By Terri Butler MP

08 April 2022

SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to Future-Proof Australia’s Water Resources, the poor handling of the Murray Darling Basin plan by the Morrison-Joyce government.  

GRAEME GOODINGS FIVEaa HOST: Well, we've been talking about the Murray, the plan to save the Murray. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has revealed a five point plan promising to give South Australia it’s full share of fresh water under the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Joining me now is federal Shadow Minister for Environment and Water, Terri Butler. Terri, good morning. Thanks for joining us today.


GOODINGS: So tell us, what does this plan involve?

BUTLER: Well, it's well, to start with, it involves actually upholding the Murray Darling Basin Plan which we think is, it shouldn't actually need to be stated, but it is important to say that the plan must be delivered, it must be upheld. This is an important plan for our most important river system, the Murray Darling system. And Labor wants to see an end to the policy vacuum and leadership vacuum at a national level that we've seen for the past almost decade under this current Liberal National government. So we've announced today our plan, first point of the five point plan is actually delivering on all of the water that needs to be delivered under the Murray Darling Basin Plan, including the 450 gigalitres, the final 450 gigalitres that was promised to South Australia and South Australians and formed the basis of their decision to enter into the plan a decade ago.

GOODINGS: It's all well and good, but does the federal government have the power to enforce these regulations?

BUTLER: Well, what we really need is national leadership. This is a cross-boundary plan. It's a plan involving a number of jurisdictions. But what we've seen, if you don't have leadership at the top, you end up seeing delay and inaction across the plan. We can't have that. We actually need a government at a national level that will demonstrate that leadership that is needed to deliver on the Murray Darling Basin Plan. But that seems like-

GOODINGS: So what you're saying though-

BUTLER: Sorry, you go ahead.

GOODINGS: is the federal government doesn't have the power, the federal government doesn't have the power to enforce.

BUTLER: The federal government has a lot of power in this. Actually, the federal government has the capacity to be the lead jurisdiction for the Murray Darling Basin Plan to bring the other jurisdictions together. And then there's very specific levers that the federal government has to encourage those jurisdictions to actually front up, and do what they promised to do a decade ago, and that's to deliver the water under this plan. So it's things like leadership, but it's also things like making very clear that if the jurisdictions don't deliver on the plan, then there are options on the table that the federal government can enact, which, you know, we'd prefer not to. We'd prefer that through a spirit of goodwill and agreement and cooperation, the plan be delivered. But if need be, there's an opportunity for more interventionist mechanisms as well.

GOODINGS: You've said the top priority is the plan to restore the 450 gigalitres that South Australia needs. And you know, we're hanging out for that in the state and we've had lots of promises over many many years.

BUTLER: You really have, Graeme, and I've got to say I think it is absolutely right for South Australians to be getting pretty frustrated actually with the lack of leadership being shown by the Morrison-Joyce government in delivery of this plan because in fact of the 450 gigalitres, the most recent information that's been published shows that only two gigalitres has actually been delivered, two, out of 450. Now there is another update to that review, but the government hasn't released it. In fact the government's sitting on it. They've been sitting on it, they were meant to release it by the end of last year and haven't done that. But I want to know what are they doing to show leadership for the delivery of that 450 gigalitres? Because it seems to me that all they've been doing is indicating that they aren't going to enforce it. Why are they crab walking away from this significant commitment that formed part of the basis for people agreeing, including South Australians agreeing to the plan back in 2012? It's a pretty reasonable question, I think, Graeme, for South Australians to be asking. And part of the response to this has got to- we can't say that after a near decade of inaction from the current Liberal-National government, that the response to that is going to be just waving the white flag on these recovery targets. What we actually need at a national level is a renewed sense of commitment and purpose to ask stakeholders and other basin governments and if necessary, to put pressure upon them to deliver on the commitments that they voluntarily made a decade ago. I don't think that's an unreasonable ask, but I do think, frankly, just to be blunt, that any government with Barnaby Joyce in it is going to have a bit of difficulty because Barnaby Joyce has shown and his National Party colleagues have shown a bit of- a bit of contempt I think for the Murray Darling Basin Plan over the years and they are actually preventing the Morrison-Joyce government I think from really doing everything it can to deliver on the Basin Plan. It looks to me that the only way we're going to get a renewed sense of commitment and leadership on delivery of the water recovery targets under the plan is to change the government.

GOODINGS: You can understand the frustration of we in South Australia at the end of the chain. Politically we don't have the clout of the eastern states and there are so many pressure groups. You know, we've heard a lot of this before. We want action.

BUTLER: Absolutely. South Australians want action. But I've got to tell you, there are groups across the length and breadth of the Murray Darling Basin who are just as frustrated, who are saying, well, what's happening now is that the state governments that have delayed in delivering on the plan, or that the stakeholders that have delayed in delivering on the plan, or that the project proponents that have delayed. All of that delay is now coming home to roost Graeme because people are now saying, well, what's going to happen as we head towards 2024 and 2026, which are key dates for stocktake and review of the plan. I think people are frustrated. What we actually need in this country is for a national level government that will take water policy seriously, that will reinstate it as a matter of significant concern for the national government, that will show leadership, that will not erode its own bargaining power, that will not crab walk away from the plan, will put its foot down and insist upon the delivery. That's what we need. We've been in you know, we've been in, I've going to say, in opposition for almost a decade in this country. And it's incredibly frustrating to see the national government beholden to the likes of Barnaby Joyce, refusing to take the leadership that is needed in order to deliver on the plan. So I think South Australians are right to be frustrated and I certainly expect that they, if we are elected to government and if Anthony becomes the Prime Minister at the next election, that they will be asking us- telling us, I should say they will be watching very closely to make sure that we deliver on the commitments that we're making because people are right to expect the Federal government not to pretend it is someone else's job, fail to take responsibility, not show up, over promise and under deliver, all the hallmarks of this government. People are right to expect better of a federal government and Anthony Albanese and Labor will deliver better.

GOODINGS: Well, if the Albanese government is to become a reality in May, you ought to become the Minister for Environment and Water. How soon would you act on these promises?

BUTLER: Oh, there's no time to waste. There is absolutely no time to waste in delivery because the longer people wait, the longer the more delay we have, the more uncertainty for South Australians, but also for irrigators, for farming communities, for Basin communities, First Nations and for environment, for the environment. So there is no time to waste in insisting on the vigorous implementation and upholding of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. I also make this point there's also no time to waste in delivering for water policy for the entire continent. It's getting more and more difficult. We've got more and more challenges. We've got climate change is a challenge. You've got obviously pressures as different communities, face different weather conditions. We've got people moving around and natural disasters becoming more frequent and more severe. What we actually really need in this country and it's bigger than the Murray Darling Basin, of course that's a significant part of it is national level leadership to make sure that we have the planning being done for the water challenges, water management and water security of the future for this entire continent.

GOODINGS: Terri Butler, federal Shadow Minister for Environment and Water, thanks for joining us today.