ROD TILEY: … happy to take your calls on whatever we’re talking about this afternoon or maybe something that’s on your mind. You may have a view on the health – or the lack of it – of the Swan and Canning river systems and, as Senator Simon Birmingham joins us now, a moment ago I think I might have given Senator Simon a promotion when I referred to him as the Shadow Environment Minister when Senator Simon Birmingham is, in fact, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, so almost the Shadow Minister. How are you, Simon?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: G’day, Rod, I’m very well, thanks, and good afternoon to you and your listeners.
ROD TILEY: I’m sorry about that promotion that you haven’t quite earned the stripes on yet.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s okay – I’m sure Greg Hunt will be very understanding.
ROD TILEY: I think he sort of drove off the road, maybe, when he got a media adviser telling him that this is what we said on 6PR. Tell me about what your plan is for the Swan and the Canning or, at least, tell us what the plan is.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Rod, look, I’ve been around Perth a bit today, most recently announcing that a Coalition Government will commit $1 million over two years towards the Swan-Canning River Recovery Programme which will really centre efforts around the Canning River, which, of course, is a key tributary into the Swan and this is a project very much being driven by Steve Irons, the Liberal Member for Swan, in the local area, who’s encouraged us and ensured we’ve made this commitment towards a mix of initiatives around wildlife recovery, weed management, revegetation and river improvement to really try to make sure that we can improve the water quality and the biodiversity aspects of the Canning River and, in doing so, of course, the Swan as well.
ROD TILEY: So, what is Steve telling you and the other Members of the party, Simon, about the current state of health for both of the river systems?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Steve had me along to the South East Regional Centre for Urban Landcare this afternoon and what we saw there was there’s a lot of really good work being done already where the clearing of weeds from the river bank, the process of getting native vegetation back in place, is managing to reduce erosion, improve the water quality, see the return of birds and wildlife and biodiversity, but that there’s, of course, much, much more that needs to be done to improve the quality of these rivers and their banks and surrounds in these urban areas and that’s what this funding will be committed for. It will be delivered in conjunction with local groups, like the Centre for Urban Landcare, and we’ll make sure it’s integrated with our Green Army program and I was elsewhere in WA today with Ken Wyatt and Don Randall announcing some Coalition support for various Green Army initiatives as well.
ROD TILEY: So, what is the Green Army? What are they actually involved in?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Green Army is a Coalition policy for a standing army, essentially, of 15,000 young people across Australia. It’s a $300 million commitment over the forward estimates which really is about providing six months’ worth of work on practical environmental projects that deliver real outcomes but also provide training and skills and opportunities for the young people aged between 16 to 24, in doing so, so we’re very enthusiastic that we will be able to support hundreds of these projects around Australia, give some practical work experience to the young people involved but deliver, for local communities and the environment, real outcomes in terms of better river qualities, better biodiversity, better parks and environs for everybody.
ROD TILEY: Yeah, look, I row on the Canning River and sometimes out on the Swan where the wind isn’t too bad through the Melville Water basin there and, having come from Brisbane several years ago, I look at the Canning and think ‘well, this is a pretty healthy river compared to the old brown sludge of the Brisbane River’ but that’s not the case – is that what you’re telling us?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There’s a lot more that can be done, Rod, and what we see is that, where works have been centred and focused and they’ve kept up with keeping the invasive species and weeds out of the banks, you’ve got a really much better and healthier river bank and river quality of water as well and that that’s having great impact on the wildlife and the birdlife and otherwise locally and we’d hope that, if you can manage to do that along a greater stretch of the river… that, of course, you’ll see even greater benefits in terms of having a true biodiversity corridor that really will deliver benefits towards the local environment.
ROD TILEY: So, Simon, a million dollars over two years for the Swan and the Canning systems… elsewhere in Australia, is the Coalition also looking at other river systems, like the Murray-Darling for instance?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, we’re looking at other urban rivers for similar types of projects but we’re also… and it’s my other portfolio hat… as the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling, and a South Australian Senator, I’m rather passionate… we’re very committed to seeing fully implemented the Basin Plan which was… work started, when Malcolm Turnbull was the Water minister, under the Howard Government and unfortunately there have been too many delays, under Labor, towards its implementation. We now have a Plan and we want to make sure we get on and see that fully implemented so that the Murray-Darling is sustainable both as a food bowl for Australia but also as a very important environmental asset.
ROD TILEY: Good on you, Senator. Thanks for your time.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, Rod. Thanks so much.
ROD TILEY: Bye bye. Senator Simon Birmingham, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, announcing the $1 million program over two years – wildlife recovery, weed management and the river improvement program, to be developed under the guidance of a local steering group. Now, the funding will go towards weed eradication… they’ve allocated $500,000 to that, so that’s the bulk of the funding… a practical community action plan will get $400,000 and river awareness through local education will get $100,000.