KEITH CONLON: The River Murray, we’ve had a Gillard plan for the Murray … an accepting of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Plan … then we had Tony Abbott at the Murray Mouth yesterday … major announcements. The Greens have come out and said, well nice try but look, it’s not good enough. Simon Birmingham, who is the South Australian Senator who is a spokesperson on the Murray Darling for the Coalition has come back with some more details this morning … needing to buy more water, is it real, what’s your comment?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald today splashes with a story that shows that the Prime Minister and Penny Wong, who have been caught out grossly exaggerating the claims they made in Adelaide. When Ms Gillard was here earlier this week she said that Labor has bought back one out of every 20 litres of the Murray Darling Basin’s irrigation water and returned it to the rivers, some 900 billion litres … according to The Sydney Morning Herald and they’re working off of Department of Environment and Water figures, much of this water doesn’t actually exist. We would have to have floods of biblical proportion for the 900 billion litre claim of Julia Gillard …
KEITH CONLON: Well one of the irrigators’ representatives has said that this is low security water, you can buy at a better price but it only comes in the very good years. You’ve got to do that as well … and surely that’s what the Coalition will do, you will buy what you can?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, you’ve got to buy strategically and what our concern is that the Government, because they have had a slow process that hasn’t kept up with the deadline on developing the Basin Plan, hasn’t been able to buy strategically. We will review that and make sure that buybacks are in a strategic way that gets value for money for taxpayers, a fair price for willing sellers and most importantly get water in … the river … there’s no point buying it if it’s never going to end up in the river system …
KEITH CONLON: So are you going to cost that, given that high security water, that is, real water, is going to cost a lot more?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We’ll be buying to meet the needs of a good Basin Plan … that may still require some low and general security water but we won’t be misleading people like Julia Gillard did who was very happy to get her front page of the ‘River Queen’ in Adelaide this week to claim that she had, and the words were, ‘returned 900 billion litres to the rivers’ … that’s just not true. A large percentage of that will never go into the rivers … in an average year at least 30 per cent of it will never, ever go into the rivers.
KEITH CONLON: But in effect isn’t that what Tony Abbott said when he stood at the Hindmarsh Island, he will go with the Murray Darling Basin Plan, you will have a buyback, it would include the same mix, wouldn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … the key point of difference here … is that yes, in the long term we will buy back permanent entitlements and there will be a mix of high security, general security amongst those … but we won’t mislead in it. But in the short term, and it’s a vast point of difference, we’re committing to buy 150 billion litres in the next 12 months of real actual water – you touch it you will get wet, if you touch Julia Gillard’s you’re not going to get wet at all because it doesn’t exist – real, 150 billion litres for the Lower Lakes, which we will spill 100 billion litres of it into the Coorong. For the first time in years the Coorong will get to see some freshwater …
KEITH CONLON: One of the issues that Tony Abbott raised was that there will be a referendum of the states to actually drive this home and get a true national … agreement about it. But given that Victoria is holding out, even to the stage of a High Court challenge, doesn’t that amount to a cop out, as it’s been called, because you won’t get a referendum through?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … just as I am accusing Julia Gillard of exaggerating, I don’t want to exaggerate Tony’s position on the referendum. He has said that as a last resort we’ll go down the path of having a referendum but we hope not to get to that last resort. We will set out, in office, some clear targets and timelines for what we expect the states to deliver as part of the Murray Darling reform process, what we expect them to deliver in terms of complying with a new national Basin Plan, what we expect them to deliver in terms of delivering on infrastructure spending and water saving efficiencies throughout the different states … if they don’t cooperate and don’t deliver we’ll look to use every power that’s at the Commonwealth’s disposal and as a last resort a referendum that’ll make them do so.
KEITH CONLON: … thanks very much.