Interview with Kath Sullivan, ABC SA Country Hour

16 March 2020

ISABELLA PITTAWAY:    While overall farmer confidence is up, there's a sense of hopelessness that's spreading through communities in the Murray-Darling Basin, so says an independent report into the social and economic conditions of the basin. The report lead by Robbie Sefton was commissioned by former Water Minister, David Littleproud, and has made 20 draft recommendations. Those recommendations are now available for community feedback. A short time ago, Kath Sullivan asked Water Minister, Keith Pitt, if the draft report has showed him anything he hadn't heard about the basin already.

    [Excerpt] 

KEITH PITT:    Oh look, if I thought I knew everything I would be on the front bench of the Opposition. But I'm always looking forward to inputs from communities, from individuals, from irrigators, from representatives of the environment and of course my own departments. So, I think it's very timely that it's been issued now.

KATH SULLIVAN:    But is it any surprise that this report has found morale has eroded, there's a sense of hopelessness spreading, people no longer feel confident in their future across the Basin. What do you make of that finding? 

KEITH PITT:    Well, it's been a very challenging period; not only with the drought, with changes around commodities and pricing and I certainly understand as a regional person, someone who grew up in an agricultural area you know I- quite simply, I get it. So at the moment we have a draft report which people can make some comments on, I'd certainly encourage them to do that and I look forward to seeing the finalised report. 

KATH SULLIVAN:    The report has found there's a deep mistrust in governments at all levels and Robbie Sefton in her report says: communities are calling for courageous leadership. What do you think that means for you? 

KEITH PITT:    Well, leaders lead I guess is the short answer. Obviously I'm new into the portfolio but that's no excuse. My understanding is there's been more than 40 reports in to the Murray-Darling Basin over a very short period of time, only a few years. I think the time for reports is now done we need to act on the recommendations of not only this round of reporting, not only this one but the ACCC which is coming up and of course the Keelty report.

KATH SULLIVAN:    Are you saying that David Littleproud ordered too many reviews of what's happening in the Basin?

KEITH PITT:    No, not at all. This is over a long period of time. I mean 40 reports takes a long time to put together, that includes enquiries through the Parliament and others. But I think fundamentally people are consulted out. It's now about making some decisions which are the right decisions, and supporting those communities.

KATH SULLIVAN:    One of the recommendations to come from the report today suggests that recovering the 450 giga litres of up-water by 2024 could cost more than $4 billion based on current water markets. Will you think twice about that 450 giga litre target?

KEITH PITT:    Well, my understanding is that that's currently legislated. We would need get agreement between ourselves and the opposition and others if there's to be any change. But once again, I'll be moving very calmly and methodically through these reports and their final recommendations on completion and we'll have the Government's response in coming months. 

KATH SULLIVAN:    You've touched on it there - in fact I've heard you mention it a few times now - talking about infrastructure, particularly in regards to the Barmah Choke. Can I ask what you're talking about there? What sorts of things you might be able to implement that could potentially improve efficiency? 

KEITH PITT:    Well I'm a practical sort of guy. I'm by no means talking about increasing flows down the river, it's more about providing options for efficiencies for both the environment and delivery and I think there are a range of models which people have considered previously. So I've asked my department to look at those opportunities and options but certainly nothing will be done without communities, nothing will be done without input from the states and from their shareholding Ministers. I'm looking to be as consultative as possible but getting to a point where we make decisions that matter. 

KATH SULLIVAN:    Lock Zero? Would that be one, one option on the table? 

KEITH PITT:    Well, look. I know that there's been some investigation into that, my understanding is the CSIRO are currently doing a report around Lock Zero. But fundamentally I am focused on our commitments to the Murray-Darling Basin plan and its communities, and on the three reports we have coming in over coming weeks and months.

KATH SULLIVAN:    And just finally, Minister, one recommendation in the report today suggests a ban on new developments downstream of the Barmah Choke, something we've already seen happen in Victoria. Is that something that you would support? 

KEITH PITT:    Well fundamentally that is an issue for state and local government. Federally, we obviously don't have control over approvals or land use. But once again, where there's discussions to be had with my state Ministerial colleagues, they'll be had.

    [End of Excerpt] 

ISABELLA PITTAWAY:    That is Water Minister, Keith Pitt, speaking thee to Kath Sullivan.