(Leigh Hatcher: Joining us now from Adelaide is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Murray Darling Basin, Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time this morning. Hasn’t this idea been trialled in the past and failed?) Well no, not at all, Leigh. What Tony [Abbott] has outlined is a clear plan of action to tackle some of the very serious environmental problems that Australia faces and top of that list is how we tackle the crisis that has bedevilled the Murray Darling Basin for many, many years. And what Tony has said overnight, in relation to the Murray Darling in particular, is that he will outline very clearly a plan to negotiate with the States and if that fails, by a fixed timeline, he will seek the people’s power though a referendum. He will make sure we end the to-ing and fro-ing on this issue once and for all, and coupled with that he has outlined a very exciting plan for his Green Corps for 15,000 young Australians to be a standing environmental army to tackle those practical environmental problems we face. (Hatcher: Penny Wong says the only takeover of the Murray Darling that counts is one that relates to the river’s planning. Now again, hasn’t the Government already done that?) Well, not at all and we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks just how flawed and failed the Government’s plan is. We’ve seen Premiers arguing over water flows, we’ve seen Premiers having to write letters and beg and plead for the agreement of other Premiers, while the Commonwealth has stood impotently by watching this situation… (Hatcher: But New South Wales has already allowed the water to flow to South Australia.) Leigh, we can’t rely on the goodwill of Premiers time and time again into the future. The Murray is in its current crisis point because of the failed management by State Governments over a hundred years. Now the fact that one Premier on one occasion has indicated that they might allow some water to flow down, and the devil in that will be in the detail, isn’t reason enough to believe the system is fixed. The problem we have is a fundamental problem and although Penny Wong claims to have negotiated national management, the truth is that her national management still preserves very clearly autonomy over water management in the Basin by States and indeed is a 500-plus-page legislative package littered with references back to the States and requirements for the States to be able to look at things and decide whether or not changes do or don’t happen. That’s not going to fix the Murray Darling. (Hatcher: Two questions. Say if you have the power now, and it’s granted to you now in a referendum, what would you do differently in the Murray Darling to that that’s being done within the States and Commonwealth now? And if you attempt something that one State doesn’t like, say, how can you ensure that you won’t cave into, you know, the familiar Party political kind of sniping that goes on between Federal and State?) Well Leigh, we have made it very clear, and John Howard made it clear three years ago, when he said after years of the frustration on his part trying to deal with the States, he said we need national management and I will seek national management… (Hatcher: Yes that’s fine, say you have the national management… assume you’re granted national management now. What do you do that’s different?) Absolutely, well a Coalition Government would actually expend the money that has been put on the table by John Howard, the 10 billion dollars including money to upgrade infrastructure which is just not happening on the ground… so opportunities for water saving are not happening and one of the prime reasons they’re not happening is because the Commonwealth is dependent on the State Governments for it to happen… so the Commonwealth has agreed with New South Wales and Victoria for billion dollar-plus expenditures on priority projects, water-saving priority projects, and basically none of that money has been spent… basically none of it has been spent in the years that the Rudd Government has given the States to do it… so we would make sure that a Commonwealth Government got on, spent the money on that water saving infrastructure, implemented a Murray Darling plan… a national Basin Plan that was first conceptualised by John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull… implemented it, but had the power to make sure it was implemented appropriately… run, as it will be, by an independent authority but actually ensuring that power is there for implementation because what we see under the current arrangements, and under the deal that was stitched up, is all too much power continues to reside with the States and there are no guarantees that a national Basin Plan in the future will be effectively implemented by those States. (Hatcher: Again if you have that power… that plan was instituted… you wouldn’t be vulnerable at all to the politics of Federal/State relations over the Murray Darling any more?) The Coalition is absolutely committed to independent experts advising us on this, having a role to play in developing the Basin Plan and making sure that Basin Plan is something that operates in the national good. The difference between us and Labor is that with that expert advice, we will seek to make sure we have the very clear authority that the buck, to use Kevin Rudd’s words, will stop with us as a Federal Government to get that Basin Plan implemented. Penny Wong and Kevin Rudd will remain beholden upon the State Governments to get that Plan implemented and that just is going to be a flawed situation that won’t deliver the long term national management of the Murray Darling in the national interest that is so desperately needed. (Hatcher: Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining us.) My pleasure, Leigh.