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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21783

Joint Press Conference with the Premier of NSW The Hon Bob Carr MP Phillip Street, Sydney

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 09/06/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21783

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, the Premier and I have called this joint news conference and we're very pleased to announce a very important investment of $160 million to restore to sustainable levels NSW key ground water aquifers and this $160 million will be $55 million from the Commonwealth; from the Australian Water Fund, an equivalent amount of $55 million from the NSW Government and $50 million from the Ground Water Licence holders.

Farmers and irrigators and communities in the Upper and Lower Namoi, Lower Gwydir, Lower Macquarie, Lower Lachlan, Lower Murrumbidgee and Lower Murray will benefit from this announcement and water sharing plans for all these areas have been developed to ensure that our ground water resources are used sustainably now and into the future. Reductions in the water entitlements will be phased in over a ten year period and along with this assistance package, licence holders will be able to sensibly adjust.

So this is a very practical, common sense solution to the twin challenge of conserving water and recognising that reductions are needed but also being respectful to the legitimate expectations of irrigators and respecting their property rights and all of this is taking place within the framework of the National Water Plan which came out of the National Water Initiative and is security of title, there's a guarantee of Commonwealth and State support and there's a practical plan worked out with those affected and I see it as a great example of Commonwealth, State and community cooperation.

The money is coming out of the National Water Fund and this announcement in relation to projects in NSW follows the announcement I made a short while ago with the Queensland Premier to support three water projects in that state and I expect in the weeks ahead to make a number of announcements with other Premiers, all of the agreements are being reached in a very cooperative way. Now this is a good outcome and a sensible solution to an issue that has been quite difficult and I want to record my appreciation for the work of the NSW Government, the cooperative attitude taken by the Premier and his Ministers and also can I record my appreciation to John Anderson, the Deputy Prime Minister whose been a driving force behind the National Water Initiative. Premier.

PREMIER CARR:

Well thank you Prime Minister, I echo those words, this is a huge challenge, people mining the ground water in this region and it's unsustainable. Now this provides a detailed plan for getting it on a sustainable basis. It means less water to the irrigators but it means structural adjustment to enable them to shift to more sustainable practices and it means as well they've got a serious right to that water as it's happening river valley by river valley. The irrigators get a right, and that's a tradeable right, tradeable around Australia.

So this is a big reform, it can only happen through the cooperation of the States and the Commonwealth. A lot of work has gone into this and Craig Knowles our Minister, our State Minister has had a good working relationship with John Anderson, a lot of tricky issues, but this will see a shift in the way people farm and farming practice will become more compatible with the nature of the Australian landscape and the Australian climate.

We will gradually get right the way we use water on this driest of the world's continents. We can only do it by Federal/State cooperation and this is good encouragement that Australia can sort is way the challenges, how we use water, how we produce agricultural produce in the best and the most enlightened fashion. Solid property rights go with this plan and I know the irrigators will welcome the certainty that this agreement now brings them.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister can you give a practical example of say for a rice farmer or a coffee farmer, heavy water users, how this will have an effect on them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it means over time, I mean I am not going to put it in gigalitres but it will mean over time the water reduction, the water usage will decline but declines on the basis that he's got a tradeable right in relation to his water entitlement and it declines on the understanding that there is structural adjustment being made available from the Commonwealth and the States so that the burden, the financial burden of that adjustment is eased.

PREMIER CARR:

It could mean for example, it could mean for example there would be more underground or drip irrigation and pipes instead of open channels where the water is subject to evaporation. This is the sort of change that will be facilitated through this package.

PRIME MINISTER:

Because they will have the wherewithal to make the investment in the changed practice.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister can farmers get any compensation for that $100 million tax contribution, does that mean compensation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well people will read what they will into something but it is practical financial assistance and a recognition, you can call it compensation if you like but I think its more sensible to see this as a tripartite understanding between the Commonwealth and the State and the irrigators and the licence holders recognising that the sort of changes that the Premier referred to have got to take place. You can't ask the farmers to take the financial hit of the investment in the changed practices without some help from the Government. Equally the Government must require as a condition of that help that there be a phased reduction and a more intelligent use of a diminishing resource. Now in that sense it's a very sensible arrangement.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] specific project or would the money be available for just...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well many are being done on a community basis and that's the beauty of them, if you go through the news release which we will we will be giving you as soon as the press conference is over. The processes and so forth are alluded to.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] backhanded...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, no, it is a sensible agreement between the Federal Government, the State Government and the farmers whereby they accept the need to adjust and use water, less water, and use water more efficiently, they accept the need for that. But we accept the fact that they need financial help to adjust and you need the three levels involved because it's not entirely, none of these water issues are isolated to one state. I mean rivers flow across state borders. The Great Artesian Basin lies beneath the surface of a large part of the Australian land mass. So you need the involvement of the Commonwealth Government as well as the State Government, but of course title is something that derives from state governments in this county so you must have the involvement of both levels of government, and what's good about this is that after a difficult negotiating process we've reached an understanding. And I do want to pay credit to both John Anderson and Craig Knowles; they have worked together very well. And this is what the public wants. The public is not interested at the end of the day so much in which level of government delivers an outcome as long as they get the right outcome. And they want governments to produce those outcomes, and that's what we have done in this case, and we will do all around Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Do you expect agricultural production... I mean there is....

PRIME MNISTER:

Which?

JOURNALIST:

Agricultural production. I mean there is a fall as a result of this.

PRIME MNISTER:

No, I think over a period of time this makes agriculture more sustainable. You see we have a water problem - however you describe it. We have a huge water problem in this country and there's no one big-hit solution. This idea that, you know, there's something we haven't thought of - that if only we would invest $100 billion in it, it would solve the problem. That is not the solution. You need a variety of solutions, and in the agricultural areas of Australia a sensible, supported, measured reduction in water consumption is a key to the solution of the problem. Now if we don't sustainably reduce, then the future of agriculture is threatened. Farmers have a vested long-term interest in outcomes such as this, and that is why I think they will welcome it.

JOURNALIST:

Farmers are under a lot of pressure at moment. How do you think they're going to feel about the announcement today?

PRIME MNISTER:

I think they will welcome this announcement. But they will have views about, you know, aspects of it, but I think they will see this announcement as a fair outcome because it has involved them. This thing's been very carefully discussed with the communities, and they wouldn't have appreciated being told that they had to use less water and they got no compensation or help from either level of government. They would have rightly resented that, and I would have supported them. That's why we have worked hard with the New South Wales Government to produce an outcome.

JOURNALIST:

Do (inaudible) a right to work as opposed to the situation now?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we've done under the National Water Agreement is to, in effect, create a water entitlement or right which you can buy and sell across state borders, and all the governments that are parties to the National Water Initiative, and for practical purposes - given the audience to which I'm speaking - includes all the eastern states. Western Australia at the moment is not a party, but then there isn't quite the same connection between the river systems of Western Australia and New South Wales as the are between the river systems of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

JOURNALIST:

Given the severity of the problem, do you think this has taken, if you look at it in kind of a national term, too long to really get this to this point, that we just didn't realise the...

PRIME MINISTER:

Jennifer, it's a very difficult issue. You can always say, 'oh, why didn't you do this earlier'. I mean you can say that of just about every single government decision that mankind has ever seen and will see in the future, but I think we are seeing real breakthroughs occurring now. The level of cooperation - it came in a sense out of the momentum of the Murray-Darling, but it's spreading now to other areas, and the projects I announced in Queensland. One of them had to do with water supply pressure into the Gold Coast. Now that's not got much to do with the, I don't think, with the Murray-Darling. But it's an example of how if governments and communities work together - and that involved the Gold Coast City Council, which is quite a large council by any measure, the Queensland Government, and the Commonwealth Government - and we have to do this all over the country. And, as I say, the public wants outcomes. They don't mind who delivers the outcomes, as long as they're delivered. And if they can be delivered cooperatively, well they're all the happier because that's what they elected us to do at both a federal and state level.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible) desalination. What are your views on the need for desalination (inaudible) Prime Minister, and what are your views on the need for the debate over nuclear power (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, can I take the second one first. I welcome a debate on nuclear power. I don't think you'll find anything I've said in the past suggesting there shouldn't be a debate on it. I think there should be a debate. This country has enormous supplies of uranium, and it would strike a lot of people as an odd contradiction that we would not allow debate on nuclear power in Australia, yet we would be quite happy under appropriate safeguards to export large amounts of uranium to other countries. So I have no objection at all, and I know the Premier has said some things about this recently, and I agree with him. I think there should be a debate about the issue. Where it will go and what the economics end up being - and the Premier can speak for himself - I don't know, but I think we should be mature enough and sensible enough to debate it, and I've read that there's an interesting coalition of supporters of open debate on this issue which covers people on both sides of politics, and I think that's good because we do have the capacity to deliver if we want to change policy. The debate will be quite interesting. It will be lengthy, and I'm not quite sure where it's going to end.

Now, in relation to desalination - well it depends on the circumstances and the economics. I'm not going to get drawn into a comment on particular decisions that state governments have made. They're matter for those governments. I didn't come here today to give a lecture on different initiatives around the country. I've come here to announce a cooperative arrangement between my Government and the New South Wales Government. I think it will depend on the circumstances; it will depend on the economics; it will depend on the volume. I think all of the approaches - desalination, recycling - all of these things must be on the table. That's why we have a National Water Fund of $2 billion, and we have an open mind. And you'll overcome this problem by not thinking there's some under-utilised king hit, but rather by a large number of bite-sized achievables which over time will incrementally reduce the problem and see us get on top of it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you've just talked about...

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, could you rule out country New South Wales as a site for (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm not going to rule anything out on that, I've stated my position and I'm not ruling any areas in or out.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you've made progress on water, you've got a national scheme to (inaudible), same thing for carbon trading, for emissions trading?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have, at the present time Mr Carr and I and the other States I think line up, the States line up with Mr Carr and we have just different views. Now let's be sensible, we don't agree all the time, but the important thing is to agree as many times as possible and to deliver outcomes that are good for the public.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, how highly do you rate global warming as a threat? The Premier rates it very highly.

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I've said in the past that I think the scientific evidence is very, very strong. I don't know that I embrace every expression of concern that's come from everybody who would favour some different policies than I do, but I have a different view about signing the Kyoto Protocol from that of Mr Carr, but that is based not on a belief that we shouldn't reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, it relates more to the comparability of treatment of an economy such as Australia and that of such Indonesia and China. But that is for a discussion for another day. We have agreed to disagree on that issue, but we haven't come here to parade with rhetorical flourish our different approaches.

JOURNALIST:

Just on today's announcement, how much should individual farmers expect to get in compensation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's not something that's immediately divisible and I don't carry that in my head, I don't think anybody in this room does, it's not something I can immediately divide, but it will obviously depend upon the size of their current water entitlements, the size of their properties and things of that kind.

PREMIER CARR:

I'm advised that, if this clarifies it, that there's going to be 12 months of discussions about getting to a sustainable level of water use, so the irrigators will be talking to both levels of government about implementing this. But I think, if I can just take up an earlier question, I think the irrigators are going to relieved that they've now got certainty and they've got a decision out of the State and the Federal Governments that tell them we're they're going and what level of support there will be as they restructure their operations and get into new technologies.

JOURNALIST:

On another issue, the chairman of Telstra is going to announce the new chief executive this afternoon. Has his name been run by you and what does this say about the (inaudible) in the lead up to privatisation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second question is clearly the Government's policy remains as articulated at the time of the election and because Mr Switkowski had announced his departure, irrespective of Telstra sale timetables, we needed to find a new chief executive and I'm aware of the decision of the board, it's the board's decision, but I am aware of it and I'll leave it to the Chairman of the Board to make the announcement.

Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) one more...

PRIME MINISTER:

One more and then I must go.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) Mr Chen, Mr Chen...

PRIME MINISTER:

One more on Mr Chen? I thought it was the first one on Mr Chen?

JOURNALIST:

Are you happy with the way his defection has been handled and are you concerned about the possibility of 1,000 Chinese spies in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's not for me to talk about his, as you describe it, defection. He has applied for a protection visa. I'm advised that somewhere in the order of 1,000 Chinese nationals a year apply for protection visas in this country. That visa application will be treated strictly on its merits, it will not be influenced by trade and economic considerations. I just want to cut right to the point on that. I've heard a lot of nonsense talk over the past little while about this. Let me remind you that some years ago when there was a lot of criticism of American trading policies affecting Australian farmers, both sides of politics strongly rejected the suggestion that we should use trade as a lever in relation to our strategic alliance with the United States. In other words in relation to the United States we separated trade and economics from politics and strategy. Now we adopt the same approach with the Chinse and they will understand that. I'm sure that our Chinese friends will understand that when it comes to issues like this you make a decision on the merits and just as we rightly said back in the early 90s, and I don't think I was Prime Minister then, I think at the time when Mr Hawke was Prime Minister, we said look, you know we may be unhappy with what the Americans are doing on farm policy but that doesn't affect the military alliance, it doesn't affect Pine Gap, it doesn't affect any of those things and the same thing applies here. I mean we have a policy in relation to protection visas; this man has made an application, I don't know the merits of it, it's not for me to decide it. It will treated on its merits and it's not going to be influenced by the amount of iron ore or coal that we sell to China.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21783