BARNABY JOYCE: First of all, thank you very much for being here. I acknowledge from the start the impediments that have been placed before the fourth estate on this one, how ludicrous it is that we’ve had separate lock-ups. This is not the fault of the Commission [Authority], it’s the fault of the Labor Government. In this new, for want of a better word, paradigm, they’ve decided that separating those who represent the people in the Basin from those who convey information to the people in the Basin is somehow a form of democracy which they approve of.
This report at its inception obviously shows one thing the immense complexity of the decision that is before a Government whose latest contribution to our nation has been sticking fluffy stuff in the roof yet burning down 190 houses, trying to build school halls yet having a massive blowout, and we are now giving to these people, or allowing these people to start tinkering with the mechanism by which Australia feeds itself. This I find concerning.
We do not for one moment deny that there was an environmental requirement that had to be dealt with and in fact the whole point of the Plan that we brought forward was to deal with that environmental requirement and that was done by a Coalition Government.
Pursuing this objective, though, really requires an immense amount of more work. The lady in Deniliquin wants to know what’s going to happen to her life when this Plan, if this Guide to the Plan was to become the Plan, was to become her life. This does not tell that lady in Deniliquin what’s going to happen to her next. This does not tell the person who’s sitting in Mildura what happens to their life next. This does not tell the person sitting in Griffith what is going to happen to their life next. And we have a responsibility in this building to be honest with the Australian constituency and to tell them what is going to happen to their life next so this is why it is absolutely vital that we have the proper social analysis and we have the proper economic analysis of what is going to happen in the Basin.
Even now, in our discussions, we see there is a sense that this Plan does not go far enough and when we look at some of the modelling that has been done… for instance, we notice that some of the modelling is done in a lineal fashion, which means that they rely on a consistency of effect the more water that you take out of the system this is absurd. Everybody knows that the more water that you take out of the system ultimately takes key economic assets within the system to a tipping point, a tipping point where they are no longer productive, where they have to be closed down, under that event many people lose their jobs, the whole fabric and social fabric of that community is decimated and that needs to be clearly spelt out.
I imagine that, in the short term, the third parties that are involved with these communities up and down the Basin will be crawling over cut glass to get more information out about exactly what happens to them next. We in the Coalition are going to be absolutely vigilant to make sure that our support of regional Australia is not abridged by this sort of focus, total focus, on one section of an equation which actually has three sides. That is, it has an environmental side, we acknowledge that, but it most certainly has an economic side and a social side and those issues have just not been addressed. Not that that is a problem for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority because they’ve been given a task and they’re trying to fulfil the task.
In due course, and over a period of time as we go further into this document and its effects, we’ll have further to say about what is a fair and reasonable outcome and what is an arbitrary and indiscriminate number that would bring death and… not death… that would bring a sense of destitution and desertion to many areas of the Basin. Now I’ll let Simon say g’day.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks Barnaby, and thanks to those who could make it here, noting that many are still in transit from the separate lock-up on the other side of Canberra.
For three years now this Labor Government has spent more than it budgeted to on water buybacks each and every year, and less than it budgeted to on water saving infrastructure efficiency measures. So what they’ve done is take water out of productive purpose without supporting the opportunity to return water to the environment for productive purposes.
If these planned, foreshadowed, cutbacks are to be achieved, the Government needs to reverse its plans and its pathway that it’s led so far from buybacks into infrastructure. It is water saving infrastructure that can allow us to sustain infrastructure… ah, irrigation communities into the future. Buybacks of the volume forecast, if that is the sole approach undertaken, will genuinely cause levels of devastation to those communities without allowing them the opportunity to be able to do more, produce more, produce at least some of what they’re currently doing, with less.
The Plan [Guide] released today is a welcome step insofar as it provides some information, but there’s an awful lot more information that we need to see. There will need to be, now that background data has been uploaded onto the MDBA’s website, a truckload of extra info and data for people to look at to back up some of the assumptions in this Plan. If we look at the economic and social analysis that Senator Joyce has touched on, we can see that there is a real paucity of information behind it. No detail for individual regions, no detail for individual towns, no answers as to what it’s actually going to mean to people, town by town, throughout the Murray-Darling Basin region.
If we look at the environmental aspects, aside from how much water will flow through the Murray Mouth, there’s no information for individual environmental assets, no information about, asset by asset, environmental site by environmental site, what this will mean to improving the health of those sites. So there’s a real paucity of information that we will need to dig through in the background data.
The Government is going to need to commit to genuine consultation, and Minister Burke is going to need to show an awful lot more commitment to addressing this issue than he has today with his corridor doorstop before the media had even been able to see the Plan. That is an unacceptable level of contempt for this process, and the Government is going to need to engage in this far more seriously with everybody who has an interest, be it an environmental interest, an economic interest or a social and community impact interest, throughout the Basin.
BARNABY JOYCE: We’ll have a few questions… I’d just like to also conclude on one thing. It is also very annoying that Minister Wong, who was pursuing this course along with ‘the moral challenge of our time’, decided to desert the ship and disappear, so that is the sort of respect that the Labor Party shows to the Murray-Darling Basin. So in the midst of a crucial item that is… that feeds our nation and also sustains two million people who live in the Basin… two million people live in the Basin… that they’ve decided to just change Ministers. This goes to show you that from the very highest level, Ms Gillard, they don’t really show the respect that is due to the people in the Basin.
Anyway, we’ll take questions if you’ve got any.
JOURNALIST: (unclear) …up to 45 per cent in some parts of the river system, can you talk about that?
BARNABY JOYCE: You know, it’s not going out on a limb to say that if you take 45 per cent from an area, the area for all intents and purposes is decimated.
To draw an analogy, and I know it’s hard and I know I sometimes torture them, but if I was to say that we’re going to close down 45 per cent of the roads into Canberra and plant trees on them for an environmental reason, well may it be an environmental reason but the economic and social outcome of that decision would be absolutely devastating. We have to acknowledge that people’s lives, who are not going to be compensated, are behind the consequences of … that sort of decision.
No one is going to compensate the pensioner who has just paid off their house in a regional town, spent their whole life basically labouring to make the payments, living an honest life who’s paid off their house… no one comes in to them and offers them any money when their economy’s turned upside down. No one goes to the motel owner and says ‘well, we’ll buy the motel off you’. No one says to the schoolteacher who moved there and moved their family there and is looking for a life there that ‘we’ll hand you back the ten years you wasted and you’ve invested in this town because the Government has made a decision that turned your life upside down’. I always get a sense with these sort of grandiose statements that you get an inkling of the Great Leap Forward, a wondrous statement with huge ramifications behind it which if they were properly discussed and analysed at the start would have brought about a more sober decision making process.
JOURNALIST: We’ve got figures we’ve seen this afternoon with the Authority saying ‘oh, only 800 jobs would be lost’, I mean if you’re talking about cuts like that, how can you take them seriously given Simon’s (unclear) the paucity of information? How confident are you in the assumptions here?
BARNABY JOYCE: I mean obviously, 800 jobs lost is an absolute load of rubbish. You can go to certain properties where they’ll be employing 200 people and this is ridiculous, you can’t suggest for one moment that if you put at risk the rice industry of Deniliquin, that sustains the town, that sustains the economy, that just that industry alone is going to, with all its add-ons, isn’t going to cost you vastly more than that.
If you look at the processing sector in dairy, the ginning sector in cotton, this is absurd and it shows a complete lack of detail and I… they did not say that to me, so I’m taking you on your word that they said it to you, but if there’s a quote of 800 jobs then it really shows a complete lack of understanding about the economics of the area.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: If you look at a region like… or issues like the horticultural sector, the horticultural sector in here is forecast to be maintaining close to 100 per cent of production despite the major horticultural producing regions actually losing around 25 to 35 per cent of their water. This is a major impact for those regions and yet they’re expected to maintain production levels. An $800 million dollar to $1.1 billion dollar overall economic impact of a negative nature is forecast on the Government’s own economic modelling, which looks pretty generous. The idea that that translates into just 800 jobs really is quite laughable.