LEON BYNER: … now comes the news that, as predicted, the desal plant is far too big and far too expensive. In fact, it’s going to be put on standby as it completes a two-year warranty running period and then it’s going to be shut down because we’ve got more than enough water coming down the Murray. Now, South Australians will still have to pay for a desalination plant that won’t make a drop of water and, even when it’s mothballed, 30 million a year for no water.
LEON BYNER: Now, Simon Birmingham, you’re the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary on the Murray. What do you say?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, good morning, Leon. Look, there are two points I want to make here and the first is that we should remember that the Federal Labor Government is just as culpable in this debacle as the State Government in that they were the ones who came along and said ‘$228 million extra for you to double the size of this plant’ and so we wouldn’t have had such an enormous plant at huge cost, unnecessary size and unnecessary cost were it not for that offer…
LEON BYNER: Well, the Government are now saying that they’re using ABS [Australian Bureau of Statistics] figures to show what the population growth was going to be. I’m going to go to Mr Hugo – Professor [Graeme] Hugo, one of our great demographers – and just check that out because, you know what, I’m not buying what they’re selling. I’m not buying it.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think it’s very right to be doubtful about that, Leon, and, of course, we’ve got this situation where, if it’s being mothballed, clearly it’s not needed for the population we currently have, or anywhere close to it, but the second point I’d make is that, as we get close to finalising this Murray-Darling Basin Plan and we’re trying to get a better deal for South Australia from all of the other eastern states, what sort of signal does mothballing this plant send when we had said all along we wanted this to reduce our reliance on the Murray? The other states [unclear] say ‘what on earth is SA up to?’
LEON BYNER: Well, Simon, haven’t Victoria mothballed their desal plant as well at Wonthaggi?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Leon, they certainly have taken steps in that direction but they’re, of course, not equally drawing water from the Murray as a replacement. They’ve also failed to or stopped using, under the Coalition Government there, that ‘North-South’ Pipeline that the previous Victorian Labor Government built, with some assistance from the Federal Labor Government, so…
LEON BYNER: Well, Simon, thank you for calling in.