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Transcript 16073

Joint Press Conference with South Australian Premier, Mike Rann and Minister for Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong Adelaide

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/08/2008

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 16073

PM: First of all, good Olympic news. We've got the gold medal to our women's 4 X 200 meters freestyle relay. Congratulations to our women swimmers. Once again they've done Australia proud in the pool. And of course, great efforts also by Eamon Sullivan and Jessicah Schipper.

Australia continues to do well at these Olympics. The competition gets tougher and tougher each time and it continues to be that way. Once these Games are done, as I've said before in Beijing, and as I said earlier in Australia, we'll be sitting down with our friends from the Australian Olympic Committee, the Australian Institute of Sport and working through their long term plans for the future as well as our co-investment with them as we prepare for future Olympic Games - next stop London.

It's good to be back in South Australia, it's good to be back in Adelaide with Premier Mike Rann and Penny Wong and of course Amanda Rishworth our local Member for Kingston.

I've just been told that this is my 20th visit to Adelaide since I became leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party about 18 months ago. So it's good to be back again, and I've been back quite a number of times since being elected as Prime Minister.

The reason for being here now is of course we are dealing with the most practical impact of climate change across Australia, and that is our rolling water crisis. And that is nowhere clearer across Australia than in a heavily stressed Murray-Darling river system.

And nowhere is that more evident than here in South Australia.

And that's why I've been back here before with Premier Mike Rann and with the Water Minister Penny Wong, and here again today, to talk about the challenges to the system, and to talk about also practical responses from the Federal Government.

This morning, in Cabinet, which was held at the Adelaide Town Hall, we were briefed by representatives of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission on the current state of the overall river and the challenges which we face ahead.

This is a highly stressed river system. And the practical challenges we face is how do you turn around policy responses to that following more than a decade of inaction on the part of the previous Federal Government.

Decisions which we have embraced today as the Federal Government are along these lines.

Firstly, there has been a debate about the state of the audit of the overall holdings of the system.

As you know, on the 1st of August the Murray-Darling Basin Commission released its interim audit on the total public holdings of the system. The next stage in that will be in September when the Commission releases its full audit, and for the first time, of both public and private holdings across the system.

And thirdly, what we've agreed as a Cabinet is that once that national benchmark is established, of where both public and private holdings lie within the system, we will then make that a regular audit and for all those figures then to be made publicly available on a rolling basis.

Finally, there has been some challenge on this question about the adequacy, or the accuracy, of the Murray-Darling Basin Commissions numbers. And therefore, what Cabinet has agreed to do is to commission one of the independent accounting houses of the world to separately and independently audit the accuracy of the Murray-Darling Basin Commissions numbers. And we will commission that work immediately.

Secondly, practical measures in terms of how do you take stress off the system. How do you reduce the demand on the system. And the most practical thing a Government can do, and what this Government has embraced as a course of action, is to buy back water entitlements. For the first time in the history of the federation, the Commonwealth Government, since this Government has been elected, has begun the purchase back of water entitlements.

We've already spent some $50 million buying back some 35 Gigalitres from the system. Now, as a result of today's decision, we have decided to take that several steps further. Therefore, we have today agreed that we will initiate $80 million worth of water purchasing earmarked for South Australia. We will also conduct now a Queensland water tender. That means a tendering of water purchases from those who hold water entitlements in Queensland, but extend that elsewhere in the northern basin of the Murray-Darling near the Menindee Lakes, and extending the existing commitment of $340 million to $400 million.

That is $400 million allocated now for the purchase back of water entitlements in the northern basin from Queensland and in New South Wales down to the Menindee Lakes.

Thirdly, we will now initiate a new Basin wide water purchase tender for ‘08-09. That's the third practical step.

Four, working with irrigation communities to buy out water entitlements from areas willing to move out of irrigation all together, facilitated by a price premium reflecting the value of water savings from closure of infrastructure such as supply channels. In other words, where you have defined and discrete irrigation communities, that is, the Commonwealth is prepared to step in and to buy back the entitlements from that entire community.

And finally, working with State Governments to co-fund the purchase of appropriately located irrigation properties and their water entitlements to enhance environmental outcomes across the northern Basin.

These are further practical measures we have taken to increase and accelerate the pace of the Commonwealth Government buying back water entitlements from this very stressed river system.

This is a practical course of action, I emphasise again. Prior to the election of this Government, not a single Gigalitre of water was purchased back by the previous Federal Government, despite the fact that we've had now ten years or rolling drought, and the last five years the lowest inflows into this system that we've seen on record.

Furthermore, in terms of Adelaide's long term water needs itself I've been discussing today again with Premier Mike Rann his plans in terms of the desalination plant. As you know, the Commonwealth Government when we were in Opposition committed ourselves to being co-investors with the South Australian Government in that desalination plant which is intended to have a capacity of 50 Gigalitres per year.

What Cabinet has agreed today, is if the South Australian Government decides to expand the capacity of that desalination plant, 80 Gigalitres or to 100 Gigalitres, then we the Commonwealth would be prepared to separately co-invest with South Australia to bring that extra capacity on stream.

To put this into context in terms of overall demand, Adelaide's annual water consumption runs at something of 210 to 230 Gigalitres. If we bring on stream a 100 Gigalitre desalination plant, you're looking at a new capacity which represents something approaching 40 to 50 per cent of Adelaide's total water needs.

These are three sets of practical measures which the Commonwealth Cabinet has embraced today. One on the audit of the overall needs of the system and the measures associated with that. Two, this $480 million announcement concerning accelerated and intensified buy back of water entitlements across the northern basin. And thirdly, our decision to become co-investors with South Australia in a subsequent expansion of its desalination plant for the long term provision of South Australia's water needs.

And to conclude with this, Mike Rann came to Canberra only a week or so ago to talk to me about the needs faced by the system, including the stressed needs of the Lower Lakes in particular, and what can be done system-wide. In response to Mike's representations, and his earlier representations in terms of the need of this audit, we have responded with the audit measures that I have just announced.

And secondly, we have responded in terms of the particular measures for accelerated, intensified buy-back of water entitlements. And thirdly, with the additional measures to aid Adelaide's overall water supply.

These are practical measures which are part of a long term plan to deal with a highly stressed water system, the Murray-Darling, which has suffered the impacts of climate change and regrettably a decade's worth of inaction on the part of the previous Federal Government.

If I could turn to Mike to add, and then we'll take your questions.

RANN: Thanks very much. We are delighted with this. I mean, the IGA, the Intergovernmental Agreement, dealing with the long term things that Australians have been talking about. Billions of dollars being spent on re-engineering the River Murray, and also, of course, a large amount of money to buy back water entitlements, to release that water into the River.

And of course, out of that we got a $610 million commitment from the Rudd Government for a re-engineering of the system, particularly a big slice of that for the Lower Lakes so that the people like Currency Creek Wineries, the Narrung Peninsula, could be taken off the Lower Lakes. So we're delighted today that having reached the IGA agreement and getting that $610 million, that we're now going to the next step.

And people have been saying to me for some time, ‘we need an audit of the entire River Murray Basin, we need an audit so we know water is there, public water and private water, and we should make that public'. So we're delighted that the Federal Government has announced today that there will be a complete audit of the system, and also that that complete audit will then be independently verified by an international agency.

So that's something, I mean, people keep saying that there's water here, water there, there's water that exists that could be released. Let's test that, let's have a complete audit of the system so that the people of Australia can know exactly what water is out there both in public and private hands so that we can make the best decisions.

But also, of course, we're absolutely delighted to see the Federal Government speeding up its buy back of water. What has caused this crisis in the River Murray? First of all, a one in 1,000 year drought. A one in 1,000 year record low inflow into the River Murray, plus the fact that over a century a massive over allocation. So, we need a combination of more rain, but we also need to buy back entitlements. And we're delighted that the Prime Minister today has announced an accelerated buying back of water licenses so that that water can come down the River.

I have to say that having been involved in this, having had a Press Club lunch, a National Press Club speech back in the beginning of 2003, and calling for a crisis meeting and then being totally ignored for years, that more has been achieved over the past few months than has been achieved in the previous quarter of a century.

So, I'm delighted with the audit. I'm delighted with the accelerated buy back. I'm delighted with the commitment to partner with us for an expanded desalination plant.

On that, you'll remember when we announced the desal plant that we would engineer it for 100 Gigalitres. The outflow pipes, the inflow pipes, the connector pipes, would all be geared for that. But what we want to do, of course, we are committed to the 50 Gigalitre plant that is proceeding at pace in terms of all of the planning, the expressions of interest, the pilot plant, and so on. But, this will give us the financial wherewithal to expand that plant should that be necessary. So, we're delighted that things that we've been working with the Commonwealth with have come about today from a Federal Cabinet meeting here in Adelaide.

PM: And Penny, and then we'll take questions.

WONG: Just very briefly, I'm delighted to be here today with the Prime Minister and the Premier to announce what the Federal Cabinet has determined in relation to purchasing and other matters.

Can I just make one point. What we are dealing with in the southern part of Australia is a set of circumstances that are extremely difficult. We have a history of over allocation, and South Australians understand how that has come about. We have an historic drought, and we also have to deal with the consequences of climate change.

So the measures that Federal Cabinet has agreed to today, which are about returning water to the River, purchasing water, accelerating our purchase program, and implementing our election commitments. And, of course also, the implementation of the desalination funding commitment, and working with Premier Mike Rann and his Government on that issue.

These are all measures that are about preparing this nation for climate change and it's consequences. Preparing for a future where there is likely to be less rainfall. Thank you.

PM: Okay, over to you folks for some questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister are you now saying that the Lower Lakes can be saved?

PM: What I'm saying is that we need for the whole system including for the Lower Lakes a greater supply of water. The practical question is what can you do about that. One is it rains, the second is you can buy back water entitlements.

There is a third as well which is you increase the efficiency of existing irrigation systems. We are embarked upon the second and third courses of action and what I've said to you today in terms of the needs of the Lower Lakes and the system more broadly is this intensification and acceleration of the buyback of water entitlements. That is a practical course of action. But I don't want to say that there is some magic solution here. It's very difficult in the space of six months or so to turn around a decade's worth of neglect. But we have embarked on this, as far as the buybacks concerned, but also as Mike's just said, the investments which have already been made in irrigation efficiency systems to the tune of $610 million.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is this compulsory acquisition that you're talking about? And what guarantee that one drop of water from Queensland or New South Wales will actually flow into South Australia?

PM: Well as I said before you cannot make it rain. If you look at the total public storage of the system of the Murray-Darling at present, something like 24,000 gigalitres. Look at that which is in public storage and the four major dams at present, it's 2,500 gigalitres. Across all the public storage facilities the entire system, something like 4.8 thousand gigalitres - 24,000 capacity, 4.8 thousand in terms of what's there in the system.

We have a problem it's a deficit, it's a shortfall. What I can do as Prime Minister is partner with State Governments, as well as separately nationally, buyback water entitlements because of this gross over allocation of water entitlements particularly in the other states, particularly in the other states and that's where this money has been directed.

But I'm not going to provide false promises, I'm not going to provide false guarantees about there being some simple solution here. I'm trying to turn around a situation which has evolved over many, many years and we are dealing, as the Minister just said, with the real consequences of climate change.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

PM: We're working within the market -

JOURNALIST: How do you feel about paying $55 million to Jim Selim?

PM: You talking about the Pan Pharmaceuticals arrangement? Well this matter is obviously been worked out between the Commonwealth Government's Lawyers and those representing Pan Pharmaceuticals. These are matters which have been resolved in the normal processes of dispute resolution as well as part of the legal processes. I'll leave that to those who have been party to the negotiations. I'm satisfied that we have reached a conclusion to a matter which has now gone on for some five years and so that the TGA can get back to doing its job.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) Telstra workforce?

PM: I believe that every Australia worker has the right to engage a union to represent them if they want to. That should be the right of every Australian worker. Or if they so choose not to have a union represent them. That's the right of every Australian worker or employee.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

PM: Well what I am concerned about overall is to make sure that we have got a fair and flexible industrial relations system, and that means that if you are an employee in a large firm or elsewhere that you have got the opportunity to be represented by a union if you so choose.

In the past because we had AWAs gradually infecting the entire industrial relations system and WorkChoices getting the balance completely wrong between the rights of employees and the rights of employers, unfair arrangements emerging in large parts of the workforce.

We've started to turn the clock back on all that, our first piece of legislation abolished the right to make new AWAs and we've also of course begun the process of award modernisation. We'll get to a fair and balanced system soon, but again, it takes a while to dismantle a structure which our predessors spent a long time putting in place.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the buyback scheme will that include giving any consideration to buying the six stations that the ACF identified in the plan that they put forward to Senator Wong and Mr Rann (inaudible)

PM: What we've said in this decision is that we will work with State Governments to co fund the purchase of appropriately located irrigation properties and their water entitlements. Note we say appropriately located irrigation properties and I would draw that to your attention. What I've talked about more broadly in my remarks today is buying back water entitlements. A part of the decision relates specifically to properties.

JOURNALIST: On desalination before the last election you promised a billion dollar fund (Inaudible). You haven't given a contribution there yet, yet you're already promising for an expansion?

PM: Well one step at a time. The proposal by the South Australian Government for this very important desalination project is for a 50 gigalitre project and what we have said, that in relation to that phase of it, we are prepared to invest up to $100 million consistent with our policy.

If there is a further phase to this as the South Australian Government has indicated it may do to, in fact, double the capacity of this desalination plant, what I am saying to you loud and clear is that we would be prepared to consider a further investment of up $100 million to accommodate that as well. And that's entirely consistent with what we have said in the past.

Again, our challenge is to do what we can in a practical sense to deal with the challenges of the Murray-Darling, at the same time help where we can with the challenges in the Lower Lakes and help with Adelaide's long term water security through this desal plant as well.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister on FuelWatch, what compromises would you be prepared to accept on FuelWatch?

PM: Our policy is clear cut. We believe that we want to make sure that Australian motorists have the same rights available them as their fellow Australians currently do in West Australia where this system has operated for six or seven years.

The WA experience is that after six or seven years of monitoring on average there's a saving of up to two cents a litre. This is not a huge saving but it does give consumer power and consumer choice and does help balance the family budget. It's not a silver bullet, doesn't solve all the problems of global oil prices.

What I can't understand with the Liberals who control the fate of this in the Senate is why the Liberals want to back big oil companies rather than get on the side of consumers and give motorists more choice, more information about where they can get the cheapest fuel on a particular day, and where they can get it.

JOURNALIST: Is it all of nothing for you though?

PM: Our plan is clear. I wait to hear from the Liberal party about whether they are going to back big oil or back motorists and consumers. I'll tell you who we are backing, and that's motorists and consumers.

JOURNALIST: Nick Xenophon is willing to trade on some things though, would this be something (inaudible)

PM: From my point the ball lies in the court of the Liberal Party. I can't understand why a major political party like the Liberals would say we are going to back big oil rather than motorists. A motorist in Perth today can look up on a website where they can get the cheapest fuel and go ahead and buy that and therefore make a saving to the family budget.

The other thing is this, when you look at the price differentials each day within a given fuel market, I looked at some of the data yesterday, you've got price differentials within urban markets of five, ten, 15, 20 cents a litre. Why should motorists have that information available to them?

I don't understand.

For me it's passing strange that the only people volubly against this proposal are the big oil companies and of course the Liberal party which backs them.

JOURNALIST: If the banks don't pass on in full an interest rate cut what will you do about it?

PM: From my point of view it's something that the four commercial banks need to have a long hard look at themselves, a long hard look at themselves on how the Australian public look at them. If you are going to produce profit lines like we saw registered yesterday by the Commonwealth Bank, and then in the same breath say that if official rates come down that we may not pass on all of that cut to those who are making mortgage repayments, I think the banks collectively suffer real damage to their reputation.

Secondly at a practical level, as of November I'm advised that a full range of our account switching devices are in place so that customers will then be able to vote with their feet.

A practical thing if you are a customer is if you've got a whole series of credit and debit arrangements to your bank account. What's one of the things that stands in your way when you say I'm going to shift from Commonwealth to NAB or from ANZ to Westpac or whatever. It's ‘how do I actually rearrange all of my credits and debit arrangements into my bank account'. And frankly it's a pain in the neck, we all know that.

What we are going to do is make sure there's a system in place which makes that as easy as possible, so that if bank X decides that they are not going to pass on cuts in official interest rates, that you can move your account as speedily as is possible and these systems exist elsewhere. I'm surprised that our predecessors didn't give consumers these powers as well.

JOURNALIST: Just on Telstra you seemed reluctant to talk about exactly what the company is doing. Do you have any concerns about what Telstra is doing to its workforce?

PM: Well I don't know the full detail of Telstra's industrial arrangements but I would say this. Whether you work for Telstra of whether you work for any other Australian company, any employee there should have the right to be represented by a trade union if they so wish.

That's what I would say to our friends at Telstra and say to every other Australian company. I'd be very disappointed if that was not the case.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd on Georgia, your Government has announced a million dollars there, can you just expand on that?

PM: Well the humanitarian package that we've embraced there is important, we believe, in terms of the immediate needs faced by the people who are affected by the recent military activities between Russia and the Georgian State.

There is something like 100,000 refugees already, or displaced persons, internally displaced persons, and the call has gone up to international aid agencies for help. Australians always step in, pitch in to help where we can. We are doing that and this will be delivered through the appropriate international aid agencies.

This is a long way from Australia but this is an appalling war because of the affect on innocent civilians and I support fully the actions of President Sarkozy of France in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution to this. Apart from the diplomatic support for the efforts of the Government of France and the European Union, the next practical thing we can do is to provide money to help provide emergency accommodation and food to those 100,000 people who have been displaced.

JOURNALIST: What about John Howard he was given his AC today?

PM: Well congratulations to Mr Howard on his Order of Australia. These sort of awards are beyond party politics and I think we should all acknowledge Mr Howard's long contribution to Australian national political life, and I congratulate him and wish him very well with his award.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd just one more topic on the recognition of the battle of Long Tan, the long overdue recognition there. Can I just quickly get your comment on that?

PM: Well the Government as you know has been examining an independent report on these matters and I know my college Alan Griffin the Minister for Veterans Affairs has been paying particular attention to this.

I believe so many, many years after Long Tan, more than 40 years now, it's right to set these things and to make sure they have been done properly.

These are veterans who are getting on. This was a heroic action by Australian troops against overwhelming odds comprised on North Vietnamese regulars. The fact that we were able to prevail in that encounter and lose so many Australians on the way through, I think most Australians are now familiar with. But it's absolutely right that we provide appropriate recognition to the heroism so displayed and I'm glad that, that has now occurred.

Thank You

Transcript 16073