01 October 2015
RUSTON GETS CHARGE OF ALL THE WATER
Tom and Anne Ruston with Tony Abbott, from the Senator's website
by PHILIP WHITE
On the first morning after Australia's new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced his new cabinet, journalist Deb Tribe interviewed the new Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston, on the Mornings Show on local radio ABC891.
As vice-president of the South Australian Liberal Party, Ruston took an easy ride to the Senate seat of Liberal Mary Jo Fisher who resigned on August 2012 after being charged on two occasions for shoplifting and convicted once of assault.
Born and raised in the South Australian Riverland town of Renmark, Ruston has owned and managed Australia's biggest rose garden there since she bought it from her uncle in 2003.
During the troubled conservative South Australian government of Dean Brown, as his Senior Policy Advisor Ruston worked closely with Graham Ingerson, Minister for Industrial Affairs and Tourism, Recreation, Sport and Racing. Ingerson resigned from the ministry over his handling of the racing industry and later resigned as Cabinet Secretary over his handling of the Hindmarsh Soccer Stadium.
In 1996 Ruston became Chief Executive of the controversial National Wine Center, which the Australian taxpayer funded at a cost of some $50 million. Ruston went back to the Riverland and bought Ruston's Roses while the University of Adelaide took over the virtually bankrupt Wine Center for a peppercorn rent in 2003. It now works mainly as a wedding and conference facility, and provides offices for some of the wine industry's administrative bodies.
Given the contentious nature of the 'allocation' of Murray-Darling Basin water, whether for irrigation or the matter of keeping the River actually flowing, DRINKSTER has paid particular attention to what the new Assistant Minister has to say, so transcribed some of Senator Ruston's answers on her first day in the new job:
"It's fantastic to be promoted no matter what you're promoted to do within a government.
"Given that my background and passion has been agriculture and particularly the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and water, it was a double-exciting thrill.
"Obviously not having been an assistant minister before I'm on a steep learning curve. But obviously the areas that I'm working in are areas that I know well and I've had a long-term interest in, so I'm imagining it will just give me the opportunity to get more into the detail and obviously be able to influence some of the decisions in these areas that are just so important for my home community, the Riverland, but not just South Australia but all primary producers in the whole of Australia.
"I worked as the chair of the Standing Committee on Environment and Communications and I found Malcolm Turnbull to be a very inspirational person and to watch Malcolm has been just the most amazing learning experience of the last couple of years.
"I think Tony Abbott did some amazing things as a Prime Minister. He was one of the most exceptional Leaders of the Opposition this country has ever seen. He came into government and achieved a huge amount. Unfortunately the polls stopped reflecting that and we had so many polls in a row that were showing that the public weren't accepting of the leadership so we've made a change and I think as the old saying, you know, you know 'The king is dead, long live the king' it's time for us to get on with the new administration. There's no point in dwelling on the past.
"We are in ground-breaking new territory here in this introduction of the Murray-Darling Plan.
"We mustn't forget that the framework's already in place: the Plan has been passed and it's in legislation but it's a very fine balance negotiating with our upstream neighbours about the allocation of this extraordinary precious resource but I think, you know, the fact that we have got the Minister responsible for water out of South Australia ...
"Rivers go from the bottom up, and if we've got a healthy system at the bottom we've got a healthy system right the way through so I'd like to think that I've got the negotiation skills to make sure we get an outcome for everyone.
"I haven't had the opportunity to sit down with the Minister, Barnaby Joyce and talk through the areas that he wants me to take specific carriage of, but one area I would like to pick up, and you know, I could put Barnaby on notice now, is horticulture. I think horticulture is so important. Particularly through the Murray-Darling Basin and I'd love to continue to work to further the interests of our horticulturist/viticulturists so the wine industry's included in that because it's been an area that I've taken a great deal of interest in in the last three years and I'd like to continue to do so.
"My office is in the Riverland so I've certainly got a day-to-day connection there - all my staff operate out of Renmark. I have continuing relationships with a whole lot of irrigators right the way along the River, but obviously I need to now get up to speed with some of the things that are happening in other parts of the basin but I'll continue having a very close relationship with my colleagues in the Riverland to make sure that I certainly understand what's going on in South Australia.
"Look I think one of the strongest things that comes from having run a small business and being a business owner and operator is that it gives you first hand practical knowledge of the consequences of government decisions. I think we've seen too often people that have had no real life experiences making decisions that they don't quite understand so I think it provides me with a very strong background to make really good decisions on behalf of the people that I represent."
The Murray Mouth and beginning of The Coorong, back in the day when the river actually flowed into the sea of its own accord