Transcript- Minister Pitt and Senator Perin Davey- ABC Goulburn Murray- Murray Darling Basin

Mar 1, 2021 | News

Interview with Sandra Moon - ABC Goulburn Murray

Topics – Murray Darling Basin

SANDRA MOON:    And joining you now, right here in the studio, is the Federal Minister for Water, Keith Pitt. Good morning.

KEITH PITT:     Good morning to you and good morning to your listeners.

SANDRA MOON:        And also Senator Perin Davey is in the studio as well. How are you?

PERIN DAVEY: I'm very well, thank you. Good morning.

SANDRA MOON:        Now, obviously water, big issue. Only just last week we had yet another conference, water conference, different groups getting together and discussing, in particular, the Murray Darling Basin. It's such a complex issue, and something that people are very- obviously very, very passionate about. What are you doing in the area here?

KEITH PITT:     Well, I'm back. It's been some time due to the COVID pandemic, and decisions of Premiers made it very difficult, I think as all of your listeners know to get around Australia. But Senator Perin Davey and others have certainly made sure I'm well informed as to what's happening here, and we have had any number of video conferences and phone calls and all the things that people have done every day to manage their business and keep getting on with it. But we're beginning across parts of the Southern Basin and I'm here to listen.

SANDRA MOON:        And Senator Perin Davey, if I can I ask you - you've been a driving force behind, you know, getting Keith Pitt here to be able to have these sort of discussions. You mentioned that this would have been happening a year ago if it wasn't for all the lockdown and stuff that we've been dealing with.

PERIN DAVEY: Yes. I'm based in Deniliquin, so very aware of the issues and the fact that people really we want to be heard. I- The Minister kindly came down last February, but it was a very quick whistle stop tour. He told me then that it was not the last time he'd be there, and then COVID happened. So it's great to get him back. It's really important that he can see on the ground. Because we can tell him everything he needs to know via video conference, but until you actually see it on the ground, you're not quite putting it into full context. So I'm really glad to have the Minister here - we'll be showing him the Barmah Choke on the ground; he'll be meeting stakeholders across Finley and Deniliquin and out to Berrigan; and, he will be talking directly to the people instead of through, you know, third parties like myself which is really good.

SANDRA MOON:        And Keith Pitt, I mean, it's such an emotive issue though as well. How do you make sure that you can, kind of, take a step back from that? Because there is a lot of passion when it comes to water.

KEITH PITT:     There's no doubt about that. And as a former farmer, look, I've got a couple of advantages. And people may not think that that's the case, but it is because I'm from Queensland, I'm from outside the Basin, my view is always balanced and we are trying to strike the right balance - the balance between the environment, between irrigators needs, between communities and business needs; and I think we're going pretty close to that. I mean, it's always a challenging space, has been pretty much forever, but I'll continue to listen and we continue to make adjustments.

I mean we announced $27 million in the Murray-Darling Community Investment Package last September. We've got more to say this week over the next couple of days, and we've got a bit of an announcement in about 40 minutes - happy to give you a scoop if you like.

SANDRA MOON:        Yes, please. We would like that scoop. [Laughs]

KEITH PITT:     I surprised about that. I didn't know that you would, but- So, 8.30 this morning we'll be announcing that the Economic Development Program, we've extended that to Round 3 - it's an additional $34 million as part of the Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package. And this is about putting those communities back at the heart of the Basin Plan. Those Economic Development Program Grants, the applications will open this Wednesday. So, all of those who are out there in the eligible areas that can apply, I'd encourage them get on board, get in. We know the first two rounds have been very successful and oversubscribed. And what they're about is putting more economic opportunities into those regional communities. How do we strengthen that local economy? How do we make sure that there are more local jobs outside of what happens just with water?

SANDRA MOON:        And how do we?

KEITH PITT:     Well there's been a number of- the two first- The first two grant rounds effectively funded things like- some of them were tourism-related; I mean, there were cycling tracks; and art centres; and a number of other bits and pieces across those smaller communities and centres - many of those are now underway or delivered. But 34 million, I mean, that's almost as much as the first two put together which is another significant investment in the Murray-Darling Basin areas. So, I think there's real opportunities there to diversify economies.

Now, I acknowledge the impact that the Plan has had across those regional communities - that's been demonstrated through the Sefton Report, the Keelty Review and any other number of the wheelbarrow full of reports I got as the Water Minister in the last 12 months - but we are taking action.

SANDRA MOON:        And when we look at the Plan, why can't we get this plan right? Why is it continually controversial? I mean, I used to work in a rural area and that was a good, like it going on 20 years ago. I mean this is just continual, isn't it?

KEITH PITT:     Well firstly-

SANDRA MOON:        [Interrupts] Can we get it, right?

KEITH PITT:     Well of course. Of course we can strike the right balance. But things change, things constantly change as they have done over a long period of time. I mean Mark Coulton up in the northern part of the Basin, he's said, you know, that the people who talk to him, tell him that downstream a waste is an upstream of thieves. And I think people do have those types of views because it's about them, alright? It's a personal impact, and I get that. But as the Federal Water Minister, my job is to strike the right balance - that's what I intend to do, and that's why we are putting those communities back at the heart of the Basin Plan.

SANDRA MOON:        How are people able to speak with you, as you do travel through the region?

KEITH PITT:     Well in the modern world, there's any number of ways - whether that's through emails, through their local representatives like Senator Perin Davey's, and of course all of my colleagues who are Members of the Parliament. Whether it's through emails and contacts and video conference, we have a number of round tables through the region over the next few days, talking directly with those individuals. Regardless of which groups they represent, people are passionate about their views and I understand that completely. One of the first things I did as the Water Minister was to get to the Southern Basin, get into the Barmah Choke - we went around by boat and had a look at directly at what the impact was. And these are difficult issues to deal with, but we're up for it - it needs to be done.

SANDRA MOON:        And so your focus as you travel through the region, you're heading to Deni today?

KEITH PITT:     We're heading to Deni for this evening, and then sometime tomorrow. Couple of stops on the way with a number of representative groups and community groups. And I've got to tell you, right across the Murray-Darling Basin, there's a lot of them. They all have a very wide range of views.

SANDRA MOON:        Well, it seems almost every week or fortnight, we have some sort of Basin conference happening, or a group that are getting together to discuss something.

KEITH PITT:     Well, what I've seen over the last 12 months is I think there's consultation fatigue. I think across the Basin they just want to be able to take a breath, have a steady look at where we're at, and that is exactly what I intend to do. So I've said very clearly, the time for reports is done - I've never seen a greater stack of reports than you see on the Murray Darling Basin. This is about making sure that we can consolidate, that we can give people the opportunity to have their say where it's required. But I don't think we need to make major changes in the short term. We need to get on with the projects that we have, and we'll have more announcements to make about that this week.

SANDRA MOON:        You're not going to tell us those announcements now?

KEITH PITT:     Well you got one scoop already, hey, 30 minutes early.

SANDRA MOON:        You know, I thought it was worth a shot.

KEITH PITT:     Always worth a shot.

SANDRA MOON:        Where will you be this evening? You mentioned that you're going to be in Deni this evening. Is there an event?

KEITH PITT:     Look, well, Perin is the local - I'll let her describe the great joys of Deniliquin and where we might be.

SANDRA MOON:        Well, I'm from Deni as well. So-

PERIN DAVEY: Yes. We're having a dinner event tonight at The Crossing. I haven't checked the numbers today - it may be booked out. We are limited by capacity of the room, but it is an opportunity that people who- It was advertised - so, there was an opportunity for people to get a ticket, and come meet the minister, and have a chat. But otherwise, you might see him down the street having a cup of coffee this afternoon if we get five-minutes spare between meetings. We'll definitely be doing a straight ball(*).

SANDRA MOON:        Alright, very good. Thank you so much for coming in and giving us, well, the scoop on your announcement - number one, so that's always good. But also for coming in, and having a chat, and letting us know what your priorities are.

KEITH PITT:     Always happy with ABC and your listeners.

SANDRA MOON:        Very good. The Federal Water Minister, Keith Pitt, joined in the studio by Senator Perin Davey.