Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham has described State and Territory Labor Governments, including in his own South Australia, as “weak and gutless” for their failure to bring Victoria into line in supporting comprehensive national management of the Murray-Darling Basin.
Speaking during today’s hearings of the Senate Environment Committee into the Water Bill 2007, Senator Birmingham attacked Victoria’s opposition to the Bill, its recalcitrance in refusing to refer powers to the Federal Government, and the complicity of other State and Territory governments in not helping to bring about an agreement.
“We are constantly berated by Premiers such as Mike Rann and Federal Labor Leader Kevin Rudd about the need for a more cooperative form of federalism,” Senator Birmingham said outside the hearings.
“Yet at the first hurdle, on a package they claim to support, Mr Rann and Mr Rudd are unable to secure the support of their Labor mates in Victoria. As a result, they risk leaving South Australian and other Murray-Darling users hanging out to dry.”
Senator Birmingham told the inquiry that the parochial, self interested attitude of Victoria “only served to further demonstrate the importance of a national approach to managing water resources.”
“The Victorian Government is hiding behind claims that they are representing irrigators and environment groups in their home state when in fact, under questioning, the Victorian Farmers Federation and environment groups such the Australian Conservation Foundation confirmed their broad support for the plan,” Senator Birmingham said.
“The absence of any support for the position of the Victorian Government can only lead to one conclusion that they are doing the private bidding of Kevin Rudd in a desperate backdoor attempt to stymie the good policies of the Howard Government.
“The national approach has been welcomed by nearly all farming and environment groups who have appeared before the committee today, with most stating a preference for the original plan involving the full referral of powers by the states and territories.
“While the proposal utilising constitutional powers is a good one, providing improved long-term management of the river, we could have had an even better proposal if not for the failure of the Labor Party to give its full support at all levels of government to the proposal.
“It’s not too late to come up with a better outcome and for Victoria to get on board with a plan that will set a clear direction and make up for decades of mismanagement by the states and territories.”