Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Address to the Murray Darling Basin Authority Public Meeting Griffith
15 December 2011
TONY BURKE: Thanks very much, Tom. As Craig Knowles just said, the numbers that are here today, it's important and what we have in front of us at the moment is a draft document.
Next year, we'll have a document that I will then have to put my name to at some point, which will be a plan for the Basin. What numbers are in that, what the actual content of that is, when we get to that final plan, will be driven heavily by the full range of consultation which occurs, including here and including the many communities where there are wildly different views.
But throughout the Basin we have a situation where we have not had a national plan for it ever. A river system doesn't respect state boundaries. I want to see a situation where a decision that has been hanging around, over the heads of communities, including irrigations communities, for decades and decades and decades, gets resolved next year.
There are some issues that have been raised in rounds of consultation in months gone past, where we have started to make some ground. A number of people, irrigators in particular, have raised that they didn't want a situation where there was any chance at all of the government coming in and compulsorily taking their water entitlement. And a guarantee that that won't happen has been given.
A number of people have also raised that New South Wales had a different timeline to Victoria, and where the Victorian irrigators has all the way out to 2019, you had a much sharper deadline for New South Wales.
A few months ago all the Water Ministers agreed - some more reluctantly than others - but agreed that 2019 would be the aligned date across the whole Basin; so you didn't have a situation where a place like Shepparton - where I was a few days ago - had a long period of time and somewhere like Griffith was expected to do a very sharp turnaround.
It was also raised that we needed to have a document which separated out how much needed to be done in catchment and how much work was for the whole flow of the river and therefore didn't matter which catchment it came out of.
The draft that's in front of us now reflects that principle. Obviously there will be differences of opinion about the numbers.
A number of people as I walked in were chatting on the way in, were genuinely surprised that I'm here today. I'm here, I'm here for a very simple reason - I'm here for the same reason I was in Shepparton; I'm here for the same reason I was in St George; I'm here for the same reason that in the course of next year I'll visit places at the South Australian end of the system as well.
In terms of the outcomes of those consultations, you will find no sharper shift than what's happened with infrastructure dollars of late. People were right to be frustrated when year after year after year billions of dollars had been earmarked for infrastructure and hardly any of it was getting out the door.
I don't think anyone in this room would argue with the fact that if you get a gain from infrastructure then you do get an outcome that favours the environment, but you also get better efficiencies from people involved in food production, and that is a good outcome. I don't think anyone here would argue with that.
But we did have a situation or a long period of time where everything was trying to be done through a partnership between the Commonwealth and the States and the outcome was that almost none of the money was getting out the door.
We now have billions of dollars getting out the door and shovels in the ground for infrastructure projects starting. That needed to happen.
That's not the whole answer. I'm not pretending it's the whole answer and I'm not going to talk for much longer, so it's really important, really important that what we have today is a situation where as many people as possible get to stand up - get to stand up and get to have the microphone and get to have their opportunity to have their say.
Where this will end up and it will end up there next year - next year we will have a nationwide plan for the Basin. It will be before the Parliament. The only political party at the moment to have said they will flatly vote against it are the Greens. They're the only party that say they will flatly vote against it.
At the moment - and I thank them for this - the Coalition have said that they are remaining at the table. They want to work this through. I think even though we've got a set order Tom for opening speeches, I do think it's appropriate - given that he's here - we've got the Leader of the Opposition here and I think it's important right from the start that he gets the opportunity to share the microphone.