(Joe O’Brien: Opposition Murray Darling Basin spokesman Simon Birmingham says hundreds of billions of litres of water flowing from the Darling River into the Menindee Lakes in New South Wales will be wasted because of delays in processing long overdue infrastructure works. For more, Mr Birmingham joins us now from Adelaide. Simon Birmingham, good morning.) Good morning, Joe, good morning to your viewers. (O’Brien: We’ve seen these vast areas of floodwaters in New South Wales. Is it the case that not one drop of that water will make its way into South Australia?) Well Joe, we wait to see exactly where all of these floodwaters will end and ultimately, and this highlights one of the great flaws in the so called national agreement that Kevin Rudd claims to have negotiated… ultimately the power over where these waters end rests with New South Wales, so the New South Wales Government has all of the say, the South Australian Premier has been reduced to an impotent status of having to write to the Prime Minister and write to New South Wales Premier and ask, beg, for a few drops of water to continue to flow through. The Prime Minister himself is relatively impotent in this because his national agreement that he released with such fanfare back in March of 2008 simply isn’t a national agreement… hasn’t taken effect in any meaningful way as yet and so we still have the same old system of argy bargy between the states when it comes to water management. (O’Brien: That may be the case now but it will be a different story once the Murray Darling Basin Plan takes effect from next year?) Well only partly, Joe, and once again we see flaws in the system where indeed the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is working to develop a national basin plan but that national Basin Plan won’t really start to take effect until 2013 and under the agreement it won’t take full effect until 2019. Now the Murray Darling Basin is in crisis today in 2010. It’s been in crisis for years now and it just cannot afford to wait until 2019 to have a fully operational national Basin Plan so Kevin Rudd really needs to get the State Premiers back around the negotiating table and to come up with a plan that will actually deliver, for the entire Murray Darling Basin, national management in the national interest, far, far quicker than his current agreement tries to do. (O’Brien: So as far as you’re concerned there’s an urgent need for some of this floodwater to get through to South Australia now. What are you calling on the New South Wales Government to do because it would seem, as you pointed out earlier, that they’re the ones in control of the water at this stage… what’s your call on Kristina Keneally, right now?) Well I would hope the New South Wales Government will look at this as a national issue. Now the first point to make is I recognise that… as indeed does everybody… that all parts of the Basin have been stressed, that of course those farmers in New South Wales… this is fantastic for them, welcome relief for them, and of course they need the opportunity to be able to irrigate their properties, in many instances for the first time in many years… so that’s something that needs to be understood, but there will still be hundreds of billions of litres of water expected to make it through to Menindee Lakes. It’s up to the New South Wales Government as to whether some of that water can progress beyond the Menindee Lakes, through into Victoria, into South Australia, and provide benefit for irrigators, for farming communities… down below Lock 1 in South Australia we have an ongoing problem… of river bank collapses. The water level is so low below that last lock in the River Murray that the river banks are literally falling out from underneath properties. People are literally losing their properties in a physical sense, so there’s a desperate need for water downstream as well and I would hope the New South Wales Government will heed those concerns in the short term, but the buck really does have to go back to Kevin Rudd who promised us national management, who promised an end to the buck passing… he needs to get those State Premiers back around the table and come up with a far more effective national deal. (O’Brien: So what portion of that water that ends up in the Menindee Lakes should be released for people downstream?) Well let’s just wait and see a little bit as to how much makes it to Menindee Lakes… there is a need to see how much is flowing through the system, but I would hope that a fair portion will, of course, be reserved for the people of Broken Hill who draw their water from Menindee Lakes, but equally a fair portion will flow on through to assist those downstream communities. The Menindee Lakes as you said in the introduction, Joe, also highlight another failure. Back in 2007, Kevin Rudd in his water policy, at the very top of his list of infrastructure policies, was reengineering the Menindee Lakes. There was $400 million set aside to do so, the money was budgeted for, and yet not one sod of soil has been turned on that engineering project since 2007, and as a consequence, whatever flows into Menindee Lakes, more of it will be lost to evaporation, to leakage, to wastage than would otherwise have been the case… and that’s a tragedy for us still to be losing water when we know there are opportunities through these key infrastructure projects to actually save water into the future, so the other key message to Kevin Rudd is not just to get around the negotiating table again, but also to actually get on with these engineering projects or these infrastructure projects that can save some water. (O’Brien: Just finally, Simon Birmingham, do you have any faith that once the Murray Darling Basin Plan is in place there will be sufficient planning there to provide water for everyone?) Joe, I’m very concerned still that even when we get to 2019, even when we get that far out into the future, and the Plan is in place, that the deal struck is so flawed that it provides so many different opportunities for the states to still control water allocations, to influence what’s in the Plan, to make life difficult, that we could well still see a continuation of the type of mismanagement of the system that since Federation has gotten to this problem. What we really need is clear, unqualified national management and that’s what I hope Kevin Rudd can get if he goes back to the negotiating table, gets those State Premiers and gets a true national management plan, not the type of half cut bastardised one that he has at present. (O’Brien: Okay, Simon Birmingham in Adelaide, thanks very much for talking to us this morning.) A pleasure, Joe, any time.