Australian minister Tony Burke will pitch Antarctic ice plan in Beijing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 3:08am

Australia wants to help the Chinese government turn its water into cash, and join forces with Beijing to find million-year-old ice in Antarctica, says Tony Burke, the country's environment minister.

Visiting Hong Kong before an official visit to the mainland, Burke said he would meet his counterpart on water, Chen Lei, to talk about the precious resource.

Part of that includes sharing the experiences of Australia, where water supplies in the Murray-Darling Basin - known as the country's food bowl, as it produces 90 per cent of its fresh food supplies - are treated as a tradeable commodity.

"Instead of government picking and choosing every individual entitlement to be able to irrigate, once people have their irrigation licence, they can buy and sell water," Burke said.

The sprawling basin suffered over the past decade, with severe drought draining it. And despite heavy rains last year, water management is still an issue with farmers and environmentalists.

Burke is also scheduled to meet with the State Oceanic Administration in Beijing to talk about closer co-operation with Australia on climate-change research in Antarctica.

"The holy grail of Antarctic research is to get the million-year ice core and it's one of the issues we want to talk to the Chinese authority about," he said.

Last night, Burke attended an event held by the Plastic Oceans Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation aimed at reducing plastic pollution in the oceans.

Burke, 42, gave a diplomatic response when asked for his views on the Hong Kong government's lack of action on its air pollution.

"I've been a regular visitor here and to mainland China for about seven or eight years and from my perspective, it appears to be getting better," he said.

"But whether that's reflected by people who are here all the time, I don't know. I just see more blue-sky days than I used to, but I might be lucky when I come through."

Burke said the Australian government was also working with Guangdong on its attempts to reduce carbon pollution.

On urban planning, Burke praised the efficiency of the Hong Kong's MTR and said major cities in Australia were trying to improve the integration of transport with employment hubs.

"We've tended to have the jobs at one end of the city and the houses at the other end," Burke said.