This morning, we were in Griffith for the latest Basin Plan consultation meeting. Around 7000 passionate people were there to hear from their community leaders and make their voices heard. For those of you who weren’t able to be there, below is a transcript of Craig’s comments.
CRAIG KNOWLES, MDBA CHAIR:
Well, ladies and gentlemen – ladies and gentlemen, I think it’s terrific. I join with your mayor, as a former mayor myself, in congratulating the turnout and the support from other communities in Griffith here today.
Sincerely, I know what it’s like when you think you’re up against it, and the fact that the many have not left it to the few to voice the concerns is very important. It’s important that everyone – ministers, leaders of the Opposition, authority chairmen – get the message loud and clear and you’ve delivered on your objective.
In that sense, I know absolutely – I’ve been around for a long time – that there’s very little I’m going to say today that’s going to affect your thinking as a community. Minds have clearly been made up. And that’s good, that’s good. It’s good to know where you stand.
But – but, and there’s always a but – but after all today is over and all the colour and light has disappeared and the media have gone back to wherever they’ve come from, I will still keep working with the community, as I have been over the last year, and they can speak – the people who have been working with me can speak for themselves, as your mayor did.
And I would simply ask one favour, and that is for you to think about your decisions, because your decisions are important.
It’s fair for me to say that simply rejecting the plan won’t make the problem go away. And you need to know, because I get the great privilege of travelling around to all the states and all the communities in the basin. I’ve been doing that pretty well non-stop now for the best part of the year. There are very many different views throughout the basin, many of them diametrically opposed to each other, and diametrically opposed to yours. And I just report to you, genuinely and sincerely.
Of course, you know, at one end you’ve got some in the conservation movement prosecuting at least 4000 gigalitres to be taken back out of production. Some argue for 7600 gigalitres.
You’ve got groups, such as yourselves right through the basin saying, one more drop of water out of production is one drop too much.
You’ve got the states and territory governments of the basin at loggerheads. You have – just as examples, you’ve got the Deputy Premier of this state saying very clearly, if we don’t get what we want, we’ll be out of the process. You’ve got…
You’ve got the Premier of South Australia…
[Interjections from audience]
… who also has to represent his community, that 4000 or a High Court challenge.
You’ve got just recently the Minister for Water in Victoria saying, we’ve done our bit and that’s all we’ll do. These are, obviously, very different positions and difficult to reconcile.
You also need to know in the public meetings that I’ve been undertaking, other communities have made it clear that, you know, they don’t like the plan in its present form, but they have made very public and conscious decisions to get on with it and work with it to try and improve it in the knowledge that a plan is better than no plan in terms of the certainty and the need to bring some conclusion to this intractable problem that has been going on for years and which, as I’ve said, in a number of places, caused the former Prime Minister of Australia to make the point – John Howard make the point the way in which we manage the Murray-Darling Basin system, especially by the states and territories, has passed its used by date. They’re his words.
[Interjection from audience member]
And so, my view is that we have tried to make a starting point. We’ve tried to strike a balance and we’ve tried to create a framework where right across this landscape, with all those historic and diametrically opposed views, we can try and work together a bit better in the future than we have in the past.
We don’t say the plan is perfect. We built check points in along the way to test, to monitor and make changes. We do not seek to take this back. As Tom quite clearly said, we do not seek to take this back to pre-European times. We celebrate the fact that we have, as a nation, for the best part of two centuries, invested in our own wealth, our own well-being, and our productivity, and our standard of living by the things we have done to this river system.
All the various investments and infrastructure that have made us the nation we are today, and we want to support and underpin that. In that sense I’ve never seen this as a competition. It’s about striking a balance to allow that to continue into the future.
We have made it very clear – we have made it very clear as an authority – and for those who have not had the chance to read the documentation, I commend it to you. We have made it very clear that our plan says there should be a bias towards investment in infrastructure as opposed to taking water out of communities. It’s a very clear statement of principal in the belief that as we have seen so many times, by investing in communities, you not only get an economic and social dividend, you get an environmental return. And of course, the billion dollars that has been invested in northern Victoria in the last several months is a great example of that in action.
Now in the end this plan gives time for people to take greater control of it than was proposed in the guide, communities to get engaged and take a higher degree of ownership, invest in infrastructure, works and measures, have a look at those intractable, hundred year old rule-books that the parliamentary inquiry chaired by Tony Windsor, and I think some of your local members sat on made it very clear – made it very clear that the old rule books need a really good spring clean, and that there are many more efficiencies sitting in those than currently are being extracted.
And all of that, I think, should offer at least a starting point. But of course, as I said right at the outset, I’m certainly not here to do anything other than hear your views and hear what your views are and you’ve demonstrated that loud and clear.
But in – but just let me remind you, in a few short months, particularly those of you who are now in leadership positions in your community, will be, on behalf of your communities, right throughout this basin, right throughout the catchments of the basin will be witnessing the decision making processes of the state and Commonwealth water ministers at the end of this public exhibition period. And then ultimately it will go to the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia for the Government and the Parliament of Australia to decide.
And my strong view is your participation today helps that process as Tom clearly said. I don’t think that doing nothing remains an option. I think there is, from the people I talk to in your community, a desire to have a plan, and a desire to continue to work towards a good plan. And whatever the outcome of today is, I would like to place on record just before I sit down and let others have a go, I have had a very good relationship – constructive relationship, not always agreeing with your elected Murrumbidgee Valley Stakeholder Group that you put together after your public meeting here last year off the back of the guide.
You owe a great debt to those people. I won’t name them all, but I thank them. They have been in my offices from – for days on end. They have been exposed to all the detail and I have been with them in your towns. And I think I can assert in front of them – and I’m looking at a number of them here – that whilst we don’t agree, we have tried hard to make things better.
And that’s my commitment. Whatever the outcome today, I’ll be still here, I’ll still be trying my best. I’ll still be trying to get a good plan that strikes a healthy balance for all the communities in the basin, whatever their views might be. Because I fundamentally know that in the national interest, in Australia’s interest, the values of production and strong economies and healthy communities have to be underpinned by healthy environments.
They aren’t in competition, they must work together.
Thank you for your time. Thanks for coming.