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Doorstop interview, Griffith NSW
2 September 2009
WONG: We've announced a couple of things today. The first is money for groundwater research. We know as we've got less surface water, there'll be more pressure on groundwater sources. We also know groundwater resources can be under pressure from lack of rainfall, less recharge and also additional use. So it's important we make sure we manage them well, so this is a research project that makes sure we manage groundwater better. We're also announcing today additional funding for local councils for water savings, water saving projects. This is part of our Strengthening Basin Communities Program, a $200 million program which is about investing in Basin communities, strengthening these communities though what we understand is a difficult and tough adjustment process.
JOURNALIST: How important is this to the really small rural communities?
WONG: What we're doing at the moment as a nation in the Murray-Darling Basin is making a huge adjustment. We want strong viable irrigation communities, but you don't get those by just hoping for rain, you get those by confronting the problem, by investing in water savings, investing in efficiency, investing in productivity, and that's what the Government is doing.
JOURNALIST: Senator, who have you met with this morning and what were the nature of those discussions?
WONG: Obviously I'm here to talk to local communities, local councils, local irrigators, about the Government's reforms, about the challenge we're all facing in the Murray-Darling - where we're seeing not just the drought, but unfortunately if you look at what the Bureau of Meteorology and others are saying, we're likely to see continued low rainfall in to many areas of the southern Basin in the future. So I've been talking to local governments, local councils as well as irrigation corporations and irrigators about what's happening for them at the coalface, what's happening for them on the ground. It's been very useful and certainly I've enjoyed the discussions. I hope it's been useful for them.
JOURNALIST: The water buybacks, was that mentioned? There has been concerns raised about the impact it will have on irrigation...
WONG: Can I just say this about buybacks. As I've said, we want strong viable irrigation communities. You don't get those by hoping for rain, you get those by confronting the problem, and the fact is investing in infrastructure and also in buybacks, is about reducing the size of the adjustment that we know we are going to have to make. And unfortunately, this is an adjustment which has been imposed on all of us because of the climate. And it's best and most responsible if we start that adjustment now. I think that's something we need to keep doing, we need to roll out our investment in infrastructure and one of the things I've been talking to people about is how we get that on the ground more efficiently.
JOURNALIST: Do you mind if I ask a quick question for our bureau in Orange?
WONG: In Orange - ok.
JOURNALIST: There is growing evidence that the land management practices of the Mudgee district land holder Peter Andrews should be part of any water management strategy. Is the Government looking seriously at Peter Andrews approach?
WONG: Well I certainly know Mr Burke has taken an interest in Mr Andrew's work and not just Mr Andrews but I think many farmers across the nation have also taken an interest in how do they better manage their land, these efficiencies, how we manage things more sustainably is an ongoing process and obviously the more we can do about that the better.
JOURNALIST: Why hasn't the Federal Government done socioeconomic study on the impact of water buybacks in irrigation communities?
WONG: We have done socio-economic research that has been commissioned through the Government. I think ABARE has done some work on that and from memory the Murray-Darling Basin Commission has also commissioned some work. But can I just make this point. If we are worried about Basin communities - and all of us are - then the issue is: what is the best way we strengthen and prepare communities for the present and for the future. And purchases and investment in ongoing farm and off-farm efficiencies is about strengthening communities now and into the future. This is an adjustment but it's not an adjustment that any of us can run away from because it's going to be imposed on us. And it's an adjustment we have to front up to and the Government wants to work with communities to help them through his adjustment process. And that's what we are doing.
JOURNALIST: Any advice for Premier Nathan Rees in the latest scandal?
WONG: Well I don't discuss people's personal issues so I will leave that one for him.
JOURNALIST: Is there anything else that you would like to add on the projects that have been announced for these rural communities?
KELLY: All this is important to have the research that tells us the relationship between our surface water and groundwater and obviously this research is going to very much help that. We need to understand how the rainfall, run-off and evaporation issues affect the recharge and base flows for groundwater. So this will enable us to manage how we utilise that groundwater in the future. We have already got some great programs going in relation to the Great Artesian Basin. It's very successful capping and piping and this is all directing towards greater efficiencies, sustainability in our use of groundwater. But also, in relation to the natural sequence farming issues you raised, we are actually supporting the catchment authority work with Anthony Coote and Noel Kesby and the catchment management team are conducting experiments around my region actually, Eden- Monaro, to put some science around those great proposals by Andrews for more efficient farming.