MICHAEL KEELAN: I was chatting about the water restrictions going out to seven hours and really, our problem here is … we’re managing here from the home gardener point of view or the householder point of view but it’s really the Murray Darling Basin, that’s where the problem is and still is. Simon Birmingham joins us now, Senator for South Australia … would you like to make a comment on that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … getting the Murray Darling right is absolutely critical and it’s something that Tony Abbott committed in his first big speech on the environment as Opposition Leader back in January this year to tackle, he laid down there a very … firm line against State Government inaction, making it clear that if we can’t manage to make the national deal, that Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong and the State signed up to, work we will, if need be and as a last resort, go down the path of having a referendum to get full national control of the Murray Darling.
MICHAEL KEELAN: That’s pretty serious isn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It is, Michael, it’s not … something we want to have to do because it would be difficult to carry, that’s the truth, to get it through the eastern states would not be easy so, it’s far better for us to make sure that we make the arrangement work but to do that we’ve got to get the State Government moving and acting on the commitment. The Labor Party has handed over billions of dollars worth of commitments on infrastructure to State Government, State Labor Governments around the country, for them to be responsible for delivering on it, they haven’t, things like Menindee Lakes that should have been addressed … years ago but at least in 2007 John Howard put money on the table to fix it and through this Labor Government it hasn’t been.
MICHAEL KEELAN: Was that 9 billion was it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yeah, it was nine billion … well there was ten billion dollars all up for Murray Darling reform …
MICHAEL KEELAN: So, how much of that hasn’t been spent, do you know, is there a figure?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … all up from that you’d have about, still, $7 to 8 billion, that certainly is unspent … so, a huge proportion of it and importantly on the infrastructure side … and it’s very important to talk about water saving infrastructure because it’s the only way we’re going to get environmental flow, while keeping farmers on the land producing food and if people care about food being grown in Australia, for Australians, by Australians, you need to actually keep some water there for irrigators but you need to make them as efficient as possible and that’s where you can get your water saving … of that $6b plus for infrastructure, just a few hundred million dollars has actually been spent.
MICHAEL KEELAN: … Just finally … as a Senator for South Australia … you go along there with Penny Wong … are you disappointed that she hasn’t done more? Do you sometimes say, “Penny, why don’t you get in there and roll your sleeves up and do a bit more for our State, as far as water”?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … I am Michael … sometimes … I’ve been amazed at the Labor Government’s approach on this because the one thing they don’t have to worry about, that we as a Liberal National Coalition do are the local interests along the way … we follow the Murray Darling Basin up the whole system, basically every local electorate is represented by a Liberal or a National Party MP, maybe that’s why there’s a disregard for … re-election in the Labor ranks.
MICHAEL KEELAN: So, it all gets back to politics?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it does to an extent but in a sense that should make it easy for them, whereas I have to be mindful of … the communities throughout the Basin and that’s why I made that pitch about food and getting that infrastructure right and I think if you put it in those food terms, people in Adelaide understand that we need to fix the environmental assets, we need more flows down here, but we don’t want to be pushing the people who grow our food off the land right up and down the system either …
MICHAEL KEELAN: It is our food bowl after all isn’t it? … it’s coming back on the agenda for the election, water, it was sort of, not there for a while, it’s now taking a bit of a focus?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It certainly is and as I said too, Tony’s made some strong commitments on the Murray before, we’ll have … a more detailed policy we’ll release during the campaign to say a bit more about it … also even in the stormwater announcement this week, the key point of difference between the Parties was that we want to have a big visionary plan for stormwater, where ultimately, we’re cleaning it up for the State, we’re putting it in day to day water supplies because, whilst it’s all very well and good to capture it and use it on the nearest park or garden that local councils can get it to, that’s not replacing what we used from the Murray … whereas if you put it in the water supply you can replace it and then you have to use less.
MICHAEL KEELAN: We have to leave it there, thanks for calling in.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure, Michael.