SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A couple of points I want to make today… firstly, Tony Burke has said that he believes this Plan isn’t necessarily the right Plan and that he reserves the right for changes. If Tony Burke has changes in mind to this Plan, he should say right now what those changes are that he will be seeking.
Secondly, from a South Australian perspective, nobody is playing more politics with this Plan than Jay Weatherill and the state Labor Government. South Australia should be the ones lining up, wanting to get an outcome from this, wanting to end the 120 years of bickering that has put the Murray in the mess it is in today and what we should be seeing from SA is a constructive approach to work through the detail and get the best possible outcome.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that … do you think this is the best place to start? Do you think South Australia should sign on to this deal as a starting point in the hope of getting more water eventually for South Australia?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think South Australia should work and fight to get the best outcome but we shouldn’t be destructive in the process. The approach we’re seeing from the State Government is utterly destructive – to already be threatening High Court challenges, when what is happening at present, the stage we are at, is the federal Water Minister is meant to come together with state Water Ministers and work to finalise this Plan. Instead, the South Australian Government has said ‘to hell with the finalisation; we’re going straight for the High Court challenge’. That’s not a responsible approach. That’s not seeking to end the 120 years of bickering. That’s seeking to prolong it, instead, so we should absolutely, as a state, be looking for a constructive approach that tries to get an outcome and let’s also understand the numbers of the situation here. It took 40 years to increase the extractions from the Murray-Darling Basin by 6000 gigalitres. This Plan proposes to wipe out effectively half of that 40 years of increase in one Plan. That actually is a significant change. Now, of course there are going to be issues and of course we should fight to get the best possible outcome but let’s not underestimate or understate the significance of the change that is being had here and, while we’re on, perhaps, South Australia’s response and the Premier’s comments, let’s also remember this is an independent authority. All six members of this independent authority were appointed by the Labor Government federally. Three of them were appointed by Jay Weatherill’s very close friend Penny Wong when she was the Water Minister. Is he really questioning all of their independence?
JOURNALIST: Do you think this is a good Plan? The Plan, as it stands at the moment – would that be the best outcome?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Plan that is presented will clearly deliver more water to South Australia. It will clearly deliver more water to the Lower Lakes. It will have more water flowing through the Murray Mouth and it has salinity targets in it for the Lower Lakes. Those are all good things. Of course many South Australians would want more, of course we should fight for the best possible outcome and I’m sure as we go through the detail we will all find things to fault in the Plan but we should be accepting something that is a good step forward at the end. We should be working, though, through the rest of the process. I’m not going to say we should accept this Plan that’s on the table today, because we should fight to get the best outcome, but we shouldn’t walk away from the negotiations either and right now Jay Weatherill appears to be walking away from the negotiating table.
JOURNALIST: Well, he’s saying he’s not giving up, though. He’s going he’s going to try and negotiate but he’s holding out the threat of legal action. Isn’t that the same approach that you would take or should he take legal action off the table?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The parties don’t like to negotiate when they’ve got a gun to their head and it seems as if Jay Weatherill has cocked the gun and pointed it at the Authority’s head.
JOURNALIST: So you think the Government should accept a Plan after the six-week period, regardless of what that is, because it’s a good start?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think the Government should go into negotiations in good faith, fight to get the best possible outcome as all of the state governments will and then, when we get to the end of that period, they should consider whether or not it is a good step forward for the Murray and, if it is a good step forward for the Murray, if it has the potential to be a whole lot better than we’ve had for the last 120 years, then of course they should accept it.
JOURNALIST: The Liberal Opposition in South Australia seems to be one of the few voices in support into this Plan in its current form. Do you think they’re out of step with the opinion of most South Australians?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think that what we’re seeing is that the Liberal Party, state and federally, is trying to take a responsible and reasonable and practical approach to this. The real question is why is the Labor Party so divided on this? Why is it that federal Labor and state Labor are on such different pages?