15 September 2015




MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE, ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Thanks for coming; I am joined today by my South Australian Labor colleagues to talk about a matter of very significant importance for South Australia, that is a decision to reallocate water policy responsibilities. Bit by bit I think Australians are starting to discover the price which Malcolm Turnbull was willing to pay to become Prime Minister of this country. Bit by bit they are starting to discover the extent to which he was willing to sacrifice very long held, deeply held beliefs about policies like climate change and water just for his own personal ambition to become the Prime Minister.

We’ve had it confirmed over the last hour or so that Malcolm Turnbull has taken a position to the right of the position John Howard and Tony Abbot had on water policy and that is to allocate policy responsibility for Australia’s water resources to the National Party, particularly to Barnaby Joyce. Let’s be clear, this is a fundamental betrayal, particularly of South Australia.

Malcolm Turnbull has sold out South Australia just for his personal ambition to become Prime Minister and we have to ask as South Australian MPs, where was Christopher Pyne? Where was Simon Birmingham? They were so busy counting votes they failed to stand up for South Australia’s interests in having the Murray Darling Basin plan implemented in full and on time.

What he has done is to sacrifice the finely balanced interests, the economic, social and environmental interests that are at the core of the Murray Darling Basin Plan just for his personal ambition and his attempt to try and buy the support of the National Party.

This is something that is a bad direction for the whole of Australia, but particularly a bad direction for South Australia.

We know given Barnaby Joyce’s policy legacy in this area, his often stated views about policy and water, particularly about the Murray Darling Basin plan, when it comes to balancing the economic, social and environmental interests of the Murray Darling Basin, the health of the river will always end up last under Barnaby Joyce.

I’m going to ask Penny Wong who was obviously a Minister for Water in the former government to say a few words about this as well.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: I only really have one thing to say and it is this: South Australians know that Barnaby Joyce is not our friend when it comes to water. South Australians know that when it comes to Adelaide’s water supply, when it comes to the health of the river, Barnaby Joyce is not our friend.

And the fact that Malcolm Turnbull has had to do a deal to give Barnaby Joyce responsibility for the Murray Darling really demonstrates just how much he’s prepared to sell out to gain the leadership of the Liberal Party.

BUTLER: I also want to address climate change policy here because we heard in Question Time today that Malcolm Turnbull has also turned his back on a long held belief about climate change policy.

All of those Australians who hoped that Malcolm Turnbull returning to the leadership of the Liberal Party would drag that party back to the sensible centre of climate change policy had their hearts broken this afternoon when Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that he has promised the right wing in his own party and the National Party that he will not change Tony Abbott’s policy on climate change.

This policy has been out there now for almost six years and every expert, every stakeholder group who has looked at this policy has confirmed it will not achieve any meaningful reductions in carbon pollution, it will waste billions of tax payers’ dollars and the tragedy is Malcolm Turnbull knows that.

He called the Liberal Party under Tony Abbott out on this five or six years ago but he has sacrificed his own policy credentials, his own beliefs and the future of Australian climate change policy frankly just for his personal ambition to be Prime Minister.

If he is willing to sacrifice CC policy, Australians have to ask themselves, what else has he sacrificed? What other price has he paid? What else has he sold out just to become Prime Minister of Australia?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

BUTLER: We think it’s important that the water portfolio be retained as part of the environment department. This was part of the fine balance that was achieved with the Murray Darling Basin plan that obviously recognises the importance of those rivers to the social and economic fabric of the Murray Darling Basin but also the importance of achieving health of the rivers.

That is the fine balance that was achieved not only at the Commonwealth level, but with four other states governments who are obviously important parts of the basin.

We want to know, and I think South Australians want to know particularly, what has driven this?

John Howard recognised the importance of water policy being part of the environment department, Tony Abbott recognised the importance of water policy being part of the environment department.

But in some dirty deal struck last night with no consultation with anyone, Malcolm Turnbull has decided to give water policy to the National Party. We want to know, what’s the price?

We know given Barnaby Joyce’s history that the health of the river always comes last with Barnaby. The health of the river always come last.

What other deals has Malcolm Turnbull done with the National Party? What other deals has he done with the right wing of the Liberal Party to sacrifice strong sensible climate change and environmental protection policy in the future?

JOURNALIST: National Party conference (inaudible) their concerns are that social and economic outcomes will come a distant second behind the environment, I think that’s the basis of what they’re saying. Do you think that the MDBA could be relocated to a regional area or are you worried that might be one of the outcomes?

BUTLER: We are worried that the fine balance that was achieved will be upset just because of some late night deal that Malcolm Turnbull has done with the National Party.

Where was the consultation with the basin states? Where was the consultation with other stakeholders?

We know Barnaby Joyce’s position on this and the National Party’s position, but the achievement of this plan was incredibly difficult.

It took 100 years to solve this issue and Malcolm Turnbull has stumbled in like a bull in a china shop and potentially upset that very fine balance.

JOURNALIST: Have you had any feedback from stakeholders at all?

BUTLER: No we haven’t, we’ve only had this confirmed in the last hour. Malcolm Turnbull dumped this question in Question Time and it looked pretty clear that Christopher Pyne wasn’t even aware of the decision.

Which makes you ask again, what was Christopher Pyne, what was Simon Birmingham doing to protect the interests of South Australia? They were too busy counting numbers to assassinate a first term prime Minister and not paying enough attention to the interests of South Australia in the Murray Darling Basin plan.

JOURNALIST: You recently spoke to states in regards to their reaction ?

BUTLER: I’m very disturbed about the reaction of states and about stakeholder reactions. We took a constructive position in relation to the buyback cap after talking to all of the basin states and to stakeholders. We were reassured that the basin plan would be implemented in full by this Commonwealth Government and by the four basin states.  And now we have Malcolm Turnbull stumbling in like a bull in a china shop with no consultation with anyone just to sure up support in a dirty deal with the National Party.

That is not the way to deal with a very complex, very sensitive policy area.

JOURNALIST: If you got into government, would you reverse this?

BUTLER: That is our position, our position is the same position we had in government, same position Tony Abbott had as Prime Minister, and John Howard had as Prime Minister. This was a position taken after deep reflection by all of those Prime Ministers and for good reason. The basin plan involves the balance of serious interests and a decision was taken by all of those Prime Ministers, all of those governments that the implementation of the plan was best done in the environment department.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE:Of course I am here as the Agriculture spokesperson to support my colleagues in their expression of concern at this extraordinary deal Malcolm Turnbull has done with the National Party to secure the Liberal Party leadership.  This is a bad decision.  The best way we ensure the efficient allocation and the sustainable allocation of water resources to our food and fibre sectors is to leave water management with the Environment Department and the scientists rather than allocate it towards Barnaby Joyce’s re-election campaign.  We talk a lot about the opportunities in agriculture but indeed the challenges are at least as great and amongst them is the allocation of those precious and depleting resources.  We need to ensure to lift productivity that they are allocated in an efficient and sustainable way and that’s why we must continue to rely on the experts and the science.

Eighteen months ago we were promised an Agricultural White Paper we received in July when it was 20 months on -we waited 18 months for an Agricultural White Paper and it disappeared without a trace.  Totally lacking in credibility.  And now 18 hours roughly after the election of Malcolm Turnbull we have White Paper Mark II Developed in 18 hours.  The difference with this White Paper and the one they spend 18 months on is that the first White Paper did no good but it did little harm.  The 18 hour White Paper we heard of today is going to do some substantial harm in Australian agriculture.- It is going to erode the sustainability of our water resources, it is going to damage the health of our rivers and in the long run that is going to be bad for those who produce our food and fibre.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to stakeholders?

FITZGIBBON: I have not had the opportunity to talk to stakeholders since this extraordinary announcement today but you can sure there will be very  significant concern in the agriculture sector.   People do understand you just can’t rush to deplete and undermine the health of rivers and expect long term sustainability in agriculture.

JOURNALIST: So if you win government would you reverse this decision?

FITZGIBBON: I am with Mark Butler and team on this (inaudible) doing so on the basis of long term sustainability in the agriculture sector.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried the Murray Darling Basin Authority will be relocated to regional centres?

FITZGIBBON: I am becoming increasingly concerned about anything this Government is prepared to do to secure re-election next year or whenever the election might come.  We are well and truly out of the policy phase, if indeed we were ever in one under this Government, to pre-election phase, a phase in which they will do and say anything to retain government. Thanks everyone.