SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think there’s a couple of things out of today – firstly, the question of: where was the South Australian Government? The initial programme for this hearing had the South Australian Government listed as the first item up – sure, ‘to be confirmed’ but they were expected to be here. They were clearly invited to be here and they turned it down. Now, two weeks ago Jay Weatherill was happy to stand alongside Julia Gillard and boast to all what a great result this was for the Murray-Darling. Today we’ve heard from numerous organisations – and environmental organisations – that they don’t believe what’s before us, in terms of legislation*, delivers on what was promised by Jay Weatherill and Julia Gillard, so he should be fronting up, the South Australian Government should be fronting up, and explaining why it is that the reality isn’t matching Jay Weatherill’s rhetoric.
JOURNALIST: The Premier says that they weren’t given much notice … [unclear] … written submission and in any event … [unclear] … specifically calling on the Liberal members of the inquiry to do so. What’s your response to that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: If the legislation doesn’t match the rhetoric that we were promised, then it’s right to question it and to see whether it actually stacks up in terms of delivering for South Australia and delivering for the Murray. Now, I want to see Basin Plan in place, I want to see the best possible outcome for South Australia and I want to see a good outcome for river communities in every single state, so that’s why we’re doing the hard yards of examining the actual detail, not just relying on a glib promise and a press release from the Prime Minister. Had Jay Weatherill even seen this legislation when he signed up to it two weeks ago? It doesn’t look like it.
JOURNALIST: Is that being [unclear], apathetic? How do you describe their absence?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the absence of the South Australian Government today is just baffling. You would have thought the opportunity to try to sell to a federal Senate inquiry, involving Senators from New South Wales and Victoria, South Australia’s position would have been an opportunity too good to refuse.
JOURNALIST: [unclear] hearing today… where are we at with this whole legislation? Is this [unclear] or are you concerned?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, look, I call on Tony Burke and the Federal Government to actually release the final Basin Plan, to release all the strategies and documents that underpin it, so that we can consider everything in totality. At present we have a strange situation where we’re being asked to vote on or consider legislation that provides for an extra 450 gigalitres before we even have the final Plan that gives us the first 2,750 gigalitres. Surely that’s putting the cart before the horse.
JOURNALIST: [unclear] it appears that Hillary Clinton’s going to popping by for a couple of days next week to see a friend. That friend wouldn’t be a former colleague of yours, by any chance?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s the first I’ve heard – it’s news to me that she’s coming to town but I imagine there’s every chance.
JOURNALIST: Just back to [unclear] Basin Plan [unclear]?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, in terms of the two bits of legislation that are before us today, the sustainable adjustment mechanism has been amended, by and large, to the satisfaction of the Coalition. We’ll hear the remainder of the evidence on that but of course we want to make sure that it actually delivers what’s promised there. The actual fund itself has not been voted on in either House. Tony Burke has indicated he doesn’t expect it to be voted on until the final Plan is released. I welcome that because it’s important that we consider it in totality to ensure that it delivers the best outcome.
*The Senate inquiry is considering the provisions of two bills – the Water Amendment (Long Term Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012 and the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012