DAVID BEVAN: Well, by now, everything was meant to be hunky-dory. We were well into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and everybody was getting along and the river was looking better. That’s by now because this agreement was signed off… remember the big meeting we had here in Adelaide? I think it was at the Convention Centre. It was meant to be historic. Well, far from an agreement being reached, we’ve had one plan torn up and now another… the State Government here in South Australia is flagging that it’s still keeping its rights to challenge this in the High Court. On the weekend, Michael Owen reported for The Australian that as the State Government had been preparing for a potential High Court challenge it’s come across an old document. It’s more than 100 years old. It was written by a former Chief Justice of the High Court and perhaps this will strengthen South Australia’s case.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: I notice Simon Birmingham, Liberal MP, Liberal in the Abbott Coalition, has just tweeted the Rudd-Gillard Governments have received more than a thousand pages of legal advice on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan – time to release it and end the uncertainty. Simon Birmingham, good morning to you, Federal Opposition Murray-Darling Basin spokesperson.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Matthew and David.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: It sounds like they’re going to get a few more pages.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it does sound like they might. In the end, if there are problems with the Water Act, then we need to know about them and get them fixed because the uncertainty is something that is just crippling Basin communities. Whichever state they’re in and whatever their cares about the environment or irrigation rights or otherwise, they need to know that is going to come to an end at some stage; not face another decade of uncertainty about their future.
DAVID BEVAN: Okay, but the Coalition position on this is a tricky one, isn’t it, because you’ve got people up in Queensland like Barnaby Joyce, who’s not very happy with the South Australian position, and you’re trying to hold together a very broad church over the issue of the river. Is your position, basically, Simon Birmingham, this deal should be supported because it’s better than nothing?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s probably oversimplifying it, David, but we’ve never pretended this reform was easy. It’s a very difficult one. It’s one the Howard Government started in 2007 and… but, yes, I do want to see an outcome to it. I think years of High Court battles would be the worst possible outcome and could see us right back at the start where we’re left with the states bickering and no clear outcome. We should back a national, independent authority to deliver a Plan, but that Plan’s got to be based on robust science and robust economic evidence and that’s the debate we’re having at present. Let’s see what the final Plan looks like.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham, before you go, you’re in the same moderate faction as Michael Pengilly, Chris Pyne and… what’s your thinking on Michael Pengilly’s pre-selection… whether he’s going to be, quote, ‘put down’, close quote, as a politician?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Michael plays his politics hard and that’s his right, Matthew, but, in the end, pre-selections – and I’ve got one of my own happening at present – are a matter for the Party membership…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … and I’ll leave it very much for them.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: No, I’m just asking you… he’s a colleague…
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: … and I think you’ve helped him in the past…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: He is a colleague. He’s a friend. As I say, he plays his politics hard and…
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well, does he deserve to be preselected? If he’s a mate…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Michael has worked hard, I think, for the people of Finniss but, in the end, his pre-selection, like mine, is up to each of the Party members.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: So you’re cutting him adrift as well?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Not at all, not at all. I think Michael’s a good, hard working MP, guys.
DAVID BEVAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know… yeah, and I’m sure he’s a lovely guy but the question is: are you going to support him in a pre-selection battle? Now, you might say it’s up to the individual people down in Finniss but we all know that MPs ring around and garner support for their friends. Is he such a friend of yours that you’ll be doing that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, I supported, in terms of MPs who recently faced challenges I supported Patrick Secker and Andrew Southcott. I didn’t ring any of their delegates, though, but I expect that I would offer the same moral support to Michael or any other colleague in that sense.
DAVID BEVAN: So you’ll be backing the sitting Member?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m not going to be getting involved in his pre-selection. I respect the fact that our Party members get to have the say. That’s the big difference between us and the Labor Party – we actually let our membership decide; not people like me.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham, thank you, Senator.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s a pleasure, guys.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Federal Opposition Murray-Darling Basin spokesman. I won’t say spokesperson. It annoys at least one listener – Craig.