SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It beggars belief that the Weatherill Government, which has been one of the harshest critics of this Basin Plan, didn’t take every opportunity to be involved in its development. South Australians will rightly wonder why this Government thought it was too much trouble to send a couple of public servants to Canberra so that SA could have a say at every single step of the way.
JOURNALIST: What do you think the benefits would have been having someone within the Authority rather than on the outside?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, there are lots of concerns about whether this Plan understands all of the water usage aspects in South Australia and all of the concerns about how our irrigators have been efficient for so many decades, how we’ve been the best users of water for such a long period of time. Having had South Australians there for every step of the Plan’s development could have made a real difference to ensure better understanding of what went into the Plan.
JOURNALIST: Paul Caica describes the offer to send staff over there as tokenistic – he thinks that having one or two staff members within the Authority of 400 people wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think we should be grabbing hold of every opportunity. In the end, there are 90,000 South Australian public servants. Surely they could have spared a couple of them to be involved in this Plan and to grab hold of the opportunity that was there. It really does beggar belief that a government that has been so critical of this Plan and this process didn’t seize the opportunity to exercise greater influence over it.
JOURNALIST: Paul Caica says that the South Australian Government’s done everything it can with the resources that it has to advocate and critically analyse and independently get scientists who can advise it on the Plan’s development.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it doesn’t seem the South Australian Government has done everything it possibly could because they didn’t accept this opportunity to be involved in the detailed development of the Plan. It’s one thing to send submissions, it’s one thing to make phone calls; it’s another thing to have your people there on the ground day – day in, day out – influencing what goes into a document like that. This is the opportunity that was missed.
JOURNALIST: Will your Government support the Plan in its current form?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Federal Opposition will look at the final Plan when we have a final Plan on the table. We’ve got some concerns about it. We’ve made those concerns known. We want a good, fair Plan and hopefully we’ll be in a position to support a good Plan at the end of the day.
JOURNALIST: How would you like the Plan revised?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think there needs to be far more detail in the Plan about the environmental use of water – where it will be used, what difference it will make. We need to have some targets for salinity and mineral content in the Lower Lakes to make sure that environmental factors enjoy the best possible health. There’s lots of detail in there. I worry that too much of the debate around this Plan has been around headline numbers rather than about getting the best possible environmental outcomes and economic outcomes for the river community.
JOURNALIST: But, at the end of the day, all the scientific evidence points to returning 2,750 gigalitres to the environment won’t keep the Murray Mouth open all the time, so would the Federal Opposition support more water being returned to the environment?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, we support more water being returned to the environment. We started this process, which is all about returning more water to the environment. We want to see an outcome that is based on robust science and is based on good economics to deliver a healthy river and healthy river communities. Now, in the end, we want to put our faith in an independent national authority – that’s what South Australians have fought for for 120 years, to put pressure on them to act on the best science, to act on the best economic evidence but, in the end, we want in independent national authority to make these decisions, not politicians.
JOURNALIST: So if this Plan was to go to the Senate in its current form, would you support it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, in its current form, we have concerns but we understand this is a draft Plan so we’ve outlined the changes we think should be made and we’ll look at the final Plan when it’s out.