LEON BYNER: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator, has called in. Good morning, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Leon and listeners. Leon, I am very concerned about what the Minister is saying here. This $228 million was promised nearly 15 months ago by the federal Labor Government. Now it hasn’t been delivered. Not only has it not been delivered, but they have not managed to nail down the terms of it. Only last week Paul Caica [South Australia’s Water and River Murray Minister] told the House of Assembly that this desalination plant was not about reducing Adelaide’s draw on the River Murray. Now if you’re not going to reduce the draw on the River Murray, you’re not going, of course, to be reducing or saving any water for the environment or for irrigators. So what type of deal has the federal Labor Party done with the state Labor Party? And how on earth is this a sensible approach to allocating taxpayers’ money, to promise it upfront, to allow the State Government to spend it, but not to actually know whether or not you’re going to save any water from the Murray?
LEON BYNER: Penny Wong?
PENNY WONG: Well can I just say it is extraordinary that Simon comes on this program talking about water when his party has no water policy, when he has a Shadow Minister who calls purchase for the environment such as the Lower Lakes thieving. That is what Barnaby Joyce said. He thinks purchasing water is thieving.
LEON BYNER: Can we answer the question?
PENNY WONG: No, I will answer the question, but if Simon is going to come into the public arena and talk about water, he ought to have the courage to be upfront with South Australians about the real plans that Barnaby Joyce has for water here in South Australia, which is that he opposes purchase of water, including for the Lower Lakes. He describes it as theft. Now in terms of the desalination plant, I cannot be any clearer. We have guaranteed that money. We will resolve the issue with the South Australian Government…
LEON BYNER: How will you do that? If Paul Caica is saying…
PENNY WONG: Because Paul and I have had a number of discussions. We have both said publicly we are confident we can resolve it. I recognise that we went into caretaker before all of the detail was resolved. But we are very clear. It is in the budget. The money is allocated in the federal budget. The money will be delivered for South Australia. Because unlike Tony Abbott, we are serious about investing in South Australia to diversify our water sources, just as we are serious about returning water to the River Murray and the Lower Lakes.
LEON BYNER: So Simon Birmingham what arrangement would you want, that you think would be satisfactory for South Australia, from what Penny has just said?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I tell you what, Leon. In government, we would not be making promises of funding without getting a decent deal of water recovery first. This is all arse about to be quite blunt from the Labor Government. They promised the money 15 months ago. Penny Wong can talk about having just gone into caretaker mode a couple of weeks ago. She has had 15 months to get this right. And Paul Caica is still saying that it is not about reducing draw on the Murray. This is $228 million that should have been allocated in a way to actually reduce the need to use River Murray water.
LEON BYNER: So let me get this clear. If it was money that you were allocating as a federal government, you wouldn’t give it to South Australia until you could get from SA Water that they would be taking less from the Murray. Is that what you’re telling us?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Every taxpayer dollar used on water projects is precious and should be about conserving River Murray water and getting a better deal for the environment and for irrigators. That is the approach we’d take. We are absolutely committed to Murray Darling Basin reform. The Coalition started it under the Howard Government. If elected, we will finish it no matter what lies Penny Wong wants to say on your program.