MICHAEL SMYTH: Now to the latest on the Murray and the news today that the Coalition has decided to back the Federal Government’s plan to better manage the river system, ensuring an extra 2750 gigalitres will be flowing downstream by 2019; more beyond that. Senator Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin and the Environment and joins us now. Senator, welcome.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Michael. Good afternoon to your listeners.
MICHAEL SMYTH: It sounds like you’ve had a fairly robust debate to get to this point. What was it like in the Coalition party room meeting to get to this decision?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Michael, it’s important to remember this is a reform the Howard Government started in 2007 and so we’ve always been committed to seeing a national Basin Plan implemented. We’ve been really concerned at the delays and false starts and problems that have beset it along the way since Labor took office but we are delighted to be at the position now to say that we will support the passage of this Plan. We think it’s had a number of improvements made along the way. We still have some concerns about how the Government may go about implementing it but we’ll work through and make sure we offer some good policies at the next election as to how we can best get it implemented while preserving the food security that’s so important to so much of Australia.
MICHAEL SMYTH: What would you change about the scheme should you win the next election?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, we promised at the outset, way back in 2007, that there would be a real priority on delivering infrastructure projects as the way to get water back into the environment, so you have win-win projects that make farmers more efficient, allow them to grow food with less water and ensure that you can then get water back to the environment. Sadly, the Government has spent far too much on buybacks and not enough on delivering these sorts of projects. We want to reverse that balance and make sure that we get the water into the environment but do so in a way where the communities of the Riverland in South Australia or those upstream as well that produce so much food and produce that we rely upon and export to the rest of the world are able to keep doing so.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Well, what do you make of the Greens’ last minute move to try to disallow this Plan, saying it’s environmentally compromised, that it should have gone back to the drawing board?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think it’s very disappointing. It really is important that we now get to the stage of having outcomes and we believe that, though this may not be a perfect Plan, it’s far, far better to get an outcome right now and to be able to work on small improvements over a period of time and to make sure that all of the promises and rhetoric of the Government about protecting communities, getting the water in a way that preserves the social fabric of river communities and the economy of our farmers and getting the environmental outcomes right down to the bottom of the system, to the Coorong and the Lower Lakes, are actually honoured and we’ll be holding the Government to account in terms of those commitments.
MICHAEL SMYTH: A couple of your Coalition colleagues in Sharman Stone and Michael McCormack have simply said they couldn’t support this Plan. I guess their electorates are particularly sensitive to some of the issues. More broadly speaking, is there much that you can do to get state governments onside, across the border, who have been particularly vehement in their opposition to extra flows, over recent years?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think we’ve seen a lot of progress from some of the state governments. I don’t expect that the 120 years of bickering between the states over the Murray-Darling’s going to come to an end because we’ve finally achieved a national plan but I’m hopeful that we will see state governments, once it’s locked down, once we have a decent Water Recovery Strategy in place as to how we’re going to get that water back for the environment, not just how much is needed… I hope that, once all of that’s done, the states will set about getting on with the job of making this work for the future, rather than spending too much time fighting amongst themselves, as all states have been guilty of.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Senator, thanks for your time on Drive. We appreciate it.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure, Michael.
MICHAEL SMYTH: Senator Simon Birmingham, who’s the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin and the Environment.