Sky News interview with Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek

SUBJECTS: Murray-Darling Basin Plan; Energy policy.

LAURA JAYES: Well, the Federal Government is set to formally introduce its Murray-Darling Basin Plan legislation into Parliament today. But the proposed laws are facing a roadblock in the Senate as the Greens call for significant amendments. Joining me live is the Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek. Thanks so much for your time. First of all, I wanted to ask you about buybacks.


JAYES: So, buybacks only happen if water recovery isn't achieved through what we know, SDLAM, or are they a first priority?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: No, what we're proposing with the legislation is more time to deliver those water savings and water efficiency projects that you're referring to, Laura. More money and also more options on the table. Those options include voluntary water purchase, but we're looking at other alternatives as well. What we're about is delivering on the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. We need to rescue this plan. It's basically been sabotaged over the last decade. We need to introduce this legislation for a few reasons. We need to extend the time frames in the plan to give more time to deliver those water savings and water efficiency projects, but we also need to have more options on the table and that will include voluntary water purchase.

JAYES: Okay, so also extending and rescuing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, is there a kind of guarantee they'll be finished when I think the latest report shows that they're nowhere near close?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, so the projects you're talking about are projects that state governments have undertaken and about half of those projects are going to be delivered on time and they'll deliver the water savings and water efficiencies that we're expecting. About half of them will be either late or they won't deliver what they were originally expected to deliver. So, we've got two areas of shortage here there's those projects that you're talking about. There's also 450 gigalitres of additional environmental water that was really the condition for South Australia signing onto the plan all those years ago when I became the Water Minister just two gigalitres of that 450 had been delivered. Just two gigalitres had been achieved by the previous government. They were on a deliberate go-slow. They were sabotaging the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. So, we've got to get it back on track. We've got to rescue the plan for the environment, of course, but also for the communities, for the agriculture industry, the 3 million people that rely on this river system for their drinking water. We've got to get the plan back on track.

JAYES: There's a lot of money tied up in this as well, of course, taxpayer funds. Are you concerned-


JAYES: about whether this money is being spent efficiently or are there extensive rorts right throughout the system?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: No, I don't think there are, as you describe them, rorts throughout the system. But one of the things in addition, that this legislation will do is bring more transparency and accountability to water markets. Water markets now, are we're seeing multibillions of dollars traded every year in the water market and this markets kind of grown up in quite a haphazard way. We're introducing the same sort of transparency and accountability you'd expect in any multi-billion dollar market following recommendations made by the ACCC. And I think that's quite an uncontroversial part of this legislation because people who are operating in the water markets, they want that transparency and accountability. They don't want the market infiltrated by cowboys, who do the wrong thing.

JAYES: Okay, I know I've got to let you go because we are running out of time. The Greens are blocking it. Is this more grandstanding or do they have legitimate concerns that you're going to look at?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, the Greens are saying they want the 450 gigalitres of additional environmental water delivered. That's the very heart of the legislation that I'm proposing. More time, more money, more accountability and more options to deliver the whole of the Basin Plan, including that 450. That's our commitment. There was our commitment before the election. The whole purpose of this legislation is to deliver the plan in full. So, look, we'll continue to talk with the Greens, of course, other cross-bench parties, but also the Liberals and the Nationals. There are things in this proposal that they have been calling for, including the extension of time for those projects that you were describing earlier, Laura, this has got something for everyone and it's the only way we deliver the plan. I'm very much hoping for an outbreak of common sense.

JAYES: Okay, good luck with that. We'll see. Tanya, before I let you go, I also want to ask you about this NSW energy plan yesterday. And we haven't spoken since AEMO made some pretty strong warnings about the transition to renewables. I know that the Labor Party, the Labor government would rather not be starting from this point, but you are. And now do we have to accept that perhaps the transition is a little bit too quick, happening too quickly and we are going to need to have gas and extend the life of coal-fired power stations like Eraring for a little longer?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, we definitely came into government a long way behind where Australia should have been in the transition to renewable energy. The previous government had 22 energy policies that didn't land a single one of them. And during the time of the previous government, 20 coal-fired power stations announced their closure dates. The previous government did nothing to replace the capacity that was being removed from our electricity grid. So, four gigawatts of dispatchable power left the grid, only two gigawatts replaced it. We are facing a very huge transition in our energy market. That's why we have got our commitment to 82% renewable energy by 2030. But we also have to invest $20 billion in upgrading our transmission lines. I have doubled the rate of approval of renewable energy projects. I've got 104 renewable energy projects before me for environmental assessment and going through the process of approval. This is a massive transformation that's underway at the moment. And we have to do it because Australia should be a renewable energy superpower. It's important for our economy, it's important for jobs to get that cheaper, cleaner, renewable energy into our grid, but it's also vital for our environment.

JAYES: Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time. See you soon.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure. Thanks, Laura.