: Thanks very much for coming. I’m here today to announce the next step in the Rudd Government’s plan to tackle the critical situation in the Murray-Darling Basin. What I’m announcing today is that, a week from today, we will open the tender for northern New South Wales and Queensland, as we said we would do. In Adelaide, at the Cabinet meeting on August 14, we indicated we would spend up to $400 million on purchasing water entitlement for the benefit of the Murray-Darling Basin, in the northern Basin. So today I’m announcing that the new water buy-back for the northern areas − that is, northern New South Wales and Queensland - will open on the 15 September.

This is the next step in the Rudd Government’s plan to tackle the critical situation in the Murray-Darling Basin and it is yet another election commitment which we are delivering on in relation to the Murray-Darling. The Federal Government does understand that communities in the Basin are doing it tough. We are facing the combined effects of climate change, years of over-allocation and drought. And we know that, to address this, what we have to do is to purchase water entitlement to

return to the river and in addition we’re going to invest $5.8 billion into infrastructure and to ensure a viable and prosperous future for our irrigation communities.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government any closer to deciding whether it would buy Toorale Station?

WONG: Look what we announced in August, in Adelaide was that we would - our approach would be to purchase water and land together where there are clear environmental benefits and we said the best model for doing that is to work with the state governments as we have previously done in purchases in the Macquarie Marshes. So that’s the approach we’ll be taking. We put money on the table - $400 million as per our previous decision which I’m announcing today, an open tender for monies up to that amount. I’m not going to get into any specific discussion with any particular seller. Obviously the approach the Commonwealth Government has to take is value for money. We’ll assess offers from willing sellers in that context.

JOURNALIST: Apparently it is going on auction on Thursday. If you haven’t made a decision are you worried that if you don’t bid, you could miss out on that and the benefits that it could bring?

WONG: I think, consistent with my previous answer, I’m not going to get drawn into a negotiation via the media with any willing seller. What we’re saying is this: we have an election commitment which we will deliver on which is in excess of $3 billion for water purchase. We have a $400 million dollar commitment to purchases in northern New South Wales and Queensland and we’ve also indicated we’re willing to buy land and water together where there are environmental benefits.

They’re our policy parameters but we’re not going to be negotiating through the media in relation to any particular commercial arrangement.

JOURNALIST: When and if you do buy some of these properties, obviously they’ll have assets, houses, sheep etc. What will happen to those assets once the Government has purchased the land?

WONG: Well again there’s a few hypotheticals in that answer. But really the issue you raise goes to why the Government announced partnership arrangements with state governments as the best way forward for purchasing these sorts of properties. Clearly state governments are already in the market for the purchase of land. We think the best way forward is to work in partnership with state governments for example where water and land can’t be unbundled, where there are environmental benefits to such purchases.

JOURNALIST: So could they help you deal with [inaudible]. What would happen with that, or would it all be lumped in, would they continue?

WONG: Well again a lot of hypotheticals in that question, I’d refer you to my previous answer. That’s precisely why we’re taking the approach that we announced in August. Anything else?


WONG: Thanks.