JOURNALIST: What’s new today? We’ve had all this coverage of it yesterday. You’ve come all the way down here. What are you still doing this for?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this is the process of actually talking to stakeholders, talking to people who have a real interest in this Basin Plan and how it’s actually going to work and so, importantly today, we’ve heard from people who have some practical suggestions about how you can better monitor the environmental outcomes, about what type of detail is necessary in the Basin Plan. Yesterday I was very critical, on first glance, at an absolute lack of detail about either where the environmental water will be used or how it’s going to be recovered from irrigators and today I’m hearing suggestions from people who practically have ideas of how you can better include some detail into this planning process and make the Plan far, far better than it currently is.
JOURNALIST: So, we’ve just heard from locals, some of them saying that we need to have a united front when it comes to the management of this. It doesn’t sound like you really feel that way – you don’t feel that there should be one stance that we’re taking in South Australia. It seems like you’re sort of distancing yourself from what the Premier is intending to do. Is that what you’re saying?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think every community needs to have the opportunity to have their say. Now, if South Australian communities can align themselves into a single position, that’s good news and that can only be a good thing for SA in its representation. What I am very, very critical of is the Premier’s approach which seems to have been very much a ‘wanting to have his cake and eat it too’ approach, that we should demand from SA the maximum environmental flows with absolutely zero contribution from South Australian irrigators. That is just an unrealistic proposition. There has to be give and take in this scenario. Premier Weatherill’s threats to take this Plan off to the High Court really are irresponsible and reckless – just as reckless as the Greens’ threats are to disallow it way before we get to the finalisation of it, so we need to see a spirit of cooperation to make sure we actually take all states, all communities, all regions, on a journey to get a good Plan at the end of it, rather than people trying to tear the whole show down.
JOURNALIST: It sounds like, more or less, that you are currently on the side of the report?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m very critical of the report for its lack of detail. I’m very critical that the report doesn’t provide certainty either for irrigators or for the environment in terms of what it’s actually going to deliver, but I do want to see an outcome. This is a process the Coalition started in 2007. It’s an important national reform. Sadly, more than four years since we started it, the Labor Party has failed to come up with a Plan with the necessary detail. They’ve failed to spend the $10 billion John Howard budgeted for wisely, so they’ve failed to really provide the type of forward momentum for this important reform that is necessary. I just hope over the next 20 weeks of consultation, 12 months of finalisation of this Plan, we can get it back on track and get a satisfactory outcome at the end.
JOURNALIST: In its current state, would you vote to pass it in Parliament?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I don’t want to be drawn into hypotheticals. We have a draft Plan at present. It’s a draft for good reason, because it needs a whole lot more work. We need to see a final Plan that is much, much better than this and then we can consider what the options are, but at the end of this process there will be a choice on the table and the choice will be ‘is the final Plan better than no Plan at all?’ Now, it sounds like the Greens and Senator Xenophon and Premier Weatherill are lining up to say that they’d rather have no Plan at all. Now, I think that’s irresponsible and reckless. It’s irresponsible and reckless because it won’t deliver a better environmental management outcome and it won’t deliver certainty for irrigators. I’d rather work to get a good Plan than simply tear up the whole thing and throw the baby out with the bathwater in the process.