Remarks at High Level Water Panel, United Nations

Transcript
21 Sep 2016
New York
Prime Minister
E&OE

…extraction of ground water is common around the world. There is some vitally important agricultural regions of the world, which if practices don’t change, will be without water before too long.

The inability to manage water resources effectively puts millions, billions indeed, at risk. And of course even more lack access to clean water. This is a very, very big agenda. Water is the source of life, it’s central to human development. The panels action plan sets out a comprehensive integrated and transformational approach which is essential to develop real change at a time when global water related challenges are growing at already daunting scales. We know around 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water that is used, is used for agriculture and of course in cities there is increasing demand for water for health and sanitation and of course right around the world, the extraction of water in an unsustainable way puts the environment at risk.

Now, effective governance is absolutely essential, as of course is innovation, new technology and investment in infrastructure. Now in Australia we are a dry continent, a large dry and flat continent. We’re prone to extreme weather, we are as the poet says, the land of droughts and flooding rains. And water management challenges have always been very much first and foremost an Australian experience.

We have made very great strides, however in water management and we’ve presented for the panel, a paper entitled the Australian Water Reform Journey which outlines our experience. It shows in particular how our governance reforms have helped manage Australia’s food bowl, the Murray Darling Basin. The Basin plan aims to ensure sustainable use of water resources to enable enduring support to agriculture, industry, communities and the environment. It’s very challenging, it’s challenging at an environmental level, it’s challenging at an engineering level and above all it is challenging at a political level. It needs strong leadership and effective advocacy.

Now, to give you an example of some of the things we have done as part of a landmark investment under the Murray Darling Basin plan, we recently rolled out a series of infrastructure upgrades in the Macquarie Valley in NSW. This included lining irrigation channels to reduce seepage, upgrading pumping stations, installing remote control and modernising irrigation layouts. This improved crop production and revenue for farmers, despite reducing the area under irrigation and the amount of water used. The role of efficient water management is to grow more crops with less water and if we do so efficiently we can absolutely do it. We also have to recognise the reality that gigantic engineering solutions are rarely going to be the answer or the cost effective answer, water has a very low value to volume and to weight, so moving it enormous distances is very expensive.

Now in the Macquarie Valley, the water released for environmental purposes will increase massively what is available to the environment in that region, so what our plan has been, has been to improve the efficiency of water usage for farmers through the techniques and others I’ve mentioned which means they can produce just as much food and fibre and the water saved is then available to the environment, so it is genuinely a win, win.

We’re proud to have been part of the panel. I want to thank our Sherpa and all of the team for putting together this plan.

I want to announce also that we will be providing an addition $100 million Aud to provide water and sanitation through a new Water for Women initiative.

We will launch a water challenge to spark innovative approaches to provide clean and affordable water to remote communities and we will initiate a range of programmes to share Australian expertise and data over the coming years.

We are looking forward to hosting the World Water Congress in Brisbane next month. That will be an opportunity to continue supporting the actions needed to meet the needs of all.

Water is absolutely critical and it is – it was Benjamin Franklin who said we will not know the value of water until the world is dry and the challenge that we face in many parts of the world, the world is getting close to becoming dry. So this is an urgent priority.

I commend the plan to you, Secretary-General, and recommend its adoption.