KEITH CONLON: The Prime Minister’s in town, she’ll be in the northern suburbs today, so will the Premier Jay Weatherill. In the ‘Tiser today you’ll see the Premier is very impassioned about the Murray, of course he is, he wants to talk to the Prime Minister about it. Senator Simon Birmingham … he definitely wants Julia Gillard to get involved and to say something about this … what do you want Julia Gillard to do?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I want Julia Gillard to re-engage in this debate. We heard during the election when she was down here in South Australia on several occasions she committed to implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, she committed to delivering the water that was needed … she committed to fixing the Menindee Lakes, now that’s not happening. She committed to delivering on a stormwater project in eastern Adelaide, that’s not happening now … the last of the water commitments is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. I haven’t heard the Prime Minister really speak of it since it was released last year. I want to hear what she thinks and I want to see whether she can get it back on track because it really worries me that the fighting between the states, the arguments that Jay Weatherill in part is leading, is risking tearing this whole approach to national reform apart.
KEITH CONLON: … there’s been a quick poll by the paper to say … who is in favour, who isn’t … naturally every MP and Senator of all persuasions says ‘yes, we’ve got to do something for the Murray’ but … it sounds like there’s a bit of a split amongst the Liberal camp in Adelaide when Mitch Williams says it’s better to get a Mazda than a Rolls-Royce, it sounds like he’s ready to say … take the current Plan that’s on the table?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:… what we need to understand is what we need is to fight hard to get the best possible Plan we can but then we need to make sure that we don’t fight so hard once that last and final Plan is released that we get nothing at all … that’s what worries me about the approach that in particular the Premier’s taking with his threats of High Court action and the like that that’s looking beyond the final Plan … we’ve got a draft Plan on the table at present, that draft Plan is being worked through in regard to feedback that’s been received, submissions that South Australia and other states are making and towards the end of this year we’ll have a final Plan … the draft Plan’s not perfect and I’m fighting to get a better Plan but I don’t want to see us throw the baby out with the bathwater … at the end of it.
KEITH CONLON: … Jamie Briggs, a Lower House MP in the Federal Parliament, he seems to be softer than that – he says if South Australia opposes this Plan then we’ll lose any chance of reform in the future … that sounds, again, like within the Liberal camp in South Australia some people are prepared to say ‘let’s just get this one off the ground’?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, no … I speak to Jamie on this issue on a regular basis. Jamie will be making his own submission. He wants to see a better deal for the Lower Lakes, in particular, his electorate, and making sure that in particular there’s better targets in the Plan to deliver in terms of the Lower Lakes, better targets about the type of salinity measuring that happens down there and we need to know … the detail and that is so lacking in this Plan … we are certainly at one in wanting to fight to get the best possible Plan for SA, there is no doubt about that amongst all of the SA Liberal MPs. What we do understand, though, is that it’s been a 120-year fight to get national management of the Murray. We finally have an independent expert national body in place trying to develop a national Plan. That’s not an easy task and frankly nobody is probably going to be happy with the outcome at the end of it. The eastern states are still in uproar over this Plan because of the water it takes off of them and South Australia doesn’t like it because we don’t think it sends enough here. We need to keep fighting to get the best outcome … but let’s make sure that, in the end, we get an outcome that we don’t end up with another 120 years of arguments which is what High Court challenges and the like risk.
KEITH CONLON: Why would a High Court challenge risk that, risk the independent Authority?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Because the New South Wales Government … has made it quite clear that they’re potentially willing to look at all avenues to walk away from this … if they see a belligerent parochial approach from South Australia they’re going to think it’s a bit of a return to, or they’ll take it as a return to, the Federation debates when the Constitution was drafted when they said ‘we’re not going to have a bar of national management of the Murray, we’ll go our own way, thanks very much’ … that’s the problem that’s put us in this mess for the last 120 years that we didn’t get it right when the nation’s Constitution was drafted that’s allowed each state to go it alone for 120 years. The Howard Government in its last year finally said ‘enough’s enough, let’s get national management’. The Rudd Government to its credit managed to get all the states to sign a deal to do so. That’s the deal we’re working under. Jay Weatherill was the Environment Minister in the Rann Government, signed onto that deal … let’s not pretend that he wasn’t part of that decision making process … that’s the formula we’re working to, that agreed what the MDBA [Murray-Darling Basin Authority] would do, how it would go about its work and the type of Plan we’d end up with. It needs to be a robust Plan, it needs to be based on science. We’ll fight to get the best Plan we can while it’s still in this draft stage but let’s not risk it all and potentially end up back where we started from.
JOHN KENNEALLY: … you say in your open letter to the Prime Minister in the paper today addressing the future of the Murray Darling could be just the distraction that she needs … from the civil war that’s raging within the party at the moment. Is that a sort of a cheeky swipe or are you serious about that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … that probably is a bit of a cheeky swipe … but I suspect it wouldn’t hurt with the Caucus votes from the South Australian Labor Federal MPs … the Prime Minister and Jay Weatherill or at least the Federal and State Labor Governments appear to be on opposite sides of the page on this … the Premier has sought to have digs at the Liberal Party over this Plan, let’s understand that the Plan developed under the watch of the Federal Labor Government and the final Plan, if this Government manages to hold on through the course of this year, will be taken to the Parliament by the Federal Labor Water Minister … let’s actually get some engagement between what the Premier says is needed to get a good Plan and what the Prime Minister is doing in her Government in developing the Plan and make sure that they can actually sit down at the table and thus far I’ve seen no engagement … from Julia Gillard on this topic pretty much since the last election.
KEITH CONLON: … thanks.