Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Interview with Naomi Woodley, Radio National
7 July 2012
TONY EASTLEY: Good morning. This is AM, I'm Tony Eastley. The Federal Government says it's happy with the agreement it's reached on the management of the Murray Darling Basin with the states and territories, but still there's no consensus on how much water should be allocated for environmental purposes. The Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has been speaking to Naomi Woodley in Canberra.
TONY BURKE: Effectively, there's been the approach and the question from environmental groups, in particular from South Australia, wanting to say how can you improve the environmental outcomes from what the Authority has put forward so far? There's an agreed approach to that.
What we also had is the question in many irrigation communities where they've said if you can get the same environmental outcome through methods other than buy-back, we want that to be fully credited, and that approach, which says the environmental outcomes can't go backwards but you can have less reliance on buy-back, that approach has now been endorsed as well.
NAOMI WOODLEY: So there is, going forward, a greater focus on farm infrastructure and those sorts of initiatives rather than just purely buying back water?
TONY BURKE: That's right. That's the approach and the design that's been agreed on yesterday, so while we're still a fair way short of where I need to get to later this year in terms of the exact final pathway for a Murray Darling Basin plan, what we do have now is a higher level of agreement than we've ever had, and the basic structure is now agreed and able to be put in place as to what that reform would look like.
NAOMI WOODLEY: But as you say, there is still no agreement on the precise figure of how much water should be taken back out of the system. The draft planning calls for 2750 gigalitres. Isn't that really the sticking point, and that's where the states haven't been agreeing? You've still got an enormous amount of work to do to get something that all states and territories will sign on to.
TONY BURKE: There's an enormous amount of work to do, I'm not going to shy away from that at all. It's also true, though, that when we say isn't that the sticking point, the truth is there have been a million sticking points that have prevented us from running the Basin as a national system for a century now, and every one of these issues is a significant hurdle to get past.
Now, what happened yesterday was - some say fairly unexpectedly - as negotiations went on right through into the evening, we ended up in a situation where we had a document that all the jurisdictions could sign on to that effectively provides the design of how the reform would run.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Just on carbon pricing, the government staked much of its campaign on your research and that the lived experience of life under the carbon tax will turn around support for the government, but the first published poll out since it's been in place, the news poll in today's Australian, shows virtually no statistical change. How long do you expect it is going to take for the government to see the effect that you want to see?
TONY BURKE: Look, I don't think I'm in a position to put some precise time frame on it, but I also don't think anyone would expect that a year of fear campaign would be offset by one week of lived experience. People are now starting to work through and see that the way Tony Abbott had revved up fear about the carbon price was simply wrong, that the doomsayers were not giving an accurate description of what the carbon price would be like, but you can't expect a year of fear campaign to simply be matched by a week of lived experience.
NAOMI WOODLEY: On whaling, as you were travelling back from the International Whaling Commission meeting in Panama, South Korea announced plans to begin a scientific whaling program. Isn't this a sign that Australia and other countries' diplomatic efforts have failed, and what are you going to do about it?
TONY BURKE: The strength of Australia’s reaction to Korea's decision, I don't think there's anything that could have been stronger. We don't accept that it's scientific to go out and harpoon whales, cut them up, and sell their meat.
NAOMI WOODLEY: You might not accept it, but they're still going to do it, and there's - it seems all the strong words in the world, as you say, the court action against Japan has taken years and there isn't expected to be a decision until next year. Realistically, what more can you do except to keep making these strong statements which don't seem to have an effect?
TONY BURKE: I don't think you can ever argue that diplomacy has no effect. I don't think you can ever argue that a nation taking a strong position has zero effect. It's also the case that I'm not going to pretend we're anything other than frustrated by these decisions, and these are decisions that have been taken by nations that we have good relationships with, and they're decisions which completely undermine the significance of what's meant to be a global moratorium.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Did you have any advance warning of South Korea's announcement? Did it come out of the blue as you got off the plane, having left Panama?
TONY BURKE: We had no idea, absolutely no idea that was coming, and obviously had we known it was coming I wouldn't have departed when I did.
TONY EASTLEY: The Environment and Water Minister, Tony Burke, speaking to Naomi Woodley.