MATTHEW ABRAHAM: … Simon Birmingham … is in transit at the moment but we recorded this interview earlier this morning … and we’re picking up on a story in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning.
DAVID BEVAN: What this article is saying is that almost one-third of the 900 billion litres of water which the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Penny Wong promised … doesn’t exist.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Let’s check Simon Birmingham’s view of that … The Sydney Morning Herald reports that almost a third of the water promised by Julia Gillard in her water policy, of the 900 billion litres, that 270 billion litres is effectively virtual water, phantom water, air space in the dam. Does this surprise anyone?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It doesn’t surprise me … but it goes to show just how misleading and how full of exaggeration Julia Gillard was when she came to Adelaide earlier this week. She was very happy to be on the front page of The Advertiser with the big headline ‘River Queen’ and she was happy to make the statement and the words were, ‘some 900 billion litres returned to the rivers’, they were her words in a joint statement between herself and Penny Wong, and yet the reality is that more than a third of those 900 billion litres will not exist on average in any year. So it is a gross exaggeration in terms of the way it was presented, the way she announced it, and it just goes to show that this Government is really attempting to spin its way through this issue rather than actually delivering on it
DAVID BEVAN: … can you explain to our listeners why you say this is not 900 billion litres of real water?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Because they have bought water licences, water entitlements throughout the Basin, but in each year there is only a certain amount that is allocated against those licences and the Government’s own Department has calculated on average what would be available in any year. And just under 70 per cent of what they have purchased will only ever be available. So to claim 900 billion litres, when it’s really likely to be closer to 600 billion litres, is a gross exaggeration on the part of Julia Gillard. We support water buybacks, we budgeted for them back in 2007, it was money that we didn’t have to borrow … that John Howard budgeted. I’m pleased that they’ve undertaken them, but they shouldn’t be misleading about it and we’re committing that we will review the process of buybacks to make sure that we actually get them done in a strategic way that delivers for the nationwide Basin cap that’s so necessary, that gives sellers a fair price, taxpayers a good deal, and most importantly actually gets the water into the rivers
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Noticed in The Sydney Morning Herald report, the Chairman of Riverina Citrus, Frank Battistel, says that the only way really to get real water is to buy so-called high security water, and he says high security is very expensive but you actually get real water. That blows out the cost. On the one hand you’re criticising Julia Gillard for so-called a blank chequebook approach, because we don’t know what the Murray Darling Basin draft Plan is going to recommend. She says they’re going to buy whatever water is needed. And yet on the other hand you’re criticising her for buying cheap water.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … what we want to make sure is that when we have a Plan, that it’s a good Plan, and unfortunately as we all know the Murray Darling Basin Plan has been kept under wraps for this campaign, but we will make sure the Plan is a good one, that delivers healthy rivers as well as sustainable communities along the rivers, and we will make sure we then implement buybacks, infrastructure projects and the like in a manner that delivers against that Plan. That may well still involve a mix of high security and low security water, but the commitment I give you is that we will not exaggerate in the way that Julia Gillard and Penny Wong have where they pretend that every drop of it is real water. It’s not real water and she has just exaggerated and tried to mislead the South Australian public on an issue that is far too important for this type of grossly misleading behaviour.
DAVID BEVAN: How much of the water that Tony Abbott promised yesterday was real water? He promised an immediate 150 billion litres injection into the Coorong. Is that 150 billion litres of real water or is it some of it paper water?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It is absolutely real water. This is a real contrast between the two parties’ policies at this election. We’re committed to getting the long-term right but we also want to see some immediate short-term action. That short-term action is that we will buy 150 billion litres of water on what’s known as the temporary water market, so you go out and you buy it once, you just buy the annual allocation. So that is the real allocation of water. You touch it, you get wet. Julia Gillard’s water doesn’t actually exist. You won’t get wet at all. So it will be 150 billion litres of flows into Lake Alexandrina that we believe will provide enough water in the Lakes system down there to allow some freshwater to flow into the Coorong for the first time in many years.
DAVID BEVAN: And that will flow when? In what year?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: This is a 2010/11 commitment, so this financial year
DAVID BEVAN: So that’ll be fine for the Coorong next financial year but it’s a one-off, it’s a short-term solution and David Paton from Adelaide University, a well known and well respected water expert, says it’s naïve to claim that this plan will provide for the immediate recovery of the Coorong. Even the Conservation Council is saying it might be good in the short term but it’s not going to do much in the long term. So there’s a mixture of criticism there. Some people are saying you’re naïve, and at best other people are saying it’s a short-term fix.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … we are committing to the long-term as well. This is not an either/or policy. We are doing both, so we are committed to having the long-term plan and to implementing it and we hope that that will of course provided, John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull proclaimed and wanted in 2007, for a healthy river system that is healthy from the mouth up. That’s the long-term plan …
DAVID BEVAN: What is your long-term plan? We know what Julia Gillard’s long-term plan is and she says whatever it takes, I will put the money into what is recommended by the Authority, whatever it takes. That’s her long-term plan. What’s your long-term plan?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And in that sense our plan is that we will support the Authority implementing a good Basin Plan that provides sustainable and healthy rivers and that means we will deliver the buybacks that are necessary, the infrastructure projects that are necessary, all of those things to implement that Plan. We are 100 per cent committed to seeing through and finishing what we started as a Liberal Party in 2007. No ifs, no buts, no doubts, we will deliver on it. We’re not signing up to the Plan sight unseen like Julia Gillard is, we’d like to see it first and I think that’s a perfectly responsible and reasonable thing to do, that we’re signing up to it, but we are also pledging some immediate short-term action. It won’t fix the Coorong, it won’t restore it to perfect condition, but it will help in the short term whilst we implement the long-term Plan as well.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And yet you’ve got a person who you want to be the Water Minister, Barnaby Joyce, who confuses the Coorong with Kooyong. Kooyonga, I think the tennis club, isn’t it? [Matthew Abraham here is confusing Adelaide’s Kooyonga Golf Club with Melbourne’s Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club]
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think he stumbled over a word once in an interview yesterday, and in fairness Barnaby was with Tony Abbott and I down on Hindmarsh Island by the Murray Mouth yesterday morning. I have taken him to the Coorong, I’ve taken him to Meningie, I’ve taken him up through the Riverland. I’ve done the same with Tony Abbott. I haven’t seen Julia Gillard anywhere near the River Murray or the Lower Lakes for, well, ever.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And Julia Gillard confused Medindie … with Menindee, and does it show both leaders do not have a handle on it? Tony Abbott’s hardly been known for trudging around. He looked like a fish out of water down at the Lakes yesterday.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: In fairness, it was a blowing a gale and he was dressed for a day of varying commitments.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: How long we he down there yesterday?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yesterday Tony was down there for a couple of hours.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And how long has he spent in total as Leader down there?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I haven’t run a stopwatch but I…
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: What do you reckon, three hours, four hours?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: But I’ve had Tony up around Murray Bridge region, on a houseboat talking to operators looking at the riverbank slumpages there. I’ve had him at the site of the proposed Wellington weir. I’m had him trudging around the sides of Lake Alexandrina. He’s been up there during his time as Leader. And remember that his first keynote speech as Leader, back in January this year, he talked about fixing the River Murray as a priority. He highlighted it in the biggest speech of the election campaign – his campaign launch speech on Sunday – and he’s got a real detailed policy, whereas all Labor has released is two press releases.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham, thank you very much.