(Spence Denny: It’s fair to say that the relationship between South Australia and New South Wales is strained at the moment … it’s all to do with water … with the significant flood in New South Wales falling into the Murray Darling Basin area and making its way south but just how much of it will get to South Australia has now become a very strong political issue. Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin, he’s a South Australian Liberal Senator … let’s start by talking about that relationship between South Australia and New South Wales, and water has always been a big sticking point hasn’t it?) Well for a hundred plus years it’s been a very big sticking point. Former New South Wales Premier and early Prime Minister of Australia George Reid was the one who won those arguments at the Constitutional Conventions back in the 1890s to ensure that the Commonwealth back then failed to get power over the Murray Darling Basin, which South Australia so passionately wanted and New South Wales won the argument then and here we are … 120 years later re-waging the same argument so sadly. (Denny: … the general impression was that the situation had improved but it’s not until this rain has fallen that people are starting to realise that there is still some work to do to try and get some of that water into our part of the nation.) Well indeed, these rainfalls, these floods in northern New South Wales, which are of course so very, very welcome for the system and in particular for those communities up there … we do need to understand that many of those communities have been doing it extremely tough as well … but they really have shown what a failure the so-called national water agreement actually has been. That it’s taking too long to come into effect, that it has too many holes in it when it does eventually come into effect, that all the power continues to rest with New South Wales in regards to this water for the time  being, and also that we’ve got a real failure to address and progress the key infrastructure activities such as re-engineering of Menindee Lakes that could have ensured at least that this water that does flow into Menindee Lakes in New South Wales won’t be overly wasted through leakage and evaporation and other forms of wastage that have been identified as areas where it could be saved,  where Kevin Rudd in 2007 said he would progress infrastructure works to save that water, and sadly we haven’t seen one sod of soil turned on those works since then. (Denny: We have asked the Premier to join us and to do so whilst you’re with us but he’s not available to do so … we might just take a quick call …) (Caller Gavin: … one thing that’s always puzzled me, when we have a natural disaster like a bushfire all the states really pull in and help each other out. We have a natural disaster like a drought and we’re all fighting and bickering, I just can’t understand it.) … you raise a very valid point, let’s see, we can hold some hope at present that the New South Wales Government might do the right thing, that’s not the history of these debates sadly but at present the New South Wales Premier hasn’t clearly responded as to what they will do, they’re saying they’ll wait and see how much water drains first through the system, but it really does show how impotent Mike Rann has been left that all he can do at present is to write a letter. (Denny: Have we reacted strongly enough … I’ve got a copy of the letter … he’s obviously … pleading with the Prime Minister to try and take some action, to try and convince New South Wales to let some of that water into South Australia because there is obviously a dire need in the Lower Lakes to try and get some of that water down. Is a letter a strong enough move … Mitch Williams described it yesterday as a fairly pathetic response.) Well it is a very weak response really … for the Premier to simply say, well I’ll break my summer holidays to pen a letter to the Prime Minister and that will do, that’s not going far enough. He should be on the phone, he should be urging the Prime Minister to reconvene a meeting of the Chief Ministers from the Murray Darling Basin, to actually renegotiate the national agreement so that it is a truly national agreement that ensures the basin is managed today in the national interest, not some time in the never never, not 2013, not 2019, but today that it starts to be managed in the national interest for the health of the entire Murray Darling Basin system, not so that individual states can continue to play sectional interests. (Denny: Why would we have any confidence that an agreement can be reached now when it still hasn’t been … since the Constitutional debate?) … it’s a great disappointment that here we have Labor Premiers in every state and territory related to the Murray Darling Basin, a Labor Prime Minister, a Labor Prime Minister who said he was going to end the blame game, he said he would reach this agreement and in the end … these floodwaters, they have shown that … the agreement that was struck back in March of 2008 down here at the Adelaide Convention Centre where Kevin Rudd and Mike Rann all hailed it as an historic moment, an historic agreement, really is a flawed agreement … they need to go back to the negotiating table and Kevin Rudd needs to use every power at his disposal to negotiate a true national agreement on this … he does have  an awful lot of powers. The Commonwealth can get things done when they want to, we have seen a great expanse of Commonwealth power over the last few decades, stretching from the Franklin Dam case through other instances. There are those constitutional experts who say that indeed if the Commonwealth tested its powers using the Ramsar Conventions and other things, that they actually could implement a national agreement by stealth if need be … we’d all rather not see that have to be the case but in the end the River Murray, the Darling are crying out for action and action now. (Denny: … the point that Mitch Williams made earlier in the week was that irrigators in New South Wales are drawing from the Darling now and they’re replenishing their supplies … that’ll be a significant … way in which the quantity of water flowing down will actually be lost … it’s impossible to legislate against individuals taking water isn’t it?) … you can’t of course in a sense legislate against individuals taking water, as long as they’re taking it legally … one of the key points that Mitch has made is that far too many of these waterways are unregulated, far too many of the take offs of water are not effectively metered and monitored, and again this is an area where we’re not seeing the money on infrastructure and upgrade to irrigation efficiency spent as quickly as should be done. When John Howard in early 2007 announced the national water takeover there were a few parts to it, one was … getting national management, another was a buy back of water rights, but there are another two parts, both relating to infrastructure, one was to upgrade on farm infrastructure, metering and monitoring of water flows into and on and off properties and the other was off farm infrastructure upgrades, things like Menindee Lakes, things like the transfer systems that entire regions use. All of those projects are languishing, barely a pittance is being spent on any of them and that’s where hundreds of billions of litres of water can be saved to provide additional flows and ensure that our farmers can continue to do more with less, because we need to be able to continue to provide food throughout the basin, but at the same time provide some … critical environmental flows for those key environmental assets. (Denny: … Mike Young made the point that … another consideration is that … the land in New South Wales is enormous in parts and so the earth by itself is going to soak up a lot of this water anyway and a lot of things will be naturally replenished … the Basin has been dry for a long time, so it still remains to be seen just how much flows down … we hope to speak with the Premier shortly … about his reaction to the situation at the moment … if any more rain comes, well, what happens then … just an unknown quantity at the moment … Simon Birmingham, thank you …)