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Transcript of Joint Press Conference with Mike Rann, Premier of South Australia: State Administration Centre, Adelaide: 19 February 2007: water; football; climate change; polls; Iraq/Afghanistan; education; Vice President Cheney's visit.

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Subjects: Water; Football; Climate Change; Polls; Iraq/Afghanistan; Education; Vice President Cheney’s Visit

RANN: I’m very pleased to welcome Kevin Rudd, Federal Leader of the Opposition, here to Adelaide. As people know, Kevin and I have had an almost two decade-long association and we’ve been talking together over the past couple of weeks about the River Murray and our strategy. Just before that, I should just mention I was delighted to be there last night at the Telstra Dome with Kevin, who was wearing an Adelaide United scarf.

RUDD: Did no good at all.

RANN: It was an act of courage and I think he had several thousand people booing him, but of course I think he looked a bit quizzical at the half-way mark when we were three-nil down, I said: “Look we’re on track here”. But thank you Kevin for that support.

Just on the River Murray, just to recap where we’re at, and that is that in South Australia and Queensland, we have a joint position. Our joint position is that we believe that in terms of future management of the River Murray and future management of the Murray-Darling Basin, that we believe that there should be an independent commission reporting to a Federal Minister. We’re happy for the chair of that commission to be appointed by the Commonwealth, as I said from day one, but we believe that the membership of that commission should be jointly appointed by the Commonwealth and the States.

So, that in terms of decision making and advice on for instance, allocation of water, that they give full and frank and fearless advice to a Federal Minister. If he or she chooses to override that advice, then by law it would mean that the Minister would have to publish his or her reasons for doing so. We think that that would mean that there is a considerable then pressure on the Federal Minister to do the right thing by the River Murray.

Queensland and South Australia are also suggesting that in terms of the future arrangements for the River Murray, that we would have a five year review, if there was for instance a transfer of powers or some other way of setting this new regime up, that there would be, after five years, an automatic, like a sunset clause, but an automatic review of the arrangements. That way, of course, that is absolute incentive for the Federal Government to do the right thing and it would give us an opportunity to see whether what was promised is actually being delivered.

I think it’s very important that we’ve actually got a situation now where the up-stream State and the down-stream State, Queensland and South Australia, jointly agree on our position to take to the Prime Minister on Friday. The fact that after 100 years you’ve got the up-stream State and the down-stream State reaching agreement is a very, very powerful argument that this is for the good of the River Murray, for the health of the River Murray. So, we’ve been having detailed discussions with Kevin Rudd and I’ll now hand over to him.

RUDD: Thanks, Mike. It was good to be at Telstra Dome last night with Mike and to understand firsthand what it’s like to be a member of a persecuted minority. Telstra Dome took some courage there to be wearing the Adelaide United scarf last night. Mike makes for a fantastic Premier, but sports adviser of questionable ability. But it was a tough game, a tough game for Adelaide, but I had no choice as my wife is an Adelaidian as I said to some of you before, so there’d be no peace on the home-front were I not to support Adelaide at the game last night.

I’m here in Adelaide today to talk about water and I’ve had a good discussion now with Mike, as we did last night in Melbourne. What the nation wants is practical, commonsense solutions which deal with our national water problems.

And that’s what Premier Mike Rann is on about as well for his State of South Australia and beyond it for the health of the Murray-Darling system.

What I’ve discussed with Mike this morning is one practical project where a future Federal Labor Government can help, and that’s a desalination plant for the upper Spencer Gulf. A Federal Labor Government will fund that project to the tune of $160 million. I’m announcing that formally today here in Adelaide.

The reason we have taken that decision is that it matches the contribution which the State Government will make to that project. This is an important project, it’s a major project. Critically it relieves some of the pressure currently on the Murray.

It also provides a source of water for residential and other uses around the Spencer Gulf. This is the practical step forward and we are making that commitment and I would challenge Mr Howard to match it.

On the broader question of the Murray-Darling, our discussions this morning and yesterday have also focused on how do we come up with the best national plan for dealing with the challenges which currently face the system.

There are some questions which Canberra still needs to answer and these go to what are the policy objectives to be served here. Firstly, environmental flows across the entire river system. Secondly, the needs of sustainable irrigators across the entire system. And thirdly, the particular water needs of South Australia. We need to get those policy objectives absolutely clear-cut in Canberra’s position on this proposal.

Of course, a second question which arises is the adequacy of the amount of money on offer. This is a very big proposal from Canberra and as Senator Minchin, the Finance Minister, said recently, when it comes to the amount of money concerned, he seemed to say that $1 billion a year didn’t warrant Cabinet consideration. Well, it’s an interesting reflection on the part of the Finance Minister because if you’re about to, from the Commonwealth’s point of view, take over the entire national river system, this is a massive undertaking. There is a legitimate policy question here, notwithstanding Senator Minchin’s scepticism, about the adequacy of the funds on offer. Second question to be resolved.

Premier Mike Rann has put forward a positive proposal on the question of governance which is: can the Murray-Darling be run effectively by, rather than a Commonwealth Government agency, by a board made up of independent

commissioners appointed conjointly by the States and the Commonwealth, ultimately answerable to a Commonwealth Minister, but with powers which are able to determine the ultimate use of the water in the system. My request to Mr

Howard is that he would look at that proposal positively and constructively in the days leading up to this Friday’s meeting.

The other part of the proposal which Premier Rann puts forward, and other Premiers as well, is the desirability of putting a five year review clause into this. We’re on about practical, commonsense solutions for the Murray-Darling system.

This is a very big proposed change and we’ve got to make sure we get it right. A five year review clause, built into the statute, would be an important way to go.

A third question which I think is worthy of consideration - how is all this best brought about. Is it best done by a formal referral of powers to Canberra or could it be done instead by the States enacting complementary legislation? These are three questions again which I think would be useful if Mr Howard turned his mind to.

If I could just conclude on the question of climate change. There has been a battle royal in the last few days between Senator Minchin of this fair State of South Australia and Peter Costello of the equally fair State of Victoria over climate change scepticism. Senator Minchin was in the papers over the

weekend still proclaiming himself to be a climate change sceptic. Treasurer Costello responds today and says he’s not, and says Senator Minchin is not speaking for the Howard Government. If you have the Finance Minister of the Federal Government today saying he’s a climate change sceptic, how can this Government be part of a climate change solution? I pose that as a very basic question for Australians to consider. Happy to take your questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, in terms of desalination, whilst it’s very generous of a future Labor Government to kick in $160 million, but I think probably John Howard will give that commitment as well.

RUDD: Has Mr Howard given that commitment?

JOURNALIST: In the lead up to the election perhaps he will.

RUDD: I’d be interested to know how you know that.

JOURNALIST: I’ll put a wager on it if you like. But would you support another desalination plant, as the Liberal Opposition here has proposed, for having a second one closer to Adelaide?

RUDD: I’m not aware of the State Opposition’s proposal here. My attitude to critical, practical water resource projects in every State of the Commonwealth is this: let the State Governments come forward, and local authorities, with practical, commonsense solutions which have been properly evaluated and then for decisions to be made appropriately on that basis.

When it comes to the desalination plant for the upper Spencer Gulf, when I was reading the brief on this there was something like I think one dozen technical reports which have dealt with this over some years. This is a well researched, well considered proposal. Those sorts of proposals we back.

Yesterday I announced support in Brisbane for the Western Corridor Recycling Project, the third largest in the world when it comes to water recycling. Again, well researched, subject to detailed analysis over a long period of time. These are the sorts of things we want to get behind.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, on that, do you support the Queensland proposal to pump water from North Queensland?

RUDD: I’ve seen a report of that today, I’ll be studying that in some greater detail. I’ll be back in Brisbane on Wednesday or Thursday and I’ll be having some discussions with Premier Beattie about that.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Do you fully support everything that Mike Rann and Peter Beattie are doing, when push comes to shove, at Friday’s meeting? (inaudible)

RUDD: Are we talking about water or beyond water?

JOURNALIST: Sorry, we’re talking about water. But do you fully support what Mike Rann and Peter Beattie are doing at the extent of anything else, if that jeopardises anything that the Prime Minister might put on the table on Friday?

RUDD: Of course not. My job is to be the alternative Prime Minister of the country. That means having some disagreements with my good friend, Mike, here or Peter Beattie in my own State of Queensland, I’m prepared to do that. But what I’m trying to do this week is to be as positive and constructive as possible in narrowing the gap which currently exists between the States and Canberra. At this stage of the process, I’m not confident I’m going to get there because there are significant differences, particularly in Victoria, but elsewhere

as well, on what can be best achieved through the Prime Ministers proposal. What I know is this, however: all Australians want a practical, commonsense national solution to Australia’s emerging water problems around the Murray-Darling Basin. And if I can do my bit as the alternative Prime Minister to try and bridge the gap, I will.

JOURNALIST: Aren’t you saying, effectively, that , “I’m agreeing with what the Premiers are saying and John Howard’s” (inaudible) but are you actually putting up a viable alternative to the Prime Minister?

RUDD: What I’m saying is when it comes to the proposed takeover of State powers by Canberra, that is the referral option of all State powers to the Commonwealth on this, there is an alternative proposal which may be on the table and that is as follows: that the States enact complementary legislation without fundamentally losing their powers. What I’m asking the PM to do in a positive, bipartisan, constructive spirit is perhaps the PM could give us a response to that as to why that wouldn’t work. That’s the way in which I think this should be progressed during the week rather than I’m in that corner, Mr Howard is in that corner, and let’s see who wins or loses. I don’t think the Australian people are faintly interested in that sort of politics on something as important as water.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, what is your position on the independent commission and the other plans being made by Mr Rann? And are you confident the Victoria and New South Wales will step in line (inaudible) position?

RUDD: I believe that the proposal for an independent commission has real merit. I would like to hear from Mr Howard what any fundamental policy objections to it might be. Having looked at it on paper and received briefing

papers now on it, I think it is a good way to go. If Mr Howard has a contrary view then let him put it, but put it in policy terms, not political terms. That’s consistent with what I just said before.

RANN: I (inaudible) there, Paul, but on Friday week ago that all the Premiers signed up to the independent commission as part of the Government’s model. (inaudible)

JOURNALIST: How do you (inaudible) as part of your practical, commonsense solution to the (inaudible)?

RUDD: Well, I know that there is a local political debate about that weir at the moment and I’d, absent further detailed discussions with State Government and those concerned on it, I’ll reserve comment on it. I’m aware it’s of the local political sensitivities so I’d rather be fully informed, I think, before making any further substantive comment unless you’d wish to add.

JOURNALIST: Premier, on weirs, (inaudible) is there any further news on that?

RANN: Not at this stage, no. As we say, we’re looking at all the options. Again, we believe that it’s a less than five per cent chance of having a weir down near Wellington, we’ve always said that. What we’re doing is, basically, strongly supported by the Prime Minister and Malcolm Turnbull, preparing in case we need to, we hope we won’t need to, but we’re doing the preparation which you’d expect a responsible government to do.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, just on another matter briefly. Whether you’ve got credibility or not, the Morgan Poll, the latest one, puts you ahead of the Prime Minister as preferred Prime Minister in the seat of Bennelong. Does that take you by storm?

RUDD: No, it completely underwhelms me because I don’t take any store in those polls whatsoever.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, the Prime Minister’s been talking about not increasing the military commitment to Iraq, but talking about possibly extra military (inaudible). Does that concern you? Is that an extra military commitment?

RUDD: Our policy on Iraq is clear cut. Our troops have been there for four years now and our policy is our combat forces should come home. And secondly, there should be no more troops sent, no additional troops sent, including in the category you just mentioned.

JOURNALIST: What about sending more troops to Afghanistan? What’s your view on that?

RUDD: On the question of Afghanistan, as I understand it the reports today about Vice President Cheney’s comments on that, I’m seeing Vice President Cheney this Friday in Sydney and I look forward to a discussion with him both on Iraq and Afghanistan.

JOURNALIST: What about additional training, though?

RUDD: Well, when it comes to no additional troops, which is the position I just put, that means that in black and white. When it comes to a military deployment by Australia and Mr Howard’s failed Iraq strategy which is now four years old, our combat forces should be brought home. And secondly,

there should be no additional troops sent. I think that is clear cut.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rann, what do you make of Mr Beattie’s idea to send flood waters down south (inaudible)?

RANN: What we’ve done is obviously there’s a (inaudible). Point one is there needs to be an equitable distribution of the water money promised by the Commonwealth. So, that’s the key point. That $10 billion dollars has been promised for the Murray-Darling system, that now seems to be diminishing and that concerns me. I mean, originally the Prime Minister said that money was for the Murray-Darling system. Now, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory can apply, which obviously means there’s less money available for the Murray-Darling. As I’ve pointed out before, it looks like most of the money would be spent, will be spent in New South Wales in terms of open channels and (inaudible), things that have been fixed up in South Australia for many, many years. But it’s an interesting proposal from Peter Beattie. I’ve asked our people to have a look at it and obviously there’s a whole range of projects that will be put on the table for consideration.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that you won’t get a fair split for South Australia then?

RANN: That’s what I’m keen to negotiate. I mean, there was kind of some fairly silly comment earlier on that I should have caved in right from the start. Even before getting the letter, I saw these commentaries in the newspapers and then later on from people like Alan Jones. You know, I don’t know what sort of, how they’ve been brought up. It’d be like signing a house contract without seeing the house, let alone the fine print in the contract. It is only by us digging our heels in that we’ve won significant concessions. For instance, there was absolutely no mention in the Prime Minister’s original proposal for the minimum entitlement flows to South Australia that we currently have. It would have been totally irresponsible to sign up to something without

that. And we also wanted a guarantee about the Living Murray environmental flows initiatives which wasn’t mentioned in the Prime Minister’s original proposition. We also wanted a guarantee against any privatisation of the River Murray as was of course was proposed a year or two ago for the Snowy.

So, my job is to try and negotiate the best deal for South Australia which happens to coincide because we’re the downstream State, with the best deal for the river.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, should the Premiers and the Prime Minister reach an agreement this week on the River Murray water package? Can you give a commitment that if you’re elected at the next Federal election you will carry that through and honour that agreement?

RUDD: Subject to a five year review, that would be my approach. And the reason I say a five year review is that this is a critically important water system for up to three million Australians who are affected by the Murray-Darling system. Therefore, it would be irresponsible of me not to accept the desirability

of reviewing the effectiveness after an appointed period of time, and at that point to take the advice of the States concerned given the States will be responsible for the individual well-being of the users of the system, residential users and other users here in South Australia, irrigators as well.

JOURNALIST: The debate you’re having at the moment obviously it’s important we get to the (inaudible). Would you acknowledge that we wouldn’t even be having this debate had the Federal Government not taken decision action (inaudible)?

RUDD: Well look, I think there’ve been proposals around for quite a while about how do you deal with what is a national water emergency on a national basis. Some time before the Prime Minister released his proposal for the Murray-Darling, I called in the national newspapers for a National Water Plan, the establishment of a single National Water Agency with a single Minister responsible for that. And I’m very pleased that the Prime Minister then subsequently appointed Mr Turnbull to that position and brought together those five other agencies in Canberra into a single Water Agency. That’s practical, commonsense positive action. But I’ve got to say, many people have been party to that. I think this is so important, water and climate change, that to the greatest extent possible it’s very important that we take as much of the politics out of this as possible.

By the way, just to add something about taking the politics out of things, Mr Howard today in Melbourne announced a further expansion of the program to assist schools. Can I just say on that, he has my complete support on that

because I think it’s a useful and practical program. Do I think that program solves all the problems of our schools across the country? Of course not. But do

I think it’s a useful program worthy of bipartisan support? You bet, and he’s got it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rann, how optimistic are you that you will get agreement on the independent board on Friday?

RANN: I’m going in with a positive frame of mind to try and get a positive outcome for the River Murray. So, I mean the key thing is we’ve got to keep negotiating. We’ve made some significant progress. Two weeks ago we made significant progress in talks, the Premiers have been talking since. I think this is too important to stuff up and that’s why rather than agreeing with something, you know, it took them seven days to send out the proposal. As for the Prime Minister being decisive on the River Murray, he has been in office for 11 years.

JOURNALIST: Premier, if you don’t get a signed agreement on Friday, (a) will it be a failure, and (b) whose fault will that be?

RANN: Well, the key point is that I’m not going to sign up to something if it isn’t a good deal to the River Murray. That’s going to take compromise, I’ve said that from day one, but the key point is that we’re going to

get the right. It’s seems to me if you go to the initial National Press Club speech, which then took seven days to get the letters out with huge holes in it, which there subsequently had to be 40 changes to the position, but it’s more important to get this right because the original proposition was more about the political health of Mr Howard than it was about the health of the River Murray.

JOURNALIST: If you were sent away for another two weeks, would that be tolerable for you to go away and think about it?

RANN: I would like to think that we could actually crack a deal this week. Whether we can or not depends of course on whether we can get some important concessions on an expert commission with considerable autonomy and

a five year review. So, we’re going in there to get the best deal for the Murray which is what I was elected to do.

JOURNALIST: What reaction would you get (inaudible) prospect of a five year review (inaudible)?

RANN: But (inaudible) talking about the independent commission, at that stage the Prime Minister said that was unacceptable.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, very briefly, can you clarify your position on Afghanistan? Would the Opposition support sending more combat troops there?

RUDD: We support the current deployment in Afghanistan. We’ve done so since day one. Why? Because the action in Afghanistan arose from the attack on September 11 by al-Qaeda and to a person the Federal Parliament, including the Labor Party, voted to send Australian troops on deployment there following the S-11 attacks. Subsequent to that, 12 months down, the track the Howard Government withdrew Australian forces. Why? It withdrew them in order to deploy them to Iraq. That was the wrong thing to do. Mr Howard cut and run from Afghanistan before the job was done. What’s happened since then?

I’ve visited Kabul and spoken with President Armed Karzai about this some time ago, is that the opium crop has been re-cultivated, the Taliban are back in gear, back in operation, and al-Qaeda is reforming, and Osama bin Laden, on best reports, remains alive and well. This is a task which requires continued commitment. I believe our current force deployment is adequate to that point and to that purpose and it has our complete bipartisan support. And I’ll be discussing that with Vice President Cheney on Friday in Sydney.

RANN: I’ve got to go to Cabinet. Thank you, Kevin.

RUDD: Appreciate that.