SONYA FELDHOFF: … right now there is a lot of focus on water flows given that we’re about to see some of the flows that were promised in an agreement back in January between Premier Mike Rann and New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally. Questions, though, are being asked by Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, questions that have prompted him to write a letter to the Federal Minister for Water, Penny Wong. Senator Simon Birmingham joins me now … Good afternoon Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … Good afternoon Sonya, good afternoon listeners.
SONYA FELDHOFF: Now, you are obviously concerned about this water issue, what particular areas are concerning to you?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Sonya, we have a situation where of course in late December there was significant rainfall in northern New South Wales in particular and we saw a lot of debate then through January about whether any of that water would flow down to South Australia, and eventually after much argy bargy the Premier did intervene, did contact the New South Wales Premier and negotiate for some flows to the Lower Lakes … every drop that flows right down the river to the Lower Lakes is very welcome to us all, but in negotiating that agreement the New South Wales Government subsequently put out a document that outlined how that agreement is to be implemented, and that document said at the time that if there were additional flows and if those flows were of sufficient volume they would divert water into Lake Menindee and Lake Cawndilla … we all hear about the Menindee Lakes … it’s a system that is comprised of four major lake structures … from those flows, from those floods in December, they filled up two of the four Menindee Lakes, and in the agreement that Mike Rann and Kristina Keneally struck, New South Wales buried in that agreement that if there was another lot of floods they would fill up the other two of those lakes … well of course, much as we all hope for floods, nobody was expecting further ones, but we’ve seen in the last month, the last few weeks, further floods in southern Queensland … my colleague Barnaby Joyce, who I saw when I arrived at the Senate, spent all of last week sandbagging in his homw town of St George, and a lot of those waters are expected to flow through the system … what we’ve seen today is the New South Wales Government, the New South Wales Office of Water, release a statement saying that it is indeed their intention to put those waters into the other two lakes in the Menindee Lakes system … that’s water that will then go in there, be lost and wont’ be flowing down to SA.
SONYA FELDHOFF: … this is water that you think we could have seen the benefit from here in South Australia?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I’m concerned, as I was from the original agreement as well, that of course the river system, despite all the hoopla from Kevin Rudd, Mike Rann, Penny Wong and others about national management… it’s still not being managed by national authorities in the national interest. These decisions should be made by the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority, not by the New South Wales Government, and that’s why I’ve posed a range of questions to Senator Wong in correspondence I’ve sent to her late today about whether the Murray-Darling Basin Authority supports these decisions of the New South Wales Government.
SONYA FELDHOFF: … you’re concerned that Mike Rann and Kristina Keneally could sit down and have a yak about this and determined what they wanted themselves?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … it appears that Mike Rann and Kristina Keneally struck a deal at the beginning of the year, it was a good deal for the short term election prospects of Mike Rann, it dealt with those December floods, he wouldn’t have envisaged there would be any further floods, but there have been and he’s been caught out as a result of that, because the deal he struck seemed to leave it open for New South Wales to grab hold of those floodwaters and fill up the Menindee Lakes … there may be some environmental reasons to put some water into those other two Menindee Lakes, but we should have independent national authorities making those decisions and those value judgements between the Menindee Lakes and the Lower Lakes, not the New South Wales Government.
SONYA FELDHOFF: … Senator, you’ve written to Penny Wong as you’ve said … in that letter you actually say people are rightly asking whether Premier Rann sold out South Australia’s longer term interest so as to get a quick pre-election deal from the December floodwaters and diminishing South Australia’s negotiating position over the flows from these more recent floods … you think that we may be missing out on water that we could rightfully have been having at this point?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I am very worried, Sonya, that Mike Rann struck a deal with Kristina Keneally in January and the New South Wales Government subsequently released its document, its interpretation of that deal, and it clearly says there if there were additional flows, additional floods the water would be going into the other parts of Menindee Lakes. That now today has been confirmed by the New South Wales Government. They’ve announced today that it is their intention to take water from Lake Pamamaroo and start putting it into Lake Menindee already, before the waters from Queensland even reach the Menindee system, before there’s any chance that the control over the Menindee Lakes will switch from the New South Wales Government to the Murray- Darling Basin Authority … New South Wales are acting out on what they see as a deal they struck with Mike Rann in January, and South Australia looks like it may miss out on the opportunity to get these latest waters from these latest Queensland floods because of bad negotiations and a lack of foresight back at the time, and I suspect it was a deal struck to see us through the election without any belief that there might be other floods before then.
SONYA FELDHOFF: Senator Simon Birmingham, thank you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, Sonya.