Interview with Tom Connell, Sky NewsDay

20 April 2020

TOM CONNELL:    My next guest on the program is Water and Resources Minister Keith Pitt. Thanks for your time as ever, Minister. I guess we'll just start. Are you going to get a copy of Malcolm Turnbull's book?

KEITH PITT:    No, I don't have a copy Tom. I don't intend to. Although I'm told I got a brief mention and- mate, to be frank, I'm going to file it in the fiction section of the bookshelf. It described a meeting I'd never attended and wasn't at.

TOM CONNELL:    Alright. Interesting, well, we'll track down what that meeting was or wasn't as you say. So, there's an early fact check from Keith Pitt on the book.

I want to talk about the tracing app the government is pushing. We don't know all the details yet but the Minister is assuring us privacy will be a big focus here for users. Already Barnaby Joyce and Llew O'Brien are saying they won't download it. Is that unhelpful?

KEITH PITT:    Tom, individuals can make up their own minds. I mean, we live in a democracy and my colleagues are entitled to their view. But the question that each of your viewers has to ask is quite simply this: if I'm in contact with someone who turns out to have the coronavirus, do I want to know as quickly as possible that I've been in contact with them, it's been for more than 15 minutes at less than one and a half metres, and I need to be advised so I can take immediate action to protect myself and my family. Well, if the answer to that is yes, then you should download the app.

TOM CONNELL:    You'll be doing so?

KEITH PITT:    Yes I will. I mean, I make the same decision as others. I absolutely understand why people are concerned about privacy matters, but we are living in a different world to what we were six months ago. I'd want to do everything I possibly can to protect my family, to ensure that we can take the appropriate action if we do come into contact with someone who eventually tests positive, and there's not a real lot of real difference between this and what happens in terms of sitting down and verbally having someone recall who they've met with over a period of time, except that it's automatic.

TOM CONNELL:    Yeah, there might be some people keeping diaries, I suppose. You wouldn't want to not have been registered- be a federal MP and then not be able to recall who you met.

I want to talk about your portfolio area, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, a long awaited one coming out on Friday. It did find that about half of the water flowing through Murray-Darling Basin, there was about half over the past 20 years compared to previously. I know you're examining the causes, but is it boiled down seemingly at the moment to just less rain in the right areas?

KEITH PITT:    Well, firstly I want to thank Mr Keelty for his work. He's produced a report which is quite simply based on facts and demonstrates there's no silver bullet. But you're absolutely right, Tom. There is a drought which is affecting areas very substantially. If you go back and look at the Federation Drought, for example, you'll find the exact same results, I would imagine. So whilst it's disproportionate [audio skip] like the rice industry in terms of its effects, what we know is that the report has identified five key recommendations which the Government has accepted and will implement fully.

TOM CONNELL:    So, if there is less water though over that 20 years - yes, we've had some droughts. Are you going to look into whether or not this is likely to be closer to situation normal, as best we can predict it? And then perhaps when you look at flows, environmental flows and also those given off to the states, that might need to be factored in?

KEITH PITT:    Well, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority was already doing some work. I've written to them as part of one of these recommendations to ensure that work continues and is completed. But once again, the Commonwealth is one of six key stakeholders in the Murray-Darling Basin and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, along with the states and territories. So, we are not the only participant. And so we have to work with the states and territories as part of the Federation, as part of the plan. I'm doing that, certainly working closely with my ministerial colleagues. We will implement the recommendations of the Keelty report. But I do have a wheelbarrow [audio skip] Tom. The Sefton report through the ACCC around water trading, the WCIR review and a number of others. So, I'll put all of those together before we make any final determinations.

TOM CONNELL:    Is that a fair enough assumption to make, that if we do find there's just less water going through here and that's the likelihood, we have to rethink how the resource is used, don't we?

KEITH PITT:    Well, I certainly don't want to jump ahead to a media recommendation that hasn't been made. But once again, I'm a practical common-sense sort of guy. If- you know, the facts have changed, we need to change our view. But right now, I certainly understand all of those individuals who are up for a third year of zero water allocations in their location for general security water, and that's got an incredibly detrimental effect on their business and their local communities. And we need to continue to work in their best interest. But there is some positive news, Tom. I mean, the bomb forecast is for- you know, on an average winter season or a little bit better. We know we've had some good rain in locations which is giving good [audio skip] crops. So there's good potential on the horizon.

TOM CONNELL:    Yeah, it has been really encouraging, those falls, so let's hope they do continue. But on the future prospects here, we had a lot of angry farmers and irrigators march on the front lawns of Parliament - which I know you are aware of, you weren't the minister at the time. Their anger seemed to be management of the plan and also too much water going to waste or to environmental flows. This report essentially says that's not accurate.

KEITH PITT:    Well, as I've said, I mean, Mr Keelty's integrity is without question. He's provided a report based on the facts that he's established. And once again, we need to continue to work with all of the states and territories and all the stakeholders. I understand people's frustrations. Now, drought is incredibly difficult. It takes a very large toll on people's personal lives and of course their businesses. And we need to find every opportunity. But Tom, as I've said before, I mean, if there is a thimble-full of water to be found that we can provide, well, I'll find it in conjunction with others who are of course ministerial stakeholders.

TOM CONNELL:    I look forward to seeing some more research on the reasons behind the lack of water, although we hope it's not true. In the coming months, of course. Keith Pitt, thank you.

KEITH PITT:    Great to be with you.