MARY GOODE: … The draft Plan now faces 20 weeks of consultations and a final Plan is expected to be presented to Parliament mid-next year. There is then 15 sitting days to disallow it. Any Member of either House can move a disallowance motion but the motion needs a majority to pass. That puts the Opposition in the power seat, with the Greens needing its support if they decide to block the legislation. Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin. He has concerns with what he’s read in the draft but hasn’t decided on the Plan’s fate once it enters Parliament.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well my main concerns are twofold – firstly, in terms of how much is taken from irrigators, the fact that this Plan only sets a minimum amount for recovery from regions and no maximum amount effectively, so whether you’re in the Murrumbidgee or the Goulburn or the South Australian Murray, you face a minimum reduction amount but then you’ve got no idea where it’s going to end above that, so the Goulburn faces a 344 gigalitre reduction but that could turn into 400, 500, 600 gigalitres once this mysterious shared reduction amount is apportioned out.
MARY GOODE: What do you mean about that shared factor? What are you talking about?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this is the 971 gigalitres that has to be achieved in reductions but hasn’t been apportioned across any particular region, so for the southern Basin, 971 gigalitres; for the northern Basin, 143 gigalitres; so that’s more than 1100 gigalitres of water in total that the [Murray-Darling Basin] Authority says will be achieved in reductions but doesn’t say which catchments, which communities, those reductions will actually come from.
MARY GOODE: The Greens are looking at and considering disallowing this Plan. Has the Coalition discussed this option?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Coalition wants to take a responsible approach to this and that means we’re going to keep an open mind throughout all of the discussions and that means we’ll talk to communities, we’ll hear what they’ve got to say. We recognise this is still only a draft, that there’s 20 weeks of consultation to go, that then there’s a whole process that involves opportunities for the states to request changes to the Plan as well.
MARY GOODE: Do you feel some responsibility for the Plan as well, considering that it was former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard’s vision for this Plan?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I feel a lot of sadness at the fact that a process started by the Howard Government has gone so far off the rails. We certainly had committed $10 billion towards reform. We had a vision for how that would be implemented and a particular prioritisation of saving water through water efficiency projects and infrastructure projects and unfortunately those projects have been put at the back end of delivery whilst buybacks have come at the front end…
WARWICK LONG: That’s Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, who’s the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan [sic].