TREVOR SCOTT: … we’re going to catch up with Senator Simon Birmingham. Basin modelling… the MDBA [Murray-Darling Basin Authority] have put out yet some more modelling on the flows in the River and ‘what could be achieved if’. Let’s find out what this is really trying to tell us with Simon Birmingham. Good morning, Senator.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Trevor. Good morning to your listeners.
TREVOR SCOTT: Mate, good to talk to you. This is… well, is this more airy-fairy, pie-in-the-sky wish stuff or is this going to give us something concrete to work on?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this report is far from concrete in that it really is a report that only addresses half of the questions that need to be addressed. To step back and explain, this is a report that was asked for by the South Australian Labor Government and it’s looking at if you returned 3,200 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling system, as against what the Basin Plan has most recently proposed of 2,750 gigalitres, so there’s an extra 450 gigalitres in it and it’s trying to model what the environmental impacts of that would be. In particular, though, it does that looking at what they describe as a scenario with relaxed constraints. Now, ‘relaxed constraints’ is a nice piece of bureaucratic terminology for basically saying if we didn’t have roads, bridges, private property et cetera that we were worried about flooding what could we do? The constraints are basically that you can only, of course, pump so much water through the River at a given time without starting to cause damage to private or public infrastructure, so the report is a curious one and it sort of lives in this world to say ‘well, if we didn’t have these constraints and we put extra water down the River, would we get better environmental outcomes?’ Unsurprisingly, the answer is ‘yes’.
TREVOR SCOTT: We don’t need a scientist to tell us that.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, you don’t need a scientist, really, to tell you that. I think when you sort of frame it in that way and put those sorts of assumptions in place that they have in developing this report, everyone would have known that would be the outcome. Now, it does point to what could be an aspirational approach – some of these constraints may be able to be addressed – but the problem is this report doesn’t actually look at exactly what those constraints are, how you might go about addressing them and what that would cost, so it’s nice of it to say that you could get better outcomes for the Riverland and Chowilla Floodplain, you could get better outcomes for the Lower Lakes and Coorong, by doing this but, of course, you’ve got to look at what the cost of doing this is as well as what the benefit you get from doing so and just in terms of volumes, for your listeners who would be in your neck of the woods far more aware than many of what these volumes mean, you’re talking about having flows of up to 80,000 megalitres per day running for about 30 days duration to achieve some of the types of events that they would be trying to do under this type of modelling.
TREVOR SCOTT: So, all in all, the report is not really going to change any of the outcomes that the Government are looking for?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the report just leaves so many questions that now need to be answered and that is the problem – it feels like it could well be a ‘one step forward, two steps backwards’ report. I note that the South Australian Labor Government have enthusiastically embraced the report, the Victorian Coalition Government have been very critical of it, so we have this situation, of course, now where, you know, the states keep shifting their rhetoric about the Basin Plan depending, of course, on what the latest thing to come out is and, really, what we need is to get to a point where we can have some certainty going forward, adopt a Basin Plan that won’t give everything to everybody – because that’s impossible – but will give some certainty to the communities; it will ensure we have a sustainable river system. It won’t be able to save every environmental feature, nor of course will it be able to maintain every bit of irrigation throughout the system people may want. It’s about compromise and trade-off and I really hope that, despite the rhetoric we’re hearing publicly, the various state governments can sit down with the Water Minister and talk sensibly through the issues and that we don’t end up seeing what could be now many more months of delays were they to try to answer all of the questions about capacity constraints and so on that this report poses.
TREVOR SCOTT: Seems to be more numbers that just keep coming out which just adds more confusion to the entire system … and sooner than later let’s see a result. Good to talk to you, Simon Birmingham.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure, Trevor.
TREVOR SCOTT: Thanks, mate. Talk to you again.
TREVOR SCOTT: Senator Simon Birmingham. He’s the Liberal Senator for South Australia, of course, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin and also the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment…