News | 6th Aug, 2012

Environment Minister still not happy with rivers plan


Monday, 6 August 2012
Simon Lauder, PM, ABC

TIM PALMER: The Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says the latest version of the basin plan isn't environmentally ambitious enough and he's still not prepared to sign off on it. Mr Burke says there's still a lot of work to be done before the plan is finalised.

He's speaking here to Simon Lauder. 

TONY BURKE: I said when the authority first put out the 2,750 figure that I believed we could go further than what was there. Now at the moment we've commissioned some modelling of a 3,200 plan and to have a look at what that would look like. 

So I'll be waiting to see what's possible there. At the moment, to get too much more than the environmental outcomes that are in the current document, you need to remove these things called capacity constraints, which effectively prevent you from managing larger volumes of water. 

But the new modelling presumes that some of those constraints are removed and has a look at what are the environmental outcomes that could be achieved, and I'm quite hopeful when that modelling comes back that we'll have a pathway to a significantly healthier basin. 

SIMON LAUDER: Well rather than having the concrete target of 2,750 gigalitres a year, the authority is now saying it should be more flexible, which could mean it could go much lower. So are you concerned that the target could be changed without consulting parliament?

TONY BURKE: No because the target that matters is the environmental outcome. The target that matters is to what extent are you delivering a healthy, working Murray-Darling Basin. And that target can't be taken down. 

In fact the environmental health of the basin at 2,750 – that, the environmental indicators can't be reduced and in fact the mechanism allows a way that they could be improved and improved significantly. 

And that's what I think we need to keep the focus on, you can have an auction back and forth about how many gigalitres, but ultimately you need to focus on what impact are we having on the health of the basin, and the only way the number can go down under the mechanism that the authority has proposed is if the environmental outcomes don't go down. 

And I think that's precisely the right way to work it. 

SIMON LAUDER: Nothing announced today changes the position of the environment groups, the irrigation groups or any of the states, so what chance is there that this will break the deadlock between the states?

TONY BURKE: Well at the moment I don't think we've got a plan that I'd sign off on, so I'm not surprised that the states are saying they wouldn't agree to it either and the environment groups, the irrigation groups are saying they don't think we've got it quite right yet. 

We have a three week period now to resolve as many issues as we can for the states and then there's a couple of periods following that where I can make further amendments to the plan. 

There's no doubt now though, with the time frames that we've got through and the timely way in which the authority has provided today's document, I have no doubt as of today that I will be able to sign off on a Murray-Darling basin plan this year and I will be spending every moment I can trying to make sure that we can find a way with the best public policy that we deliver that in a way that the states and the different groups are willing to work with. 

SIMON LAUDER: You wouldn't sign off on this, so what changes would you like to see before there's something you're happy with?

TONY BURKE: I'll have a better idea of that when I see the 3,200 modelling. As I say at the moment, I don't believe it is as environmentally ambitious for the health of the basin as we want to be but the precise nature of how much you can push that envelope with extra gigalitres if you remove constraints, is a technical question that until I get that next set of modelling I just don't know the answer to. 

SIMON LAUDER: So far we've had the guide to the plan, the plan, the revised plan and this is the altered plan. Now there's going to be more consultation, yet you're still confident that there'll be something you can take to Parliament this year?

TONY BURKE: That's right, that's right. 

SIMON LAUDER: And have you had any feedback from the states yet?

TONY BURKE: Not yet. I've been in Tasmania today so I haven't been meeting with the basin states today but you know we're talking about 800 pages of material that's come out today, and so they'll be working through it. 

But effectively they all, you know, at first glance will have similar comments to my own but they don't think we've landed a plan yet that would have their full support, but I do believe we're getting significantly closer to that. 

TIM PALMER: The Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke.


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