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Transcript: Christine Milne and Sarah Hanson-Young: Murray Darling

Christine Milne and Sarah Hanson-Young responded to the Government's Murray Darling Basin Plan, and responded to questions on asylum seeker policy, the Tasmanian forest talks, and Michael Danby


Subjects:  Murray Darling Basin Plan, asylum seekers and temporary protection visas, Tasmanian forest talks, Michael Danby.

CHRISTINE MILNE: well today, far from being an historic day for the Murray River, is in fact business as usual in this Parliament. And what that means is that all the promise about saving the river, all the promise about looking after the red gums, making sure that we restore the Coorong, that we actually look after the environment, are no more than promises. Today is the day that the Federal Government has done what they always do, and that is work with the Coalition to give what the big irrigators want for the river system, and deny to the environment what it needs. The Minister was right when he said you cannot compromise on the fundamentals. Well the science, the evidence is there. The scientists have come out and said, if you are serious about saving the Murray, you have to actually guarantee a minimum level of 4000 gigalitres, you have to actually provide what the river needs. And that's not happening with this plan, and that's why the Greens are going to work with the Government to improve the plan. To date, the Government is just suggesting it'll work with the Coalition, and in fact undermine the environmental outcomes. We're prepared to work with the Government to make it a lot better and we're going to do that. It's essential and as to the talk about this is no more delays well it certainly is a delay. This plan will not come into effect until 2019 and that's only for the 2750 gigalitres. It's actually then another several years on - 2024 before any additional water would be added to that. Now that isn't instant, that isn't an immediate looking after the Murray. And the fact that they've actually brought out a plan which does not take into account climate change and especially in a week where even the World Bank has come out and said we're on track for four degrees of warming. It just doesn't make sense to bring out a Murray plan that hasn't taken climate change into account. So we are going to work with the Government to make this better because the Greens are serious about saving the Murray. We are serious about the red gums, we're serious about the Coorong, and we want a Murray Darling plan that actually delivers.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: The Greens will be moving to amend the Water Act itself to strengthen any plan that is put forward. The plan as announced and signed off by the Prime Minister and Minister Burke today is a plan for big irrigators, it's not a plan for the Coorong, it's not a plant for South Australia, it's not a plan for the river red gums, who desperately need a drink. This is a plan that is meant to be setting the blueprint for how we manage the Murray Darling Basin over the next 20 years, yet it doesn't include the impacts on climate change, it won't deliver enough water to flush out the 2 million tonnes of salt each year that is needed to keep the water quality healthy and drinkable. This plan is a plan for big irrigators, not to make sure that Adelaidians, that people in Adelaide, have clean good quality drinking water. This plan won't save the citrus growers in the river land in my home state, it won't restore the Lower Lakes, and it won't keep the Coorong, Storm Boy country, flourishing, and listed as it should be as an international Ramsar wetland. It risks all of that. It won't save the river and rather than taking the opportunity to put in place a blueprint to protect the river for future generations to ensure that river communities right throughout the basin have certainty, not just for the next five years or the next ten years, but for the next 20 years. This plan as unveiled by the Minister today will fail to do that. But of course who is happiest? The big irrigators in the upstream states who have been ripping too much water out of the system for decades. They're happy and as a result and of course the Coalition is happy. It is extremely disappointing to see the Labor Government working to deliver a plan that satisfies Barnaby Joyce and his big irrigators friends.

JOURNALIST: Isn't it better to have some plan than no plan at all?

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Well we know that this plan is not going to take effect until 2019. By that stage many parts, much of the basin is going to be back in drought. This plan is not (inaudible) as has the Authority. This plan is for the average years, it is not for the drought years, so when the chips are down, when there is less water in the system, this plan will not help the communities, and it won't be helping my home state in South Australia, at the end of the system, which only gets a trickle. When there is less water in the system there is far less water downstream in South Australia. And it means that next time there's a drought that water just simply is not going to be available. This plan is not better than nothing because it hasn't done what it's meant to do which is to set up a system to be resilient in the drier years, to tackle the massive over allocation. The whole reason that parties across the chamber in this place passed and debated the Water Act back in 2007 was because there was finally an acknowledgement that too much water was being ripped out of the system. We have to put that water back, that's the only way to keep the river alive and yet the plan as revealed by the Minister today fails to do that, fails the river, and fails South Australia.

JOURNALIST: Tony Burke has said he's promised to have this through the Parliament by the end of the year. If you don't get what you want are you going to vote against this bill?

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: The Greens will move a disallowance to the plan and send it back to the Minister to get it right. This is an opportunity for the Minister to work with the Greens to ensure that we actually save the river from environmental collapse. That's what we need to do and we will amend the Water Act so there is no question that the plan that needs to be delivered to Parliament, signed off by the Minister, must be strong enough to protect the river, its communities and its ecology for years to come.

CHRISTINE MILNE: I just wanted to comment quickly on Tas forests. In Tasmania it's been announced that an agreement has been reached in relation to the long-standing conflict over saving Tasmania's high conservation and fantastic forests. It's an opportunity but there are some very big gaps in what has been announced so far. I haven't yet seen the details and of course the devil is always in the details. Much has been said about 504,000 hectares being protected, but there is a question as to whether logging is going to continue to be allowed in any of those 504,000 hectares and for how long a transition might take place. There are also a serious questions about the management of forests into the future and particularly Forestry Tasmania's role and how the Commonwealth might become involved in funding and also, thirdly, how the forests will be managed in terms of the forest practices that are allowed. There are a lot of things we want to do but the key thing for the Greens is to get these areas into permanent protection, and one thing we will be absolutely prioritising is getting a world heritage nomination for our precious forests. I have been campaigning for the eastern boundary of the world heritage area to go into the world heritage nomination and into permanent protection for many many years since the mid-1980s. So it would be fantastic to finally see those brilliant forests in world heritage and that's going to be a priority as this is negotiated in coming weeks.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) as the Minister says the recipients of bridging visas go back into detention

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well if I could just begin by saying the Minister announced a whole change to the completely failed policy that he's gotten place yesterday with no consultation with us, without any of the detail, and it was very unclear as to how his new policy would be implemented, and if the Minister doesn't have the courtesy to talk to people about how he is going to have it implemented, then we cannot risk things going through the Senate that would facilitate even more cruel and appalling treatment of the most vulnerable people who are seeking our protection.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Of course the Greens have always wanted people to be able to have their claims assessed in the community if it's safe to do so. We pushed for that community release program in the beginning. Yesterday's regulation, I asked the Government, the Minister's office several times, does this impact in any way on the bridging visas for those who have already been assessed as refugees, as per the announcement that the Minister made. They were unable to give an answer. They gave confused answers, they gave contradictory answers, and in light of that, until the Minister can sort out his own office what in fact the correct information is, then the Greens were never going to risk keeping genuine refugees on temporary visas as announced by the Minister yesterday. So I've gone back to the Minister's office and I've said you clear this up, ensure that it does not affect people who have already been found to be genuine refugees, and we will pass it.

JOURNALIST: Senator Milne, just on a different issue, I'm not sure if you saw Michael Danby's comments regarding your motion about Israel and Gaza yesterday, he has accused you of being in bed with 'women hating gay hanging Islamic fundamentalists'. Do you have any response to that?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well it hardly bears comment, to be truthful. Michael Danby has behaved in a really disgraceful manner, is it any wonder people are losing confidence in politicians when people engage in that kind of inflammatory language? What the Greens have said all along is that we support a ceasefire but we have also said clearly that since Australia has been elected to the Security Council we have an obligation to be even-handed and honest in the way we deal with conflict. Yes we acknowledge and condemn the rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel but equally we condemn the blockade of Gaza, the bombing by Israel and what is happening to Palestinian people. And we support the rights of Israelis but we support the rights of Palestinians too. I think it's time that Michael Danby recognised that if you want to be a good parliamentarian, that requires having some statespersonship when it comes to foreign affairs. And I think he should stay where it deserves to be on the back bench on this matter.



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