Opening remarks to the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting

24 February 2023

Thank you all for gathering here today, in my electorate of Sydney, on the home of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. 

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and pay my respect to their elders past and present. 

And I want to recognise that all your governments, coming from different parts of Australia, representing different political groups in parliament, have all joined together to support the Uluru Statement of the Heart and an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. 

Reconciliation is a national mission. It goes beyond politics, beyond state lines, and I want to thank you all for embracing the chance to bring our country together this year.

Water Ministers, we are meeting here this morning on the edge of Hyde Park, which is the part of Sydney where the old Tank Stream once flowed through.

You can’t see it today, but the Tank Stream was the original source of fresh water to Sydney Cove, and one of the main reasons the town was set up where it was.  

The stream drained out of a series of swamps and wetlands up around Hyde Park, just across the road, and it ran down the hill towards Circular Quay, through the heart of Gadigal land.

Now, there’s a reason you can’t see the Tank Stream anymore.

Because while the people of Sydney Cove understood the supreme importance of securing a reliable source of drinking water, they didn’t appreciate just how precarious water could be on this continent. 

From their first days on land, they chopped down trees along the river line. 

They grazed their livestock right up beside the riverbank. 

And by the early 19th century, the Tank Stream was polluted beyond repair, and the settlers had to find their water elsewhere. 

There’s a lesson there that I think everyone in this room can appreciate – about the delicate business of managing water in this country. 

Water Ministers, we’ve come a long way since then. 

And since our last meeting in October, we’ve made further progress still for our shared river system in the Murray Darling Basin.

Since October, we’ve announced long overdue reforms to the water market, cracking down on cowboy traders and delivering certainty to farmers and industry.

We’ve begun to deliver more than $2 billion of water infrastructure as part of our first federal budget, including $150 million for remote First Nations communities.

And this week, we announced that we would be commencing voluntary buybacks to bridge the remaining gap of 49.2 gigalitres in the Murray Darling Basin.

At the last Ministerial Council, I made it clear this was a priority, and I want to thank you for providing feedback on the framework.

Because the Murray Darling Basin Plan is a shared commitment.

It’s not a Commonwealth plan. It’s a plan for all basin governments.

We recognised this at our last meeting, when we reindorsed our commitment to work together in a spirit of good faith to deliver the Basin Plan.

And I trust that’s the same spirit we are all bringing to this meeting today.

Because I fully intend to deliver the plan we’ve all signed up to.

And that means every part of the plan. We can’t pick and choose the bits we like and the bits we want to ignore.

It was designed as a package and it needs to be delivered as a package.

I know there are challenges here. And I know you all come to this meeting with the best interest of your communities at heart.

But we don’t have many more opportunities to land this.

And in the face of an increasingly harsh climate, this plan is only becoming more urgent.

We are experiencing the last days of La Nina right now, which means that the next stretch of dry years could be on the horizon.

It’s our responsibility to make sure our communities, our farmers and our environment are all better prepared for that next drought.

Because it’s coming, whether we like it or not.

As Water Ministers, we can never lose sight of this purpose.

That’s why we are here. And that’s how we will be judged in the end.