TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP - ADELAIDE - FRIDAY, 29 MARCH 2019
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s ongoing commitment to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health
TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Very pleased to be back here in South Australia and obviously with Labor's Leader here Peter Malinauskas and the Deputy, Susan Close and also our Senate candidate Marielle Smith.
In today's announcement, Federal Labor wants to make clear that there have been two changes for the Murray Darling Basin Plan that have been made during the light Federal Coalition Government. They've made two changes from the original plan and both of them to the detriment of the rivers. Those two changes; first of all they put a cap on buyback and secondly that they change the socioeconomic test that would apply to the additional 450gigalitres (GL). Now don't forget, that 450GL was fought hard by South Australian Labor to get that into the plan. Different parts of the plan, there were different governments at the time that fought for different parts of the world but that 450GL was fought hard by South Australian Labor and then Premier Jay Weatherill. Since that time. the socio-economic test was changed under an agreement with the federal Liberal Government, that all states and to my surprise including the state of South Australia, signed on to.
What that change in socio-economic test means is it effectively puts into jeopardy whether the 450GL of water will ever be acquired. And without that additional water you cannot deliver the environmental outcomes that were the purpose of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the first place. So today I'm committing on behalf of federal Labor, that if there is a Federal Labor Shorten Government at the next election we will remove the cap on buyback and we will return to the original test to work out what can make up the 450GL.
The new rules that were put in place by this government that undermined the water being obtained for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, we will ignore that change. We'll get back to the original Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Because unless we are serious about a national reform to restore the rivers to health, they will never be restored to health. Unless we get back to the plan we will never be on a pathway towards healthy rivers and a healthy working basin. Different compromises were made by different people all the way along and we ended up with something that everybody could sign on to, and they did. But since that time particularly since the interventions that were made by Barnaby Joyce we ended up seeing more and more compromises being made all of which reduced the future health of the rivers.
We saw in the summer with the fish kills that the rivers are now negotiating back and when they negotiate back they negotiate hard. The only pathway to make sure we get a healthy, working basin, with a healthy river Murray is to make sure that we return to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and today federal Labor commits to that.
PETER MALINAUSKAS: Well, thank you very much Tony. Because this is undoubtedly very good news for the River Murray and good news for the South Australian environment. Susan and I have been work incredibly hard ever since the Royal Commission handed down its damning report. An inditement on David Speirs and Steven Marshall’s dud deal they did regarding the River Murray. We’ve been working hard talking to people like Tony and Bill Shorten, advocating that Federal Labor goes to this election with a clear, unequivocal position when it comes to South Australia getting its 450 billion litres of upwater we were promised under the Marshall Government. Tony is right, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan represents The best opportunity for South Australia to get the water we so desperately need. What we're seeing is the undermining of that plan by Steven Marshall and David Speirs in what was characterised as a capitulation to the eastern states. We saw the Royal Commission hand down an almost unprecedented finding. The South Australian water Minister had acted in a way that was so contrary to the interests of South Australia and its environment that is amounted to a breech to the ministerial code of conduct.
What we've heard today from Federal Labor is a commitment to undo that dud deal in South Australia. This sets up a real clear choice at the next Federal Election. Federal Labor who is committed to providing South Australia with the 450 billion litres of water we were promised under the Plan, or the Federal Coalition in conjunction with Steve Marshall, pandering to the eastern states in a way that compromises the health of our Murray. I'm really excited about this announcement. Ive got to say, I’m incredibly grateful to Tony Burke and Bill Shorten for showing key leadership when it comes to the River Murray. We know from a South Australian context, we've always had to fight for our Murray. Nothing has ever been given to us. We have to stand up and make the argument for the environmental flows that the Murray desperately needs. What we've seen from Stephen Marshall is nothing short of a capitulation to the eastern states. Which stands in stark contrast to Labor which is basing its commitment to the river Murray on the needs of the environmental flows but also based on science. That's a responsible approach. That’s a response that is consistent with the function of leadership. We're very grateful for Federal Labor’s support. And undoubtedly I think many South Australians when they cast their vote at the next federal election they’ll have top of mind the health of the River Murray.
Happy to answer any questions.
JOURNALIST: Tony, do you think you can have a constructive relationship with the state Government here in South Australia should you be successful at the election?
BURKE: Will have to. We will have to. And what I think we showed when we were last in government when I brought the plan together we were dealing with Liberal and Labor governments around the place. But ultimately the rivers can’t wait for the politics to get it right. And that's my frustration with the deal that was struck. At every layer it was a straight political deal that was undermining the needs of the rivers. Once you set a socio-economic test the way it is currently being done where they shifted it from the original plan, I don't see how you would ever get 450GL. I just don't see how it will ever happen. And look at the progress, for all the money that has been transferred to the special account over the last six years, almost none of it has been spent.
And the outcome of that is that as we hit periods of drought, as we hit challenges to the river we don't have the environmental water that we need to be able to make sure that the system is healthy. Now, we've just had yet again a hot summer that hits the evaporation levels, hits the health of the Basin. And when people want to look at this as always as what about the jobs, what about the socio-economic. There are no jobs on a dead river system. There are none.
We need to make sure that the system is restored to health. And if we set a benchmark that means that water will never be acquired, you're signing the death warrant of the Murray-Darling Basin. So we are making clear exactly how we will approach this. We will work constructively with every government. But part of working constructively is whenever any government, I don’t care whether they are Labor or Liberal governments, any government at the state level says to us they'd rather take the risk and compromise to health of the Basin, then we would be the federal government that says no.
What we've had for the last six years is a Federal Government that has encouraged states to behave that way. And I was and most of us were shocked when South Australia signed on to a deal like that.
JOURNALIST: This deal was obviously struck by all of the Basin states. What’s the mechanism you use to make sure they unilaterally come over and say the deal is off. How do you do that if all the states have signed on?
BURKE: Well effectively it was a deal where the Commonwealth simply put forward here's how we're willing to spend the money in a more restrictive way to the Plan. And the states said great, if you’re willing to do that then we'd like that. But you don't need the states corporation to be able to for the extra 450GL. It's already there in the plan as something that is allowed as a matter of law. This was a unilateral giveaway of an aspect of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It's something that is an agreement that lasts the life that the agreement lasts and what I'm saying is if we win the election, that agreement is no longer on and we're going back to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. They have never technically amended the words of the Plan. The words of the Plan are exactly as they were put in place when I was there on this issue and that’s what we will be abiding by.
JOURNALIST: Most South Australians will probably say of equal concern is *inaudible*. Will a future Labor Government come down hard on those who are seen to be if not breaking the law, bending the law?
BURKE: First of all anyone breaking the law the law needs come down like a tonne of bricks on them. And out of the negotiations we had with the Federal Government we made sure that the Northern Basin Commissioner, wasn’t just some with an environmental or a farming background, we got someone with a police background. I have a fair degree of confidence that we will see much better policing as a result of that So, that part of it, I think we have the theft part of it on track. I'm still concerned as to whether there is enough monitoring happening across the length and breadth of the Basin to make sure we get the information in real time.
The second part of the question goes to the issue of really of how state water resource plans are put together. At the same time the Plan was going through New South Wales, got through a water resource plan that did allow environmental water to be undermined. And what we need to make sure is that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority which accredits water resource plans, never again accredits a water resource plan that allows environmental water to be undermined in that way.
JOURNALIST: David Littleproud has called this announcement today a ‘hoax’. *inaudible*
BURKE: He’s wrong. This is a Commonwealth spend of money for the Commonwealth environmental water holder. There are some issues that are owned by the Ministerial Council and there's some issues that are a matter of law under the plan and this one is something which is money that doesn’t get funded through the Ministerial Council.
If you want to do it via the states then yes you need their agreement. But the section of the Murray-Darling Basin plan that they sought to undermine is the right of the Commonwealth within the Plan to engage directly with an irrigator who wants to improve their infrastructure on farms and that the infrastructure money gets paid and that the water saved goes to the Commonwealth. That is something that is available as a matter of Commonwealth law. So, nice try from David Littleproud but he would do well to read the documents before he tweets.
JOURNALIST: The government says it got out of this deals struck in December $70 million for the Coorong. Would that money remain in place or is that gone?
BURKE: Money for the Coorong was already available. It shouldn't have been held hostage to deliver a deal of this nature. There has been money available to be used at different points in time for the Coorong and indeed a whole series of wetlands throughout the Murray-Darling Basin from north to south. That money comes over a period of time in instalments in different ways and different projects are put forward. To the extent that that was used to hold the South Australian government and pretend that that money was hostage and they would only get it if they agreed to something like this, that never should have been said to South Australia and South Australia should never have fallen for it.
JOURNALIST: On another topic, what do you make of reports this morning that unspent NDIS money may be used in the federal budget *inaudible*.
BURKE: I haven't seen those reports and so I'll have to leave it to someone else to talk on later in the day.
JOURNALIST: What do you think needs to be done to fix the NDIS?
BURKE: Im sorry, I'm not going to fudge an answer. I’m sure someone will be standing up later in the day who has seen the reports and in a position to be able to provide comment for you.
JOURNALIST: Still on water, irrigators say you’re playing politics with their security, are you providing uncertainty with this plan? Is there now more uncertainty around the Murray-Darling Basin?
BURKE: The irrigators would have a fair criticism if I was saying we were going to vary the original plan. But it’s actually the Liberals who varied the original plan. And it was actually Barnaby Joyce who started the variance of the original Plan. What's the point, having brokered an agreement that nobody says is exactly what they wanted but everybody says they could work with? And then allowing a couple of states to constantly unless you give us this little bit more we'll walk away. And unless you give us this little bit more we’ll walk away. You do that you end up with no plan at all and effectively this particular test *inaudible*. You have a look at the record so far and that has been the experience that we have seen ever since the Nationals were given the water portfolio.
JOURNALIST: Mr Malinauskas, Tony Burke has just said the state government were deluded, they had the wool pulled over their eyes, they should never have fallen for the tricks of the other states. Was David Speirs a fool?
MALINAUSKAS: Well, it’s not just Tony Burke that has said that it’s also none other than a Royal Commission. I mean let's be clear about this. A Royal Commission headed by one of the smartest we've found that David Speirs and Steven Marshall essentially capitulated to the eastern states when it comes to the River Murray and this announcement from Federal Labor today, should they win the next election really presents an extraordinary opportunity for Steve Marshall they should grab. Laura you asked a good question before about whether a Federal Labor Government would work constructively with the state conservative government, you’ve got a commitment that that’s the case. Which is should be. But the real question here is whether or not the local Liberal State Government led by Steven Marshall will be able to grab the oppourtunity to see more water flow through to South Australia. Steven Marshall needs to swallow his pride, admit the December deal last year was the wrong thing to do, follow the advice of the Royal Commission, follow the advice of experts and take this opportunity from Federal Labor to see water flow down the river that was always intended to be the case under the original Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
MALINAUSKAS: Well look, I have every confidence within Safehold and our security agencies, they are doing all the work they need to be to keep our community safe. We're very lucky here in South Australia, we do have a safe community that is harmonious. But we need to do everything we can to preserve that. The best judgments should be guided by the experts and I have full confidence in the police commissioner that he is allocating his resources wisely in the context of various risks that exist within our community.
JOURNALIST: If I could get you and Mr Burke’s comments, we have seen reports today in regards to Adelaide Oval and games during NAIDOC week last year, box office staff were instructed to not sell tickets to Aboriginal people. Have you seen those reports? What do you make of that?
MALINAUSKAS: Well I haven’t, Im not sure if Susan has? I haven’t seen those reports but that would strike me as utterly extraordinary.
BURKE: Responding to same issue, I’ve heard the reports. I understand it is being investigated to work out exactly what happened. At a time when there are arguments going on back and forth about hate speech and prejudice and what forms of bigotry are okay I think this is a stark reminder that bigotry is never okay. It needs to be called out and stamped out every time.