KEITH CONLON: Some good news – if the Coalition gets in then the Torrens might look a lot cleaner … in about … an hour and a half … a gathering of the Coalition people at the Torrens … You might be able to give us a tip …
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … we’ll be announcing a $1m commitment over two years to initiatives to help improve the water quality along the River Torrens … directed towards nutrient reduction activities to try to stem the amount of nutrients that flow into the river, bank stabilisation activities and will be undertaken, really, by working, of course, very much with local councils and local organisations who have the skills and expertise to undertake these types of work.
KEITH CONLON: Is there a list, so to speak? Is there a whole series of capital works that will make that happen that you can get off the shelf?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Keith, we want to make sure that this is done according to the expert advice, so we will, of course, be working through with councils, if elected, to identify which projects will get the biggest bang for our buck initially. This is part of a national strategy of trying to deliver cleaner waters and cleaner rivers and, of course, the Liberal Party has a proud history there, having started the Murray-Darling Basin reform process and developing the Basin Plan that we’re very committed to seeing implemented for the Murray-Darling but locally, at the urban level, we know the Torrens is such an important part of lifestyle in Adelaide, it should be a tourism icon for us and, of course, with the finalisation of the new stadium we expect to see many more people traipsing across that footbridge that’s being built at present over the Torrens and it will be great if we can have better water qualities which will benefit from the Hills right through to the sea.
JANE REILLY: Senator, we know that it’s an important focal part of our city area and it seems that every year, just when we have the Tour Down Under and we have the bikes going past, the Lake gets shut down once again because of outbreaks of blue-green algae. Is that going to be a key focus of what you do in cleaning it up to make sure that we can keep it open during those summer months?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I would hope that we can make a real difference to the frequency or level of outbreaks of blue-green algae, Jane. The nutrient inflows really are an important factor there and, of course, that means tackling some of the issues upstream in terms of runoff from farms and properties; it means, of course, ensuring that we minimise the amount of garden waste and vegetation that flows into the River Torrens as well, so there’s a range of very practical things that can be done and we’d be hoping that these efforts will be supported, as well, by a number of Green Army projects which the Coalition is supporting, where we get teams of young people working on practical environmental clean-up initiatives as well.
KEITH CONLON: Senator Simon Birmingham. As he said, he’s been involved in the Murray-Darling Basin for a long time. Now, at lunchtime today, at the National Press Club, the Treasurer and Shadow Treasurer line up and the question will arise, as usual… it’s not a big amount of million but… where does the money come from?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Keith, we will be releasing fully costed programmes for this campaign and this Opposition’s, our Opposition’s, approach to costings is more rigorous than anything that an opposition has done before. We have had all of our policies costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office; we have a team of three eminent Australians – a former head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, a former Auditor-General from Queensland and one of the co-founders of Access Economics – independently verifying all of our costings. Now, this is a far more rigorous approach than we’ve ever seen from the Labor Party; it’s a far more rigorous approach than any opposition previously; we will stand very much by the costings we produce during this campaign and have complete confidence that they will outstrip Labor’s approach where we keep seeing thought bubble after thought bubble – whether it’s shifting Naval bases or developing very fast trains or economic zones in northern Australia – that have absolutely no costings behind them whatsoever…
KEITH CONLON: So, it’s maybe been this group that have advised you to change your tune? Suddenly it’s not so important to be in deficit [surplus] so quickly? You’ve put it out over a much longer period. Is this a bit of reality setting in?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Tony Abbott’s made it very clear all along that he wants to be a leader who under-promises and over-delivers and so we know that bringing the budget back to surplus is important but we’re not going to make promises that we can’t deliver on or don’t have the confidence that we can deliver on, so once we get into government, see the books, have the opportunity to try to get the Budget back on track, then what we’ve committed is that by the end of the first term we will have given a very clear trajectory as to exactly how and when we’ll get the Budget back under control but when you’ve got more than $300 billion of debt mounting up, as has occurred under this Government, we know it won’t be an easy task but, like previous Liberal Governments, we’ll get in there and clean it up if given the opportunity.
JANE REILLY: Senator, we’ve been hearing through the campaign that the paid parental leave scheme is a key policy for the Coalition but also what’s really important to families out there, to parents, to working mums, is childcare. Is there a chance that you may soften and take that on and help the families of Australia?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Jane, we’ve had a bit to say about childcare before and Tony Abbott’s committed that we’ll get the Productivity Commission to look at how that whole mix of childcare rebates and programmes and subsidies work so that we can try to get the most efficient allocation of childcare resources. We also…
JANE REILLY: The Greens launched a policy yesterday. What did you think of that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, the Greens are promising to throw an awful lot of money at things, as the Greens tend to do in these areas. What we want to do, importantly, as well, though, is get the cost of childcare down in Australia. We have an awful lot of ‘red tape’ and bureaucracy that surrounds the childcare sector. They’ve really been weighed down by this over the years and we think it’s important, if we can reduce some of those costs for childcare operators then it can be cheaper for parents as well but we’re going to have a good, hard look to see how the childcare sector can work a lot more efficiently and government support for it can be delivered a lot more efficiently. I often find myself doing the pick-up or drop-off at childcare a couple of days a week, as well, so I’m acutely aware personally of the impact and importance it is to many families.
JANE REILLY: Senator, just before you go, the press release we have say it’s a joint media alert with The Hon Christopher Pyne. Is there another announcement that we can expect from the Coalition today?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No, look, we’re going to focus on the Torrens today. That’s the initiative there. Christopher, of course, is the senior shadow minister for the Liberal Party here in South Australia and I have an Environment responsibility, so we’re doing this one together, with our candidates for Adelaide and Hindmarsh, Carmen Garcia and Matt Williams, through whose electorates the Torrens runs and to whom it’s so very important.
KEITH CONLON: Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time this morning.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks so much, Keith and Jane.
KEITH CONLON: Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, and he’s previewing the announcement at the Torrens at a quarter to ten this morning.