CHRIS KENNY: … we’ve been talking just moments ago about the River Murray as a holiday destination, as a place where Kevin Foley likes to get up and relax a bit and hoon around on a speedboat, but I want to talk about serious issues related to the River Murray at the moment and I’m joined on the line by Simon Birmingham, the Senator for South Australia, Liberal Senator for South Australia and the Shadow [Parliamentary] Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin. Thanks for joining us, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Chris; good morning to your listeners.
CHRIS KENNY: .Yeah, look, Simon, interesting story, this, out of yesterday’s state budget cuts where Treasurer Jack Snelling has reduced the annual funding for the Murray–Darling Basin Authority from about $26 million – effectively more than halved it to $12 million a year – obviously keen to trim spending given the situation in the state budget but he’s run into trouble with his own Labor Party colleague in the Federal Government, the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, who says he doesn’t think there’s a decision he’s seen in his portfolio that has shocked him more, he has no way of explaining this, so, I mean, this is the State Government and the Federal Government at loggerheads over the funding of the Authority. What is the outcome going to be of this?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s right, Chris. This really is State and Federal Labor at war at each other and the Murray-Darling Basin is the loser in this equation and we…
CHRIS KENNY: .So which one’s right – the Federal Government or the State Government?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, in this case I think Tony Burke is spot on. I am at a stage of disbelief as well at what Jack Snelling and the State Labor Government have done. Jay Weatherill has spent his entire time as Premier campaigning on a ‘save the Murray’ platform and yet now he is cutting funding under what is essentially a century-old agreement to fund the Murray–Darling Basin Authority so as to manage the system properly and by that I mean looking after the salinity, looking after the locks, the weirs, the dams in the system. Of course, by cutting this funding out at present, all you’re doing is you’ll reduce expenditure on maintenance today which will just increase costs tomorrow and that, of course, is so much of what we’re seeing the Labor Party doing at a state and federal level. All of the debt that’s being racked up will have to be paid for in the future. We’ll now see works and measures on the Murray-Darling deferred that will have to, of course, still be done but paid for, themselves, in the future as well.
CHRIS KENNY: .But Jack Snelling says that the New South Wales Government, upstream – and the Liberal Government – has cut funding to the Murray–Darling Basin Authority so why shouldn’t he cut as well? Why should he be forced to pick up the slack for a state upstream, and a Liberal state, not lifting its weight?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Chris, two ‘wrongs’ don’t make a ‘right’ in this regard and I haven’t welcomed by any means what New South Wales did a couple of months ago. I would have thought…
CHRIS KENNY: So you’re critical of that decision?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely and it should be the case that all of the states should be working with the Federal Government to continue sensible funding of the Murray-Darling. Of course if they think there are efficiencies that can be achieved by the MDBA then they should seek them and reduce funding where necessary when those efficiencies are implemented but to just randomly cut funding, and for South Australia to now, really, let New South Wales off the hook for their cut, give Victoria and Queensland an excuse to make cuts themselves, really does, of course, fly in the face of all that Jay Weatherill’s been saying for a period of time here and hidden amongst this as well is some siphoning off of funds from the Save the [River] Murray levy that all South Australian taxpayers are paying as well so it’s not just a $14 million cut in actual funding for the Murray. There’s also a $5 million siphoning off of funds from this levy that everyone pays on their water bill which will now just be sent off to the MDBA, expressly against the promise that Kevin Foley made back in 2003 when he introduced that levy.
CHRIS KENNY: Interesting situation, to have a Federal Shadow Minister – yourself – calling in to agree with your Labor Minister, Tony Burke, in his spat with the State Labor Government but you’re certainly siding with the Federal Government on this issue. Can you tell us exactly what sorts of things would be trimmed with these budget cuts to the Murray–Darling Basin Authority? Is it monitoring of the river health and that sort of thing or is it going to be something more tangible?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think it…
CHRIS KENNY: Not to downplay how important that monitoring is.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Craig Knowles, the Chair of the MDBA, hasn’t made it clear yet as to what programs will have to be cut but he’s made it clear they will be cutting programs and they’ll come in one of two shapes. They’ll either be, essentially, river health programs – and in that I’d mean things about salinity programs, salt interception schemes or things to do with fisheries maintenance and the extraction of feral species, as such, from the river and trying to get healthier fish stocks in the river – or they will be the maintenance of the critical infrastructure in the river – things like the locks and the weirs and the dams that are so important to managing the river, or indeed the barrages right down the bottom end which are already incredibly old, incredibly leaky and very inefficient in their operation – and deferring the spending on all of those sorts of infrastructure projects will just mean we have to spend more later on so that’s the real worry here from cuts to the MDBA across the board and I would really be calling on Tony Burke to urgently get all of the state water ministers back together and work a way through this to try to ensure that we have the base level of funding provided to ensure critical works aren’t just put off for another day.
CHRIS KENNY: Senator Simon Birmingham, you’d know Ron Kandelaars who’s in the studio here with me. You’d know his work with Postcards and SA Snapshots. Tell us where you like to holiday in South Australia when you’re given a bit of a break and see if you can come up with a place in this state you reckon you’ve been to that Ron hasn’t.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, that would be a very big call. Look, my folks have got a little shed on a tiny block at a place called The Pines which is just an little bit further north from Corny Point on the Yorke Peninsula and it’s got an enormous beach that’s there – great for getting a boat out and going fishing, wonderful for toddlers to go out and paddle around – and it’s a really quiet, tucked away little spot that just maybe Ron might have driven past the signs on his way to Corny Point or Warooka or elsewhere but perhaps he hasn’t called into The Pines just yet.
CHRIS KENNY: Yeah, they’re lovely beaches around that way. Have you been there, Ron?
RON KANDELAARS: Yeah, we did a little surfing story around the corner from there…
RON KANDELAARS: … but, no, I don’t want to sound like, you know, ‘oh yeah, I’ve been there’ but, yeah, it is a gorgeous part of the world and the Corny Point [Howling Dog] Tavern’s a nice little spot to call in for a meal, as well, isn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It is a great little spot, so… some wonderful beaches along the Yorke Peninsula there both for fishing and for surfing and swimming and the works for everybody.
CHRIS KENNY: Corny Point – it sounds like one of my jokes. Anyway, thanks very much for joining us…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: One of your very bad jokes, Chris.
CHRIS KENNY: They’re known as dad jokes. Senator Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining us. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And to you and all the listeners, Chris. Have a great one.
CHRIS KENNY: Very, very interesting issue there… budgetary pressures, state and federal… we’ve heard a lot about them but here’s one where you’ve got the two Labor Governments at loggerheads over the funding of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority and Simon Birmingham there from the Opposition siding with the Federal Government on the cuts to the funding that have come from Jack Snelling, Treasurer Jack Snelling, announced yesterday.