By Tanya Plibersek

21 December 2023




PETER STEFANOVIC: And on that, we've got the Water Minister with us right now. Tanya Plibersek, good morning to you. So, just further to that, if more water is taken out of the system for those farmers, do you expect prices to rise? Is that an inevitability?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Absolutely not. Because in 2011-2012, the year where there was the highest amount of water purchase, close to 500 gigalitres that year, food and beverage prices actually fell by 3.2 per cent. So, the two don't automatically go hand in hand. What I would say is I've got every sympathy with those farmers who are being pressured to accept very low prices from our supermarkets. It is one of the problems with having such a concentration of ownership of supermarkets in Australia, and it is something that I accept, absolutely, that farmers are pressured to take those very low prices because they don't have a lot of options when it comes to selling their produce. So, we do need to continue to work on more contestability, more competition in the Australian supermarket sector.

On the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, I have to say this, we have passed legislation through the parliament that gives more time to deliver the plan so there's less pressure. More options so water buybacks are not the first and only option, but they have to be part of the plan. It gives more money, so there'll be money there for supporting communities if there are negative consequences of buybacks. And there's more accountability as well to make sure that we get the plan done.

I know that regional communities are concerned. We've had more than 700 consultations with regional communities, just working with them to make sure that we do this in the most sensitive way. But it doesn't make any sense that you can buy water if you're a Canadian public service pension fund. You can buy water if you're a Chinese agricultural company, but you can't buy water if you're the Australian Government to protect the Australian environment. We know the next drought is just around the corner. If we don't protect the environment now, we'll see the same sort of massive fish kills, we'll see hundred-year-old trees dying, and we'll see communities with dry riverbeds at their heart for more than a year at a time, like we did during the last drought. We have to take action now.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, a few topics for us to get through this morning, Tanya. I do want to move on. This, I recognise is probably a question for the Defence Minister, but I want to ask you anyway. China has overnight celebrated our decision not to join the Americans in helping to protect trade in the Red Sea or trade routes which kind of makes it look like it was done to appease China. But we are the recipient of traffic that comes through the Red Sea, so, don't we have a duty to join the Americans in that effort?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, we have had operations in that area for decades and as the Defence Minister has very clearly said, we'll consider this request in the same way as we consider other requests. We're working very hard on freedom of navigation operations in our own region and we'll always continue to have a close partnership with the United States, particularly as we see these attacks in the Red Sea increase. That is something that we're looking at.

STEFANOVIC: There is a list of government big spenders that's been released this morning. Tanya, your name has popped up on a few occasions. There you are. Are your expenses as low as can be?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: They are, absolutely. And I think about every dollar of taxpayers' money that I spend. Simple fact is my electorate is the central business district of Sydney in the inner suburbs. So, I don't think it's any surprise that my rent is a bit higher than it would be if I was in a regional community. And as Environment Minister, I'm required to travel to some of the most remote locations in Australia. I just wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't do some of that travel. But I am careful all the time. Everything is within entitlement. I think part of the problem is if we were only in Canberra, if federal members of parliament never left Canberra, there'd be a different complaint that people were making.

STEFANOVIC: You're probably right about that. Now, I think I can hear the seals behind you. You're at Taronga Zoo this morning. What's happening there?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: You can. Yeah, yeah, yeah I am. Well, I love visiting Taronga because they do such amazing conservation work. And I'm here with the NSW Environment Minister, Penny Sharpe. We're announcing our latest crackdown on one of the most underreported crimes that I think many Australians wouldn't even be aware of. The fourth largest international organised crime area is the trafficking of wild animals. And we know in Australia many of our threatened species are actually at risk from trafficking. So, since coming to government, we've put two new teams on the job. We've got tough cops on the beat, making sure that our native animals aren't shoved into boxes or into poster tubes and sent overseas. It's cruel. It's cruel to the animals and it also increases the risks to some of these threatened species.

The government's spending about $500 million to better protect our threatened plants and animals. And one of the areas that we really have upped our efforts is in this organised crime, catching people who are trafficking our animals. We've had eight operations since May this year. Seven of them are currently before the courts. Two people have been jailed. Thankfully, they've been jailed. I'd like to throw the book at them.

We're also today announcing the results of one round of threatened species funding. 61 projects for animals like the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat and the Handfish. And a whole range of other creatures have got funding to better protect them. And I'm opening a new funding round that is going to go into new and innovative approaches to protect threatened animals. Things like new vaccines, new machines, like the ones that we're inspecting today that can better pick up threatened animals through the post system.

STEFANOVIC: Tanya Plibersek, that announcement coming up now actually. I know you got to race off to that, but thanks for all your appearances on the program this year. I hope you and the family have a great Christmas and New Year and I'll see you in the New Year.