LEON BYNER: … I’ve got in the studio Nick Xenophon and Simon Birmingham, your [Tony Burke’s] opposite. We’ll start with Nick. Nick, do you feel somehow confident of what you’re hearing this morning from Minister Burke?
LEON BYNER: Simon Birmingham?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leon, look, I don’t have quite so many problems with the Authority themselves because, as Nick says, they’re working to the Act, and they’re working to an Act that says they have to set what they see to be sustainable flows through the Basin. That’s reasonable, but commensurate with that, the Government should be outlining exactly how they expect those flows to be delivered. How they’re delivered is a Government policy response and that’s quite different and that’s where the Government should be focusing on food, on the future of those communities, on making sure that they’re efficient, on actually those infrastructure projects, those irrigation projects, that can ensure we minimise the impact in states like SA where there’s high levels of efficiency, and maximise our continued food production in the future while getting the water flows for the river.
LEON BYNER: Simon Birmingham?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leon, the environmental flow’s absolutely critical and that’s why we started this process. I’m pleased to hear Tony Burke put importance on infrastructure and the type of efficiency gains that could be had, but he needs to acknowledge this is going to require a 180 degree turnaround from the Labor Government of what they’ve done. The Howard Government put $10 billion on the table, 3.1 billion for water buybacks, 5.8 billion for infrastructure efficiency. Over the three years of Labor since then, we’ve seen more spent on buybacks than was budgeted, every single year, nearly half of that 3.1 gone, and…
NICK XENOPHON: Oh, how… Simon, what’s wrong with buybacks?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … Nick, let me finish… and a pittance of the money spent on infrastructure. Now, buybacks have their place, but infrastructure is how you return water to the environment, keep the food production there, keep the communities sustainable…
NICK XENOPHON: Well that’s not quite right. The Productivity Commission made it clear that in terms of efficiency, it’s much more… see, there are billions of dollars… there’s a lot of money being wasted on poor infrastructure projects…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And Nick, look at the terms of reference for the Productivity Commission inquiry, it was purely about how to most effectively return the water to the environment, not how you keep food production or communities ticking over, and they’re the other two things that should be considered in this equation.
NICK XENOPHON: We’ll agree to disagree there.
[Productivity Commission report, including the limiting terms of reference, can be found at http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/study/water-recovery/report]
LEON BYNER: … Let’s talk to [grower] Jack Papageorgiou, good morning Jack.
JACK PAPAGEORGIOU: … Tony Burke actually was in my place not long ago… spent an hour with him and I clearly told him, between us, I said ‘I’m here to stay, what am I worth? I’m worth a lot.  I’m prepared to stay and make a commitment and making a financial contribution to the economy and to the wildlife… you’re not offering anything.’ And secondly, if they’re prepared to acquisition off 30 per cent, then the balance has to be guaranteed. They can’t have it both ways, it’s about time the Government realised they need to address it on a national basis and they need a healthy river.
LEON BYNER: I’ll get our two guests to comment… Simon Birmingham, what’s going to be your position from this point?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Leon, can I firstly say Jack’s second point about some idea of certainty for irrigators in the future is a very important one. They’ve done it tough, in SA, right throughout the Basin over the last few years, and they’ve done it tough because of course they’ve had… their entitlements have been slashed during the drought. Now this plan offers nothing for them for the future, it just offers for the environment. That’s great, but we need that balance in there.
From a Coalition perspective, I’ll be going to Shepparton tomorrow, I’ll be in Renmark on Friday for their consultation sessions the Authority’s doing. I’m going to turn up to hear what they’re saying and talk to growers myself.
LEON BYNER:  I want to know what consultation means, because I’ve had problems in the way it’s meant in this state for reasons you would understand. I’m hopeful that’s not the case federally but I stand a little bit trepidacious about it.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And that’s why I’m making sure I go and see firsthand how the Authority’s undertaking this, talk firsthand to the growers, because I want to make sure their views are heard in the Parliament so we get the right balance out of this report.
LEON BYNER: Nick Xenophon and Simon Birmingham, thank you for joining us…