TREVOR SCOTT: … there’s no need for me to tell you that the River is the lifeblood of our community and many communities along the River and we’re still wondering how it’s going to pan out – the Murray-Darling Basin – and there seems that there may be some funding worries that we have coming towards us and Senator Simon Birmingham is all over it. He’s calling for a Ministerial Council. Let’s find out what his fears are and why he’s calling for this meeting in such a hurry. Good morning to you, Senator Birmingham.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Trevor. Good morning to your listeners.
TREVOR SCOTT: Good to talk to you again but once again it seems that we are possibly going to lose some dollars from all the infrastructure that needs to be fixed.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Trevor, there’s a real worry here about how the management of the Murray-Darling is going to be handled in the future and what we saw last year was the New South Wales Government announce a cut of $20 million in their contribution to the Murray–Darling Basin Authority. That was then remarkably followed up with the South Australian Government announcing a cut of $14.3 million in their contribution to the Murray–Darling Basin Authority, so…
TREVOR SCOTT: This is money that should go towards the Murray–Darling Basin Authority for infrastructure changes – is that right?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this is money that supports all of the, essentially, day-to-day management issues around the Murray-Darling Basin, so whether it’s infrastructure spending on maintaining locks and weirs and dam infrastructure and… critical infrastructure throughout the system or whether, of course, it is simply paying for, frankly, the public servants and the research and other management factors in the Authority. It sort of spreads across and hits on all manner of things. We’ve already seen, as a result of this, the Native Fish Strategy’s been cut, the Sustainable Rivers Audit program has been cut, but they have said very clearly that there is a real threat to the assets and critical infrastructure if this isn’t resolved sometime soon. Now, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority, like any government enterprise or government operation, needs to be efficient, and as efficient as humanly possible, and so it shouldn’t be exempt from scrutiny as to whether it can do its job for less money but these have been random, out-of-the-blue cuts. The Coalition Government in New South Wales, a Labor Government in South Australia – I’m unhappy about both of them but I’m also dissatisfied with Tony Burke’s, the Federal Labor Minister’s, response to date which really seems to be to be leaving it up to the Murray–Darling Basin Authority to take these cuts on the chin, hope that they can sort something out with the states without really getting involved himself.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: He needs to get involved and show some leadership to fix this or else Victoria will follow suit, they’ll cut funding too and then the Authority really will struggle to maintain even its most basic of functions into the future.
TREVOR SCOTT: And I guess we can expect that the money will first flow into the management side before it will flow back down to where it needs to on the ground?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, they’re going to have to make cuts across the board and I hope the Authority members, of course, will be very critical of trying to cut any fat they possibly can out of their operations and will take a long hard look at where they can manage to make savings so that they can present something back to the states that gets things back on track but, clearly, we do need to have strategies to preserve native fish through the system and, very, very clearly, we do need to make sure that the spending that is necessary to keep those locks and weirs and the critical infrastructure through the system up-to-date is maintained because otherwise what happens is we’ll have a five- or ten-year gap in spending on maintenance and then we’ll have an enormous bill ten years down the track to fix the problems that have been allowed to get worse and worse.
TREVOR SCOTT: So, basically, Senator, well, you’re calling for Mr Burke to have a meeting earlier than June, before all the budgets are set?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right. The next scheduled meeting of the Murray-Darling [Basin] Ministerial Council [unclear] is for June this year. We all know that the states will have locked down their budgets by then. This needs to be resolved before then and I am urging Tony Burke to show some leadership, for the Federal Labor Government to actually get involved on this issue rather than sitting back and letting it get worse and worse. He should call an urgent meeting of the state ministers, bash some heads together and work out how to actually properly fund the Authority to do the jobs that need to be done going forward.
TREVOR SCOTT: Yeah, alright, so I guess we wait now for the response from Tony Burke?
TREVOR SCOTT: Alright, well, we’ll hear from you, I’m sure, when you get that response. Whether it be a positive or a negative, I’m sure you’ll let us know, Mr Birmingham.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely. Shall do, Trevor.
TREVOR SCOTT: Thanks, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure.
TREVOR SCOTT: Thank you, buddy. Mr Simon Birmingham, Senator for the state of South Australia, Liberal Senator. He’s the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin, also the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and he’s got his finger on the pulse on what’s happening there with what really is something that should concern each and every one of us who live and work along the River.