Transcript - Scott Morrison's Dam Announcement

15 October 2019

TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, this morning of course, there's reports that the federal Government's much vaunted 50% contribution to New South Wales dam projects is actually just not true. Again, Scott Morrison has been loose with the truth in relation to this really important issue. If in fact he has misled New South Wales regional communities in relation to water infrastructure funding, he should have come clean, he should fess up. There's reports in the paper today that say the so called 50% contribution, is actually more like a 25% contribution from the Commonwealth. These communities are in real distress. We visited communities recently to see firsthand how people are facing up to the drought and also to natural disasters including bushfires. People are suffering, they are stressed. They are really in a lot of.. I guess one of the problems that people have in regional communities is that there is so much uncertainty about the future. People are worried about crops, agriculture generally, about what's going to happen to their communities. Small businesses are suffering, of course, because people aren't spending money. So communities really need to know right now that the Government has their backs. What they don't need is a Prime Minister who's loose with the truth, who is not willing to actually just be straight with people, just give a straight answer, just be honest, in relation to what the federal Government is doing in relation to the drought and to water infrastructure. So this story I think, is really scandalous. We've got a situation where the Government's claiming to have made a 50% contribution to water infrastructure, turns out to be a 25% contribution. We just need the Government to start being honest, and Scott Morrison needs to stop being so loose with the truth. 
Also yesterday we learned that COAG has been postponed. COAG, the Council of Australian Government's meeting, due for December, the Prime Minister has postponed it because his Government doesn't have their act together on a recycling policy. This is the cornerstone of the Prime Minister's so called 'practical environmentalism'. You know, when he was in the US, he skipped the climate summit at the UN, but then turned up a few days later to claim that what was really important was getting plastic out of the oceans, not climate change. Well, now he's not even doing what he said was really important, which is coming up with this really clear environmentalist policy that they say is cornerstone of the work that they're doing, which is a recycling plan. State Premiers don't want COAG to be postponed. We've seen the Queensland Premier say that this is a real problem for our state, back home in Queensland, because she's got issues she wanted to discuss at COAG, including in relation to the federal health funding part of the health agreement, but the Prime Minister is pushing back COAG, because he can't get his act together on recycling, something that is supposedly a cornerstone policy for his Government. I think that's a real problem and the Prime Minister just needs to come clean with Australians about what his priorities really are and not delay important meetings that will actually advance issues that will really matter to people's lives.
Also, I saw in the paper today, a new story in relation to the ongoing rolling scandal in relation to Josh Frydenberg and Angus Taylor. This scandal is about conflict of interest. It's about whether people have been upfront and whether people have been honest about their dealings. Previously had some statements from both ministers about how it came to be that the environment department met with a Member of Parliament who was also a member of the Executive about an issue that directly affected that person's interests. Today, we've learned through some work by one of the papers, that in fact, despite some previous statements, that really what prompted this meeting was, you know, a chat with a bloke from Yass on the 21st of February. Really well, that doesn't stand up when in fact the Environment Minister's office is several days earlier on the 16th of February, asking for urgent talking points because they've been told that this issue has been raised in Parliament, the issue of the Grasslands. Well, it hadn't been raised in Parliament. Why is it that the Minister's office is seeking urgent talking points in relation to this question? The real issue here is that, one; there is an obvious conflict of interest in both Ministers and the Prime Minister need to explain why there hasn't been a breach of the Ministerial standards, and two; the constant evasiveness, looseness with the truth in relation to why this meeting happened, and what prompted it, and who knew what when. This new evidence that's come to light in the paper today demonstrates that there is a very strong lack of clarity at best, coming from these Ministers in relation to this issue, which ultimately was about financial interests of a member of the Executive who was a Member of the Parliament. So this is a serious matter and still requires some answers from both of those Ministers.
JOURNALIST: The Government's big stick energy policy now looks likely to get through. The [inaudible] will mean that Labor will support in principle [inaudible] is that a roll over? 
BUTLER: Well, the energy policy problem that we have at the moment is that the Government has completely failed in relation to getting us certainty in this country in relation to energy and has completely failed to bring down power prices. That this Government has a Minister whose job is supposed to be bringing down power prices, but under this Government's watch, we have seen power prices go up and up and up. And at the same time, we've also seen that they've been unable to make up their minds in relation to energy policy. They've had 16 different energy policies. They've been in Government now for seven years. It's time for them to get their act together and deliver some certainty for Australians.
JOURNALIST: But [inaudible] Labor changing position? 
BUTLER: Well, we'll consider the legislation that's before us, of course, and we'll announce our position and I'm sure that Mark Butler will have some more to say about that. But at this point, we're in a situation where Australians are saying to us that the has absolutely failed to bring down power prices. And one of the reasons for that, and everyone knows that, I know it, even Malcolm Turnbull has said it lately. One of the reasons for that is because this Government is comprehensively unable to deliver certainty in relation to energy policy, and to bring down power prices. It's time that they got their act together. The question is, we have a Government, what are they going to do to make sure that people can afford to keep the lights on and to keep the air conditioner going in summer and the heating going in the winter?
JOURNALIST: Just on Syria, there have been calls directly from the [inaudible]. Has the Government failed in its duty to help [inaudible] Australian citizens?
BUTLER: It's a really complex question, and it's a very serious one for the people who are presently stuck in really dire circumstances. The Government needs to stand up and tell Australians what it's going to do in relation to this issue. But of course, I am, I'm sure that people will understand the complexity that we face in relation to the series of events that have occurred in Syria recently.
JOURNALIST: What should the Government do? 
BUTLER: Well, it's a matter for the Government to say what they're going to do. I'm not going to make foreign policy calls from Opposition as the Shadow Minister for Environment and Water. But I will say that, like everybody in this country, I'm gravely concerned for Australians who are suffering, including, of course, the innocent children, who are in those situations through no decision of their own. And we do need to see some strong leadership from this Government and from this Prime Minister in relation to this issue.
JOURNALIST: The Government said overnight that anyone who presents a National Drought Policy is being dishonest with the public because you can't make it rain. Is that just an excuse?
BUTLER: Well imagine hearing that from the Prime Minister, imagine being in a drought ravaged community right now. You're not sure whether to plant, you're not sure whether you're going to keep your stock, you're going down to the bore to fill up a tank on the back of the ute so you can get it back out to where you're stock are. You've got small businesses that are suffering on the main streets and high streets of small towns, and the Prime Minister just wipes his hands and says nothing to see here, we can't do anything. Well, that's absolutely terrible behaviour from this Prime Minister. He knows very well, that the Commonwealth can make a meaningful contribution to drought-proofing this country for the future and to ameliorating the consequences of drought for communities right now. A good start, would be to stop taking people off the farm household allowance. We've had 600 families kicked off that allowance. The Prime Minister is saying oh, well, we can't make it rain. Barnaby Joyce is saying just give up. Well, that's not good enough. People actually want to hear some support from their Government. They want to hear some action from their Government. This Government has had a drought envoy, they've had a drought coordinator, they've had a drought taskforce, they've had a drought summit. What they don't have is a National Drought strategy. That is very clear. And for the Prime Minister to insult the intelligence of communities by pretending to have a 50% contribution to these big water infrastructure projects in New South Wales, when it's really only 25%, and then to add further insult to injury to turn up and say, oh, well we can't do anything about this, well, I don't think Australians are going to cop that. I think people who are suffering are sick and tired of this Government not really caring about them, trying to give the appearance of caring, and just being completely loose with the truth when it comes to these really important questions. So no, I don't think it's good enough. 
JOURNALIST: Do you think State Governments should get on board with trying to build more dams across the country? 
BUTLER: Well I think that this Government, the Government that we have right now, when it ran for election in 2013, the Liberal Party said we're going to build 100 dams. That was the commitment that they made when they got elected. Seven years later, they haven't even dug a hole, they have not even dug a single hole. You know, they've talked about dams more than 1000 times in the parliament since they got elected, but they haven't built one, not a single one. 
JOURNALIST: Isn't it a State Government problem? 
BUTLER: Of course, well, this is a really serious issue for the entire nation. We're facing a massive drought. And of course, the Commonwealth should have a role in relation to provision of water infrastructure. Labor in Government, Labor in Government built water infrastructure. The last dam that was built in Queensland was under a federal Labor Government and a state Labor Government. The Government has admitted that it should be making contributions to water infrastructure projects, and has even turned up recently in New South Wales and said oh we're going to make a 50% contribution to two big new dam projects as well as looking at a third one. Well they're not doing that, they're doing 25%. They're saying they should be doing something, they're not doing something. They've talked about dams in the Parliament 1000 times or more since they've been elected, they promised to build 100 of them. No one really can believe a word this Government says when it comes to water infrastructure. 
JOURNALIST: The Victorian Government doesn't want to build any dams. The Victorian Government has come out and said, well we're not going to build another dam. So how does a Commonwealth Government build a dam in Victoria? 
BUTLER: Well the Commonwealth needs to get on board with state Governments that are calling out for water infrastructure. We've got the Emu Swamp Dam in Queensland, which is a joint state, federal and privately funded dam. The Government's pointing fingers at the Queensland Government, it's part of their evasion, it's part of their looseness with the truth, when in fact the Queensland Government is saying ... 
JOURNALIST: What about the Victorian Government? 
BUTLER: When in fact the Queensland Government is saying that the impediment to that is the federal Government not coming to the table to resolve what happens with costings in the future. Now, there is a situation now, where the Commonwealth is trying to work with the states to develop water infrastructure plans. One good place to talk to state Governments about that, would be COAG. But of course, they're postponing the COAG meeting in December because they haven't got their act together in relation to an environment policy, sorry, in relation to a recycling policy. You know, it's up to of course, the states, different jurisdictions, to make an assessment about what they're willing to do and what they want to do in their states. But where we have states that are calling out for water infrastructure, and a Government that's talking a big game but not actually doing anything, well, I think people are rightly looking at the Government and saying get your act together. And by the way, just be upfront and honest. Just give us a straight answer about what you're going to do.