By Senator Penny Wong, Terri Butler MP and Labor's federal SA team

24 June 2021

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I'm here with my colleagues from South Australia. Every single South Australian Labor Member and Senator is here today because the Murray Darling is so important to our state. I'm also here with Terri Butler, who of course is Labor's Environment spokesperson, who will address some of the issues that happened in the House today.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: This week, we've seen not only a new Deputy Prime Minister, after a big conflict inside the National Party, but what we've seen is members of Mr Morrison's own Government, moving amendments in both the Senate and the House, which are all about blowing up the Murray Darling plan - let's be really clear. The amendments moved by members of Mr Morrison's own Government, are all about blowing up the Murray Darling plan. Now we all know, we all know and we in South Australia know it very clearly, that Barnaby Joyce is no friend of South Australia. We know Barnaby Joyce's history. We know that Barnaby Joyce famously said that the 450 gigalitres that we were supposed to get under the plan. He said, we didn't have a hope in Hades of getting it. We all know that he told us, told South Australians, to move to where the water is. That was his plan. And we all know that a National Party led by Barnaby Joyce will never back the Murray Darling plan. We know they will never back the plan. And if a National Party member is made the Minister for Water tomorrow, we know that that is the end of the Murray Darling plan. So, all of us here today, every Labor Member and Senator from South Australia, along with Terri, has one very clear message from Mr Morrison: tomorrow you have to strip the National Party of the water portfolio. Tomorrow you have to strip the National Party of the water portfolio and if you do not do it, South Australians will know you are not serious, not serious about delivering the Murray Darling Basin plan. Mr Morrison has to decide, is he a national leader, or is he just led by the Nationals. I’ll hand to my colleague.

TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Today in the House we've seen absolutely chaotic scenes as the National Party whip moved amendments against his own Government's legislation on the Murray Darling Basin plan. This Government is absolutely at sea. They are in utter chaos and if they can't govern themselves, they can't govern the nation. It is incredibly important that everybody lock in behind the Murray Darling Basin plan. But instead, we've seen National Party amendments to a Government bill on the Murray Darling Basin plan and those amendments seek to shred that plan, they seek to completely destroy the Murray Darling Basin plan. And then on top of that, to add insult to injury, we then saw a situation where a Labor motion to allow those amendments to even be considered, so that we could speak against them clearly, the mover of the amendments, said he wouldn't even support there being debated. It's been absolute chaos in the House today. And I stand with my South Australian colleagues - Penny and every single one of the Labor South Australians behind me - who are standing up strongly calling for the Murray Darling Basin Plan to be delivered in full and on time and insisting that the Liberals make sure that there is not a National Party Minister for Water after the reshuffle.
WONG: I'm conscious of Question Time, so any quick questions?
REPORTER: Senator you have your message to the Government and to Mr Morrison, what is your message to South Australians?
WONG: My message to South Australians is this: you can't trust Barnaby Joyce and the National Party when it comes to water, we all know that. And my message to them is this: if Mr Morrison continues to allow the Nationals to run water policy, then he has walked away from South Australia, it is a betrayal of South Australians.
REPORTER: The Nationals say that South Australian farmers agree with them and so this is a matter of Adelaide versus the rest, what's your response to that?
WONG: They can come down and talk to them.
REPORTER: Do you take any heart from the fact that your South Australian Liberal Senate colleagues wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday effectively saying,  demanding that he stand up for the Murray Darling plan?
WONG: I think that demonstrates just how much the South Australian community backs this plan. We know the history of this. We know what it is to be at the end of the river. We know what it is to have upstream interests dominate water policy. And that is why, that is why Mr Morrison has to act. So if the South Australian Liberals are serious about backing in the plan then they should be calling on Mr Morrison, as we have, to strip the National Party of the water portfolio. A National Party Minister cannot deliver the Murray Darling Basin plan. The evidence for that is clear.
REPORTER: It appears that they might have accidentally tabled some of their talking points which includes 'the science no longer supports SA needing fresh water' and 'rising sea levels will mean SA lower lakes will no longer need environmental water'. What's your response to those claims and some of that data?
WONG: It's ridiculous. But did you want to respond to that?
BUTLER: Yes, it does appear that they accidentally tabled their talking points. These comments are just absolutely risible from Damian Drum, the National Party whip, and they once again underscore the sort of parallel universe that the National Party is living in. And they also underscore why it's so important that we don't have a National Party Minister for Water, following the reshuffle. Scott Morrison actually needs to strip the National Party of this portfolio.
WONG: Can I just make just make a comment - I wasn't aware of that but thank you for letting me know - but you know who always used to say that when I was Minister for Water? Barnaby Joyce. It's the same line that the man who is now Deputy Prime Minister of Australia used to run.
REPORTER: How much of an issue is this likely to be in South Australia? We've got a state election coming up and a federal election.
WONG: If Mr Morrison does not act, I think he will see a response from the South Australian community.
REPORTER: Should Damian Drum resign as chief Nationals whip? Is it consistent for him to continue in that role, with what he did this morning?
BUTLER: Look what's happened here today is that someone who is responsible for making sure that National party members vote with the Government, moved amendments against the Government. Damian Drum, I think though, is doing something that a range of his Nationals colleagues are complicit in, and that's seeking to shred the Murray Darling Basin plan. So, my greatest concern about this, is that the Government is failing to stand up for the Murray Darling Basin plan, and that will have real ramifications. It will pit state against state, farmer against farmer and it will mean really terrible things for our entire nation if this Government is allowed to lay waste to this significant plan.
REPORTER: It was a bold move yesterday from the Nationals. Was it just political posturing, or do you anticipate future negotiations on environmental matters to require greater negotiation with the Nationals specifically?
WONG: I think what we have seen this week is a split at the heart of the Morrison Government. We have seen the Leader of the National Party in the Senate, Senator McKenzie, move motions which shred the Murray Darling plan, which blow the plan up. We've seen her take a position that is contrary to the position of the Government. And we've seen all of the National Party Senators vote accordingly. We then see in the House, the Nationals whip try and do the same thing. Now what that says is pretty clear; the National Party does not support the delivery of the Murray Darling Basin plan and the National Party is not backing the position that Mr Morrison says is his position. So, he's got really only one choice if he wants to be taken seriously and that is to strip the National Party of the Water portfolio. Thank you very much.