DAVID BONE: Well, as I mentioned, South Australian Coalition MPs have threatened to cross the floor and vote with the Government to ensure that the Prime Minister’s changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan make it through the Parliament. Simon Birmingham is a Liberal Senator for South Australia. Simon Birmingham, would they really cross the floor to vote with the Government?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, good afternoon, David, and good afternoon to your listeners. We’re at a funny stage at present in this debate in that the…
DAVID BONE: It’s a funny stage when we’re actually discussing Government Members crossing the floor to vote with the… Opposition Members crossing the floor to vote with the Government.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, no, we’re in a funny stage where all we’ve actually seen from Julia Gillard and the Government is a headline figure and a press release. We actually still have not seen the final Basin Plan and so what I’d really call on the Government to do is to, rather than issue hollow about ‘people should line up to support the Plan or oppose the Plan’ or anything else, how about the Government releases the Plan so everyone can make fully informed decisions about…
DAVID BONE: Jay Weatherill’s out there today in Christopher Pyne’s electorate threatening to campaign in the seat of every federal MP who stands in the way of this change to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Does that put fear into the heart of South Australian Liberal Party Members?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I don’t think it puts any fear into the heart of anybody and, as Christopher Pyne rightly said, if Jay Weatherill had any courage whatsoever he’d go to Christopher Pyne’s office when Christopher Pyne was in Adelaide, not when Jay Weatherill would have known very well that Federal Parliament’s sitting and Christopher Pyne wasn’t even there and is in Canberra so that shows what a cheap stunt it was, that Jay goes out to Christopher Pyne’s electorate office knowing full well that Christopher Pyne won’t be there.
DAVID BONE: Simon Birmingham, how much truth was there in that story which we saw today in the press about Liberal Party Members getting together… South Australian Liberal Party Members getting together and saying ‘look, we’d have to cross the floor and vote with the Government to make sure that this bill [Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012] gets through’?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, David, I don’t think it should come as any surprise to your listeners and, in fact, your listeners should be very happy to know that South Australian Federal Liberal Party Members talk to each other on a regular basis about what’s going to be in the best interests of South Australia and that’s why, ‘to a T’, each of us have for, in many cases many, many years, fought to get a better outcome for the Murray-Darling Basin. People should not forget that it was the Howard Government in 2007 who said ‘enough is enough of state bickering, we’re going to have a national Water Act that will require a Basin Plan and we’ll put $10 billion on the table to make it happen’ and so that’s what they did and, of course, sadly, it’s taken more than five years of delays and missteps and mishaps along the way to get to this point where, when it was initially envisaged we would have a functioning Basin Plan by 2014, we now, of course, have seen the end date kicked out not just to 2019 but to 2024, so we’ve seen many changes along the way. Some of them I understand. Some of them I still have questions about. That’s why we really want to see what the final Plan is so that we can make some informed decisions on what’s in the best interests of South Australia, the River Murray and all of the communities that rely on the Murray.
DAVID BONE: But, in terms of the announcement which the Prime Minister and the Premier made on the weekend, when that comes before the Federal Parliament would you vote for it or would you vote against it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that is a press release and a headline figure and I want to see the detail of the actual final Basin Plan. It’s irresponsible for an opposition to say ‘we’re going to vote for or against something that we’ve never actually seen so in principle…
DAVID BONE: You don’t think you’re putting yourself at some electoral risk by taking that line?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … in principle, David…. let me finish… in principle, we cautiously welcomed the announcement. We of course want to see an outcome that returns more water down the Murray. That’s why we started this process in the first place. It’s not that the Opposition has any qualms at all about recovering water for the environment. It’s that we have our doubts about, frankly, this Government’s capacity to come up with a Plan that will do so in an effective and efficient way. That’s why we want to see the detail of the Plan.
DAVID BONE: What is the number that you would think would be the appropriate level… amount of water to come down the Murray-Darling Basin Plan [sic] and into South Australia, then?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that also is why, when we set up the Water Act, we set up an independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority that actually has experts sitting around the table to make that sort of judgement. They’ll be the ones who write the final Basin Plan, present it to the Minister to be tabled in the Parliament. That’s what we want to see there so we actually see that independent advice rather than being verballed in a political stunt by the Prime Minister or Jay Weatherill or anybody else.
DAVID BONE: So you’d accept the number as it comes out of the Basin Plan head office?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: If it hasn’t been tinkered with by the Minister along the way or whatever but we want to see this Basin Plan. This is not too much to ask for. The Government has been promising it for months and months and months. In fact, people might remember that way back before the 2010 election this Basin Plan was due to be released in draft form and then got delayed and delayed and delayed so here we are nearly at the end of 2012, more than two years later, and we’re still asking to see the final version so this Government can’t attack us for failing to support something we haven’t seen when we’ve been asking for them to finish it, and to release it and let us make an informed decision on it, for a long, long period of time.
DAVID BONE: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia, thanks so much for being our guest on Late Afternoons.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, David.