IAN HENSCHKE: We’re talking about what now for the [Murray] River and joining us now, Simon Birmingham, Coalition … Murray-Darling Basin spokesman and a Liberal Senator
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Ian, and good morning to your listeners. Look, it’s great to hear a calm and rational discussion that’s been taking place this morning on the implementation of a national Plan for the Murray-Darling Basin and can I welcome Craig Knowles’s visit. It’s good to see that he’s come and listened to people, talked to real people and communities and, in doing that, throughout the Murray-Darling Basin. It’s something that sadly the Water Minister, Tony Burke, didn’t do when the controversial Guide was released last year and he faced a lot of criticism for that and there’s a real need to restore confidence and goodwill throughout Basin communities in this reform agenda.
IAN HENSCHKE: So even though this is a man who was 15 years in the Labor Government and you’re a Liberal Senator, you’re saying he’s the man for the job?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, I’ve had some qualms about the fact that he’s a former Labor Minister, Ian, and the fact that there’s a potential for a ‘Labor mates’ appointment here and he needs to work to earn the confidence of people in Victoria and South Australia and downstream as a former New South Wales Minister but he appears to be working to do that and I want to see Craig Knowles succeed in the job because I want to see a good, balanced, fair Plan delivered and I’d urge him to make sure that he delivers on the independence and expertise and credibility that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority so desperately needs. It’s taken a whack with this Guide plan that’s been released. We see even just today on page 14 of The Advertiser the details of the CSIRO submission which is highly, highly critical of some of the methodology used and some of the points that David Paton [Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Adelaide] has just made tie in with what the CSIRO’s talking about there. There are smarter ways to deliver environmental flows and smarter ways that it can hopefully minimise the economic impact and therefore deliver a greater level of support for a Basin Plan in those upstream communities.
IAN HENSCHKE: It sounds very interesting, doesn’t it, what David Paton’s putting forward? The idea that you have a pulse just like you have a change of seasons, you actually have a pulse with the river, so you have a flow and then you may not have some flow and then a flow and then a big flow, so in other words it should be a living river, as they talk about it.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely. I mean, everybody up and down the river system understands that it is a system of droughts and floods and we shouldn’t be trying to ensure that there is always water in it because that will indeed harm the ecology in many parts. Now, we’ve permanently changed it and it’s changed forever because of the locks and weirs and we need those changes. We want irrigation and agriculture to function on the River but we need to get that balance right. I think it’s… one of the key points David Paton made that I would highlight is he said that we’re only talking about a Plan at present, not the delivery of the Plan, and that really is where I want to urge the Government to go to. You’ve mentioned, Ian, the $10 billion the Howard Government allocated. Well, just $1 to $2 billion of that has been spent on buybacks…
IAN HENSCHKE: So we’ve got $8 billion left there to spend?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s right. Virtually none of the infrastructure money has been spent. That is how you will deliver the Plan and you can really ease community concerns by actually getting on with that delivery side of the equation, by introducing water saving infrastructure that can provide ‘win win’ outcomes, so when the Government next hands down a Plan for the Murray-Darling Basin it shouldn’t just be about a headline figure or about the size of the cuts. It needs to make sure it delivers on how it’s going to spend the remainder of that $10 billion, how it plans to implement the Plan and get the water back in the system, not just scare people with how much water might be taken off of them.
IAN HENSCHKE: Thanks for your time, Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator.