CHRIS LEWIS: [Barnaby Joyce, Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Water] … does have a sense of humour regarding this new delay for the release of the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan. He reckons it’s now a race between who comes first Santa or the draft Basin Plan. I mean, this Plan’s been put back I don’t know how many times now. There was, well, it was the middle of the year, then it was to be August, then it was to be mid-October, now it’s some time in November and it does make you wonder if we will ever get to see it. Too many delays and Senator Simon Birmingham from the Liberal Party… I’m sure he agrees. Simon, good morning.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Chris. Good morning to your listeners.
CHRIS LEWIS: How many more delays are we going to have?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, I have truly lost count of how many delays we’ve had already. You’re right to say this is a report that was meant to be out in the middle of last year and it’s been delayed umpteen times now and just last week we were told it would be out in October and now, of course, this week we’re told it will be November, so it really is a case of ‘one week forward, one month backwards’ in the way they’re approaching this issue at present and, look, from my perspective, if it takes longer to get it right, to get a plan for the future of the Murray-Darling Basin that is based on absolutely robust evidence, that is fair and equitable to irrigators and the environment alike and that can be embraced by all, then that’s fine; I’m happy for it to take a bit longer, but let’s just be up front about how long it’s going to take rather than continually dragging it out.
CHRIS LEWIS: Any idea what the problem is?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority have indicated they’ve gone back into further talks with the states. Now, that is a worry on two fronts. Firstly, of course, it’s been 120 years of discussions between the states, or longer, of how to manage the Murray-Darling and if they’re going to wait to get total agreement between the states on a way forward then we will really be waiting forever. Secondly, of course, it would suggest that they have gone back to the eastern states, in particular to Victoria and New South Wales, and I just hope that we aren’t seeing deals being done behind closed doors that could take what is meant to be a process to give us management of the Murray-Darling in the national interest that’s fair to all states being done with deals behind closed doors that see certain things given away to those upstream states.
CHRIS LEWIS: I wonder about the lack of confidence for communities along the Murray as well, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, look, right up and down the Murray-Darling system, wherever you are, people just need to be able to get on with their lives and that’s why I think it’s cruel to keep setting deadlines that they’re unable to meet. If it takes a bit longer, fine; don’t promise something you can’t deliver, and that’s what the Government has been doing time and time again through this process. It doesn’t matter whether people live on the Lower Lakes or whether they live in Murrumbidgee or Griffith or St George up where Barnaby comes from in the end, they all deserve a bit of certainty for their future.
CHRIS LEWIS: Well, we do know that Santa will be on time but we can’t say that about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, can we?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: December 25 is absolutely locked in but the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, well, hopefully it’s not ‘on the never-never’ but it is certainly looking like it is a long way away and I just hope that this is the last of the many delays we’ve seen.
CHRIS LEWIS: Let’s hope so. Simon Birmingham, thank you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure, Chris.
CHRIS LEWIS: Senator Simon Birmingham from the Liberal Party on Weekday Magazine.