LEON BYNER: Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham has visited us in the studio. Simon, tell us what you want the people of South Australia to know.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Leon, listeners, it’s great to be here and obviously Tony Abbott has highlighted a lot of the key issues around the carbon tax but today we’ve seen one of the state’s leading union leaders come out and make it clear that jobs and industry will be on the line under this carbon tax and I’m calling on all union leaders across Australia to have the courage that Wayne Hanson has had and to recognise this carbon tax will impact jobs, will impact on Australian industry and they should all come out and oppose it and show the same level of courage that he has demonstrated.
LEON BYNER: If Tony Abbott keeps to his promise, let’s say he was to get government at the next election, and we had a carbon tax. How hard is it going to be to unravel it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Leon, these things are always difficult depending on how far down the track you’ve gone. The Government’s carbon tax… we don’t know the price, we don’t know exactly how it is going to ramp up. Something that most people don’t realise is that the Government loves to talk about it as a ‘flat tax’. It’s not a flat tax at all. It goes up every single year by more than inflation. We just don’t know by how much. These are all of the details that we have to get out of the Government.
LEON BYNER: What about all the money we pledged away last year to a climate fund for the UN to administer to countries who are on the most corrupt list in the world, and that’s not our list, that’s a World Bank list.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: When you wonder why Australia’s budget’s in so much trouble at present, these are some good examples. When you see the Government committing money to causes without even having a funding base for it…
LEON BYNER: What would you guys do if you were in government? Would you… you see, if this has been signed up it might not be possible for you to un-sign us from this.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leon, we support sensible foreign aid but foreign aid is actually aid that improves people’s living standards, gives them a helping hand up and allows these countries to actually become more economically sustainable. So we would target foreign aid where it’s going to make a real difference to people’s lives.
LEON BYNER: Can I ask you a question about agriculture, and I want to know where the Coalition stands on this, we have decided to corporatise water and allow anyone to buy it that can afford it. Now, this includes investors from the Cayman Islands, and others, who are buying millions and millions of dollars worth of water rights and entitlements. Sitting on them with purely one objective to wait for it to go up and then flog it and make money. Whilst we’ve got farmers out there who can barely afford to buy water because they’ve just endured this dreadful drought. What would your side do if you got into office?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Leon, I have a very clear principle on water and that is that it should be used either for environmental flows, to provide for critical human needs, for cities, or to provide for agriculture so we can grow food in Australia, for Australians and for the export market. You’ve raised this issue with me before and in fact I think we spoke about it along with the Water Minister, Tony Burke, last week.
LEON BYNER: What is your party’s, what is the Coalition’s view on this corporatising the water?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: If we were elected and I had the opportunity to become the Parliamentary Secretary in the Water space, I would be demanding instance information on where water licences are held to actually get the clear evidence of the issues that you talk about and if there is a genuine problem then we need to look to transform our trading rules…
LEON BYNER: I can tell you where that evidence is and I can give it to you right now, right now, so the next question is having seen it what are you going to do?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Leon, I think as a principle, water should not be held offshore as a trading commodity. Trading water for environmental purposes, for agricultural purposes, in Australia makes perfect sense and ensures it goes to the best value use but Australia gets no benefit if it’s simply a paper document sitting offshore somewhere so we need to make sure…
LEON BYNER: Is that the Party’s position or your position?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Leon, that is clearly my position. I will be taking the issue up with Barnaby Joyce, our Shadow Minister for Water, with my colleagues, in making sure that we have a sensible policy at the next election. We want to make sure water trading works but it has to work in Australia’s interest in the long term.
LEON BYNER: You know the great anomaly of this is that it was your side that gave us that silly policy in the first place and obviously it doesn’t work. It’s frozen farmers out of the ability to use water for agricultural purposes and you know as well as I do… I mean, you’ve operated a business… we want to enhance the business of agriculture, not contract it. We shouldn’t be passive vendors, selling off our assets and then waiting for somebody else to sell us food if they have a surplus from providing food to their own people.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the biggest challenge in the water market in the last three years is that the Government has been the biggest buyer out there and they’ve been the ones really freezing the farmers out of being able to purchase water when in fact the Government should have been spending its money on water saving infrastructure and on making our irrigation areas more efficient. That’s been the biggest challenge, but this is a genuine issue I know you’re passionate about it and I know many people out there are passionate about it so I want to look at the evidence that you’ve got, look at the issue and make sure we have a water market where farmers can trade water between each other to make sure they can grow the highest value crop for Australia but not one where water is simply traded offshore as a paper commodity that jeopardises Australia’s food production capacity.
LEON BYNER: Alright Simon Birmingham, thank you for joining us this morning. Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham on FIVEaa