BARNABY JOYCE: The purpose of this is that I think we have had enough of this ridiculous process where we are relying on information from the ‘South Tumut Advocate‘ to determine where the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is going.  We seem to have this continual leak of information into certain regional newspapers, and God bless them and good luck to them, but the people of Australia deserve the respect of proper transparency.
So I call on Minister Burke and on Mr Knowles to release the actual truth of exactly where the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is going, what are the actual numbers so that we can have the real debate and stop delaying the inevitable.
There are a lot of people who feel that they have been sitting in the dentist’s surgery waiting room for far too long and now they want to make sure that we can get the figures out and have the debate, but make sure the implications and ramifications are properly assessed and dealt with.
Obviously, we are hoping for the ‘triple bottom line’, which both the Labor Party promised and we promised – the ‘triple bottom line’ that takes into account the equivalence of the social, economic and environmental factors pertaining to the 2.1 million people who live in the Basin, that produces 40 per cent of the nation’s food, 60 per cent of the nation’s irrigation, and has vital environmental assets as well that must be maintained, including the health of the river.
So they have had some time; they haven’t got around to it.  They’re starting to strategically leak it. It’s almost like they’re trying to soft crash land the plane and it is just not working.  So we are calling on them to release it.
And we also note that even their response to COAG [the Council of Australian Governments] back in 2009 for the National Water Initiative hasn’t been dealt with.  So they have got form in delaying.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Thanks, Barnaby.  The Coalition remains as committed today as it was in 2007 to delivering an equitable and effective Basin Plan.  We have wanted it for a long time; we still want it.  We put the framework in place in 2007 for it to be delivered, yet under Labor there has just been delay, delay, delay in the development of the Basin Plan.
It was due out last year then it got delayed.  It was due out in June this year then it got delayed.  It was due out in August, it got delayed until October and then it got delayed until November.
But now we see this drip feeding of information. It is totally unacceptable to see the Basin Plan released bit by bit, it seems, right across the country, with no comprehensive understanding of what it means and how it will impact on communities.
Tony Burke, Craig Knowles and the MDBA [Murray–Darling Basin Authority] need to come out today and say this is the day we will release the Basin Plan on and there will be no movement from that, there will be not another delay – not another day of delay, not another day of indecision or deferral.  Give people that certainty, give us the certainty, give the Parliament the certainty, but most importantly give the communities of the Murray-Darling Basin, who are desperate to actually know what this Basin Plan means for them, the certainty that they are going to see it and that we can all then have a constructive debate about something meaningful, not be jumping at shadows to figures drip fed around the country that we do or do not know are actually the truth.
JOURNALIST:  Do you think the drip feed is part of a process of political management?
BARNABY JOYCE:  I think it could certainly be seen that way, Matthew.  I think there is a sense of testing the waters, excuse the pun – testing the waters of how this is going to be accepted, seeing what the ramifications are, which brings a sense of insincerity, and also it brings a sense of flux to the whole decision making process.  People want certainty.  There are people out there who are making decisions to buy hotels or sell hotels, to buy places or sell places, to move to a town as a teacher or not move to a town as a teacher, to decide whether they’re going to buy a house or not buy a house and these decisions will overwhelmingly be affected by the decisions that are made in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.  There’s also the decisions of farmers as to do they have a long term future and the banks will want to have some serious discussions about what the ramifications are of this as well.
Now, everybody knows that if they have – they’re basically leaking it, they must have – the numbers, they just want the dignity of not being treated like a fool.  If you’ve got the numbers, if you’re prepared to leak them then deliver them in a professional way, deliver them to the Parliament in a professional way.  It’s the Minister’s responsibility to say ‘well, this is absurd, oh yeah, I’ll call a conference, I’ll have the announcement, I’ll release the figures and then we can get the proper processes of this Parliament looking at it’ because that is the Australian people’s democratic right.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  The current approach, if I can just add, is essentially just waging a war of attrition on the people of the Murray-Darling Basin and the communities of the Basin.  It doesn’t matter where they are – people are genuinely concerned that this constant uncertainty is affecting their confidence in their business, their confidence in their livelihoods and their confidence in this process. A process that people were once, particularly in my home state, enthusiastic about is now a process that is being terribly undermined by the continual changes and the continual uncertainty.  Bring it to an end and restore some confidence to the process as well as to the communities.
JOURNALIST:  The headline figure of 2800 gigs has been circulating for about six months. Is that an acceptable number?
BARNABY JOYCE:  Well, the trouble is, Lauren, it’s like saying we’re going to take four items of clothing off me – not off you. Now, that might be acceptable or it might not. It all depends where they come from.  We have to really start drilling down. This is the whole point of it.  We’re told these numbers, but the people in the towns – in Deniliquin, in St George in my town, in Mildura, in Murray Bridge – they want to say ‘well, what does that mean to me? What does that number mean to me?’ and those people have a right to get more professional and deliberate instruction of where exactly their life is going.  If they get this wrong, someone in a house might be about to lose half the value of their house which means they might not want to buy it right now.  Now, we need to turn those macro figures into the reality of what actually happens at… on a micro level on the ground in the regions.
JOURNALIST:  If you look at some of the catchment figures that are circulating at the moment it seems like areas like Murrumbidgee Irrigation are looking at cuts that are not vastly different from what we saw at the time of the release of the Guide.  Has there just been a rearranging of the deck chairs in the last 18 months?
BARNABY JOYCE:  Well, once more, this may be the case and it may not be the case because we know that once we say ‘well, this is what’s going to happen in the Murrumbidgee’ they’ll come out and say those figures are not set in stone.  They’re playing this peculiar form of charades with us and, no matter what we guess it is, they say it’s something else and it’s time for them to tell us the truth.  What we can obviously say is that if you end up with the same outcome you end up with the same result and the result last time was a virtual riot so I’m sure those people will be very enthusiastic about exactly what this means for them.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  If this is a coordinated strategy of drip feeding information then it’s a very foolish strategy because the reality is that communities last time reacted negatively to a half baked plan, to a plan that didn’t have the detail.  This time around they deserve a comprehensive plan that has all of the detail – what it means for them, how the cuts will be achieved, where the environmental water will flow to.  If they’re told all of those things they may have some confidence but this drip feeding just continues to undermine that and just risks repeating exactly the same mistakes they did last year with the Guide.
JOURNALIST:  Are you expecting another riot?
BARNABY JOYCE:  Well, I never wish for any form of civil disobedience. You know that, Matthew.  In all seriousness, no, we don’t want a riot and we won’t get a riot if we do this properly.  But if we treat people like fools, if we treat people with contempt, then you build up that antagonism, then all you need is the spark of financial insecurity and we don’t want that and we don’t need to do that and you avoid that problem by being more professional in how they actually deal with this issue as it is at the moment.
JOURNALIST:  Tony Burke said yesterday that there is not enough accountability over the environmental water that the Commonwealth holds at the moment and is looking to set up a new auditing mechanism.  Do you think that the Government has been slow to act in setting up transparency around the almost 1000 gigs that it holds at the moment for environmental purposes?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Tony Burke and Penny Wong perhaps could have thought of that before they spent more than $3 billion in terms of the way they have recovered water to date.  They actually could have thought of that before they went out in the marketplace and undertook a lot of non-strategic buybacks.  They could have thought of that in actually developing some type of environmental watering plan that was due to be released last year with the Basin Plan, but has not been released to date, so of course there’s no accountability over where the water goes because there is no plan about how the water is used.  The Government shouldn’t wake up and now say ‘surprise, surprise, there’s no accountability in this’.  They’re the ones who have been spending the money, they’re the ones who reversed the Howard plan of planning infrastructure projects that would make the Basin more efficient which would return water wisely to the environment, for instead a rush of non-strategic buybacks that have filled the account with water entitlements for the Government, but entitlements that they appear to have no idea what to do with to date.
BARNABY JOYCE:  It’s a classic case of the chauffeur screaming out ‘who’s driving this car?’  Well, we thought it was them.