KIM LANDERS: … staying with federal politics now and the Environment Minister says restoring the Murray-Darling Basin to good health does not necessarily depend on a set volume of water being returned to the river system.  Tony Burke will outline what he believes are the minimum standards to save the river during a key speech in Sydney tonight.  For more on this, we’re joined by the Opposition’s Murray-Darling Basin spokesman, Simon Birmingham, who’s in our Adelaide newsroom.
Senator, do you think the Government’s laying the foundations to walk away from the commitment previously given by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to return up to 4 trillion litres of water to the system?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, good afternoon, Kim, and, look, I would certainly hope not.  This Government has had three years of delay and deferral when it has come to Murray-Darling reform. They’ve made numerous mistakes. The imminent release of a new draft Basin Plan provides a chance for them to get it right.  Now, what the volumes of water are need to be determined by evidence and, unlike the previous work they did, they need to make sure this time it’s done on the basis of robust evidence of an economic, environmental and social nature and that there is a plan for how that water will be delivered that reassures communities it won’t be delivered by ripping the guts out of their economic infrastructure and their social infrastructure, so there’s a long way to go.
KIM LANDERS: Well, from what we know from this speech that’s due to be given by the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, in Sydney tonight, there does seem to be a switch from the volume of water to be returned to the system to a mixture of other environmental outcomes.  Do you think that that’s a bit of an environmental ‘no no’?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kim, look, you have to recognise that volumes are one part of the environmental mix but they are an intrinsic part.  You don’t get, of course, all the environmental outcomes you need without having good environmental flows as well, so they can’t walk away from flows – flows are integral to it – but they need to do a far better job as well, and I’m pleased Tony Burke is recognising this, of identifying what some of the other environmental benefits from the Basin Plan will be and sharing those with all of  the communities throughout the Basin so everyone can see some benefit from having a Murray-Darling Basin Plan, not just those of us at the end of the system.
KIM LANDERS: Well, to another very different issue now. Much of the western world has been gripped by this appearance of Rupert and James Murdoch before a British Parliamentary committee overnight. Do you think media operatives here deserve a similar grilling?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kim, I think we’ve seen the Prime Minister come out today and say there are hard questions to be answered by News Limited.  Well, the challenge to the Prime Minister is what are those hard questions?  You can’t just issue a general slur, as Julia Gillard has done, without having some evidence to back it up.  Obviously what’s happened…
KIM LANDERS: So you’re sticking up for the Murdoch press? You don’t think there are any hard questions to be answered?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think obviously what has happened in the UK deserves all of the investigations that are occurring and obviously that is being led by competing media interests, by the police, by the Parliament – all the authorities that need to investigate it there but, if we’re going to suggest there are investigations needed here, there needs to be some evidence that there’s a case to answer and at present I’m not seeing anybody suggesting any of the same activities have occurred in Australia.  If they have, there are laws that they can be pursued under and, indeed, people should report them to police if there is any evidence of that, but to issue a…
KIM LANDERS: Well why do you think the Prime Minister is saying such a thing? Why do you think she is says there are hard questions to be asked here?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I seem to notice that the Prime Minister and a number of Government Ministers don’t like the fact that they themselves are being asked hard questions by parts of the media.  They don’t like the media commentary coming from certain newspapers at present.  Well, that’s just, of course, living in a country with a free press.  That’s something that we should all support.  I don’t like every story that appears in every newspaper I read but I don’t go around suggesting there needs to be new inquiries or new measures to control the media somehow.  We’re politicians. We have to win the case on our arguments, not by looking for particular ways to attack media sources or outlets.
KIM LANDERS: Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for speaking with us this afternoon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure Kim, thank you.