ANNETTE MARNER:  You’re with ABC Local Radio all around South Australia and the west of New South Wales. Well, we heard earlier today from the office of the Liberal Senator for South Australia Simon Birmingham that a motion had been put to the Senate really calling on the Government to reduce the National Healthcare payment… I’m shortening for listeners, but essentially to reduce the payment to the State Government within the Health budget… reduce that payment and instead directly fund the three community hospitals – Moonta, Ardrossan and Keith… fund them directly so, in a way, going around the fact that the State Government in the last budget cut funding to those three community hospitals, but what does it really mean and I suppose this is a follow up to the motion put in the Lower House by our two Liberal Members of the Opposition in South Australian regional areas – Patrick Secker and the Federal Member for the seat of Grey, Rowan Ramsey. Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia, Opposition Parliamentary Secretary Murray-Darling Basin, joins us now. Senator, welcome to Late Afternoons.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Annette. It’s a pleasure to be there with you and your listeners.
ANNETTE MARNER:  What does it mean for the three hospitals?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, we hope that this adds to the pressure on Government – the Federal Government – to act and we hope that ideally they put the pressure on the State Labor Government, on the Rann Government, to reverse its decision because the best thing that could happen is for hospital funding to retain… to continue to be provided by the State, but to be provided at the levels that is necessary for the communities of Keith, Moonta and Ardrossan, but if the State remains so recalcitrant, if Mike Rann continues to thumb his nose at those communities, then we are calling on the Federal Government to act and as a last resort to direct the funding straight to those communities hospitals and you do have a situation, as you said in your introductory remarks, where identical motions have now been passed by both Houses of the Federal Parliament. Rowan Ramsey and Patrick Secker put one through the House of Reps. We’ve now had an identical motion put through the Senate, moved by all [South Australian] Liberal Senators and supported by Senator Xenophon and the Greens and all of the crossbenchers across both of the finely balanced Houses of Federal Parliament, so there is a clear intention from the Federal Parliament to the Rudd… Freudian slip… to the Gillard Government that they should act.
ANNETTE MARNER: This is a motion, though. It has no real power, does it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Government certainly has to respond to these motions and we will look forward to that response. I’ve spoken today since it passed, naturally enough, to Rowan and to Patrick about how we might be able to handle it from here and they’re certainly seeking some further advice from the Clerks of the House, and we’ll do likewise from the Senate, as to whether having this identical will of both chambers put gives some greater currency to this motion because we do want to make sure that it has as much effect as we possibly can. In the end, the government of the day controls the purse strings. The Labor Government in SA decided to make this cut. The Labor Government in Canberra can decide not to give the money to these hospitals but we are doing everything in our power to try to make sure that they actually do fix this issue and that the people in Keith, Moonta and Ardrossan get the money needed to keep their hospitals operational at a standard they deserve.
ANNETTE MARNER: The language is strong in the motion. I have a copy in front of me. It says it condemns… ‘the Senate condemns the South Australian Government for deciding in its 2010 state budget to cut funding to three community hospitals in regional areas’. ‘Condemns’ is the word.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Look, absolutely.  This is an outrageous decision. The emotion in those communities and the strength of feeling, especially from Keith which faces a $600,000 cut. That’s a big cut for a community hospital like Keith and I’ve had many, many representations – not just from people who live in Keith but, of course, as you and your listeners would have all heard before, from people who are concerned about the importance of the regional location of these hospitals, the importance for commuters, people who drive through those areas, that they are very important central spots for the provision of emergency treatment when there’s nothing else nearby and the same certainly can be said of Ardrossan as well. All three, though, are important and you have a situation where it’s not just the Liberal Party – Liberal Members and Senators have certainly led this debate – but you also have the Nationals, the Greens, the Independents from other states and Senator Xenophon from South Australia, all being as strong in condemning the South Australian Government for its decision in this regard.
ANNETTE MARNER: Senator, to another matter with your other hat as Opposition Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin… your thoughts today on the news that the Chief Executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Rob Freeman, has resigned?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yes. Well, Annette, whilst obviously this resignation is probably beyond anyone’s control, I think any person with an interest in the Murray-Darling would really hope that it doesn’t deal another blow to what is already a very, very troubled process. We have a situation where back in 2007 the Howard Government legislated the Water Act, he put $10 billion in the budget, he’d set up a process to get reform of the Murray-Darling right. It’s now a process that is much delayed, much troubled and has really gone off the rails and I just hope that the new Chief Executive is able to work to get it back on track so that we get an outcome that everybody in the river community within the entire Murray-Darling Basin wants and that’s some certainty for their communities and certainty that we are going to have a well managed, well balanced, sustainable Plan for the Murray Darling into the future.
ANNETTE MARNER:  Senator Birmingham, thank you for joining us today.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Always a pleasure.
ANNETTE MARNER:  Senator Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and Opposition Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin. Now, according to ABC News… that’s reporting that Rob Freeman will be replaced at the Authority Rhondda Dickson, the current Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.