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10th October 2010, 03:27pm - Views: 651





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Australian Agenda

10

th

October 2010

Simon Birmingham

Sky News

Australian Agenda

Simon Birmingham

10th

October, 2010


Interview with Senator Simon Birmingham, Coalition Murray-Darling spokesman

Australian Agenda program, 10th October, 2010


Peter Van Onselen:  We’re joined out of Adelaide in our studio there by the Shadow

Parliamentary Secretary for Water, Simon Birmingham.  Simon, thanks for your

company.


Simon Birmingham:  Good morning, Peter.


Peter Van Onselen:  Let me ask you straight up, you’re in Adelaide.  Adelaide needs the

water, it needs the flow.  No doubt irrigators, Nationals and country Liberals down the

line on the Murray-Darling don’t like this report.  Where do you sit on it?


Simon Birmingham:  Peter, this is a very difficult report and interesting challenge for us. 

It is a situation where the Howard government did initiate a plan in this case, and we

planned for a healthy, sustainable river future.  We also however put $10 billion on the

table to deliver an easier pathway for irrigators and farming communities to be able to

adjust to this, to ensure they could be as efficient as possible and actually have the type

of efficient infrastructure that’s necessary to give water for the environment, while

keeping productive capacity in those communities.  The real criticism of the government

in this case is twofold.  Firstly, that they have strayed from the Howard plan, which was

$4 for infrastructure efficiency, $1 for buy-backs and $1 for community adjustment

assistance.  Instead, every year they have spent far more on buy-backs than they

budgeted, and less on infrastructure than they planned.  Then in releasing this guide to

the draft Murray-Darling Basin plan, the government has not even had any type of

response.  All you can hear from Minister Burke is consultation, consultation,

consultation.  Well that’s great, but he is killing these communities with uncertainty. 

There should have been a government response to this report, and it should have

outlined just how much water can be saved through efficiencies, what the government’s

plan actually is and how they will minimise the buy-backs that take the productive

capacity out of regional Australia and out of our food production.


Paul Kelly:  But if we just take up that point, you’re concerned that the government has

not given a substantive reply.  Can you give us a substantive opposition response to this

report?


Simon Birmingham:  Paul, we will go through the detail of this report and we want to see

a lot more of the detail behind it.  The economic modelling behind this report is

unpublished and secret.  If the government is serious about genuine consultation, they

should release this economic modelling and they should take up the coalition’s

commitment at the election campaign to make sure that there is a comprehensive

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Australian Agenda

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Simon Birmingham

productivity commission and a bare joint study into the social and economic impacts, not

just Basin wide, but area by area and community by community.  These are people’s

lives we’re talking about.


Paul Kelly:  Just on that point, we had Barnaby Joyce saying that communities would be

decimated.  Do you endorse that sort of remark?


Simon Birmingham:  If all the government does is pursue the policies they’ve had over

the last three years, which is buy-backs and no other assistance for communities in

implementing this report, then communities will be decimated.  But the government

needs to accept their policies have to change, if they’re to avoid that level of decimation.


Jennifer Hewett:  But the Minister’s saying very clearly that they won’t just be relying on

water buy-backs.  So again, what is the opposition’s view on this?  Do you think this plan

to take this amount of water out, is it all credible?  Do you think something more should

be done?


Simon Birmingham:  We want to see a sustainable river system, that’s why we started

this process.  We absolutely accept that there has to be more water flowing through the

rivers to deliver this sustainability.  We want to analyse the science behind this report. 

It’s had a lot of scientific detail into it.  There’ll be lots of debate about whether the

environmental flows forecast are too much, too little or just right.  Let’s let that debate

take place.  That’s why we have an independent authority.  But on the other side of the

equation is the government response, and how the government minimises this impact on

our food production and on these communities.  That really is where we need to focus

our efforts and where we need to make sure the government does minimise the pain for

communities, and ensure that Australia continues to be the type of vibrant food producer

that we should be for our country and for the rest of the world.


Peter Van Onselen:  But Senator, does the opposition have a core response here? 

Because at the end of the day, it sounds to me frankly like you’re playing oppositionist

politics here.  I’m not hearing an alternative.  Do you support putting dams in place?  Do

you believe that water buy-backs are needed in the measures that are being outlined in

the report?  Or do you have some alterative that you would like to see pursued that isn’t

being?


Simon Birmingham:  Peter, we would put infrastructure efficiency absolutely front and

centre in our response.  It was front and centre in our response during the election

campaign.  In fact, it was front and centre in the original Howard package.  That’s where

we need to get government policy response back to – how we make all of these

communities put every drop to good use, ensure that we get maximum dollar value for

the Australian economy, and keep these healthy vibrant communities there.  That’s what

we expect the response to be, and certainly we will be outlining further.  I’ve travelled

throughout the Basin, Barnaby Joyce has, Greg Hunt, Tony Abbott, we can identify lots

of projects where you can save water, from the Menindee Lakes at the big storage level,

through to individual irrigation systems that can be upgraded.


Paul Kelly:  A South Australian perspective here, we had Senator Nick Xenophon say

this report is completely unacceptable to South Australia.  He said from a South

Australian perspective it should be simply rejected.  What’s your view on those

comments?

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Australian Agenda

10

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October 2010

Simon Birmingham


Simon Birmingham:  I think South Australia needs to take a big picture here.  We as

South Australians have argued for a long time for Murray-Darling reform.  We’ve argued

for a healthier river system, because a healthier river system is good for South Australia. 

That’s what of course this report tries to achieve by increasing flows through the Murray

mouth.  However, I recognise that the irrigation communities in South Australia are

facing some pretty tough cutbacks as well under this report.  We need to make sure that

as the coalition response, it addresses the concerns of those communities just as much

as it does irrigation communities throughout the rest of the Basin.  So Nick’s got a point

in highlighting that South Australia’s irrigators are very efficient and that the cuts will hit

them hard.  I was in the Riverland earlier this week and I’ll be in the Riverland again this

week talking to those irrigators and trying to work through how we can get the best

response for them, as well as irrigators throughout the rest of the system.  They’re all

facing pain.  They’ve faced the pain of drought for years, and the uncertainty from the

government’s response now is only heightening that pain for the next few years.


Peter Van Onselen:  Senator Birmingham, coming to us from South Australia, we

appreciate your company on Australian Agenda.


Simon Birmingham:  Pleasure.  Thanks very much, Paul.






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