MARY GOODE: … The Coalition is also worried about the effects in rural Australia. Its spokesperson on the Murray-Darling Basin is Senator Simon Birmingham.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, we want to work with Government, communities, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, everybody to ensure that we get win-win outcomes and a win-win outcome is a sustainable river with healthy river communities that continue to produce food for Australia’s future and our real concern is that the Government, in their handling of this Plan and this process to date, has not been able to provide that type of certainty for a sustainable future for communities throughout the Murray-Darling Basin.
MARY GOODE: It sounds like you’re not ruling out the Plan.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, I don’t want to rule out the Plan. This was a process that the Howard Government started. We want to see more sustainability in the Murray-Darling Basin, a healthier river system and that’s important, and it’s important for my home state of South Australia at the mouth of the Murray in particular, but we also, the Howard Government also put $10 billion on the table to ease the reform process, and what we’ve seen is the Government so far totally skew that towards buybacks. Now, that’s only going to continue to take productive capacity out of the Basin. That’s not good enough and this Government needs to do a 180-degree turnaround on their policy as to how they’re managing that $10 billion fund to date.
MARY GOODE: Okay, so the Authority says they want to save 3000 to 4000 gigalitres of water, return that to the rivers. Firstly, do you agree with those numbers and how should that water be saved?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: In terms of 3000 to 4000, I think we need to have a mature discussion about it. I want to be able to question the Authority, question them whether it’s too little, which I doubt, whether it’s too much, whether it’s just right, find out what the scientific argument is. But I also want to question them behind their economic analysis which is sorely lacking, it seems, to date, but I also think we need to get the Government to switch on to their side of the debate which is about minimising the impact of whatever reductions are agreed upon.
MARY GOODE: How do you think agriculture should be protected, I mean you say the Coalition is looking at protecting food production into the future but how do you think that should be done?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the best way you can do it is making sure that every drop of water is used as wisely as possible, is used in a manner as efficiently as possible to produce as much as is possible and that’s where this infrastructure money needs to be invested wisely. But I know from personal experience, and I know Barnaby Joyce and Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott… we’ve all travelled through the Basin, we’ve all visited different regions where people have said ‘look, there’s this upgrade that can happen here or that upgrade there’, which can save some real water that can go back to environmental flows while not driving people off the land, while not decimating communities and while not driving up the food price for everyday Australian mums and dads.