Ordinarily, after there's been a disallowance motion in the Senate people come out fighting. We've just had a disallowance motion succeed in the Senate and I want to adopt a far more conciliatory tone. 

The Murray-Darling Basin plan right now is at real risk. There's no doubt about that. I want to give credit to the Minister for Water for the fact that we came very close today to being able to reach agreement and I want to explain a pathway through. 

The reason I do that is because I know better than most in this place but not better than all are that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has only ever been achieved through compromise and through each side not getting everything that they think would make an ideal plan. 

The consensus began very much when the current Prime Minister was the Minister for Water. It was achieved again when I was the Minister for Water and achieved and continued pretty seamlessly during the first term of the coalition Government. Two issues happened in 2016 and 2017 which need to be resolved and if they can be resolved we will have a way through. 

One was when a question was put as to whether or not it was possible o deliver the additional 450 gigalitres of water. The new Minister has gone some way to try and provide pathways where that will be possible with a deadline on a disallowance motion. We did not get to full agreement on that in time today but it is a key ingredient of making sure we can get the plan back on track. 

The second issue which isn't simply something that affects the environment it affects good, honest irrigators as well is the crime of water theft. It’s very when people are concerned as to whether taxpayer-funded environmental water is being pumped straight back into irrigation channels which everyone agrees is a direct theft against the Australian taxpayer. It's very difficult in that context to look at anything that would reduce the overall take of environmental water. 

But if we can deal with the 450 gigalitres and the issues of compliance with water theft we are very, very close to being able to form an agreement again with respect to the future of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Some people have said well you can never reduce the numbers, you can never change the numbers. That is not my view. I accept many of the criticisms that have been made of the numbers that are being reduced in the north. I also believe that you have an independent authority and the independent authority will sometimes come up with answers that members of Parliament didn't think were ideal. However the cost of losing the independent authority is incredibly great and not something that I would want any of us to venture towards. 

So I want to make clear, Labor in supporting the disallowance today was not saying that the numbers in the north can never be varied. 

There is a role there for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. It is appropriate that they play it. But we have said the whole way through that we can't look at reducing any of the other numbers when the 450 gigalitres that was meant to have been there is suddenly being put at risk and where the compliance measures, with the level of goodwill that is there from some state water Ministers, will in fact be addressed but it's simply not there yet and wasn't done in time for the deadline that we had to face on dealing with a disallowance vote today. 

Many people will want to see this purely as an issue of a fight between South Australia and different upstream states or the environment versus irrigation communities. Can I say there is neither an environment nor an irrigation community on dead rivers. 

Restoring the system to health and having a healthy working basin is in everybody's interests. We will now all decide whether we go forward with cool heads and say ‘let’s get the plan back on track’ and fix some of the doubts that have been put there over the last year and a half. Or in the alternative end up in a world where insults are thrown around and we lose the sense of consensus that has been fragile but that we have previously managed to achieve. 

It's not the ordinary speech after a disallowance but I do believe it's what we need to consider if we're going to ensure that today is an unfortunate step but not the final step on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Tony Burke