SUBJECT/S: Establishment of an Institute for Biosecurity.

JOURNALIST:  Joel can you talk us through why you’re here today?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY: Well I’ve spent the last 24 hours of course campaigning with Frank Gilbert, the Labor candidate in Dawson and I’ve been delighted to join with him and learn about the region and its needs.  Frank is a quality candidate, he’s been working hard and we’re quite confident about Dawson, we believe George Christensen and the Coalition have taken it for granted and we believe we can do good things here.

JOURNALIST:  And what are the key policies you want to see implemented in the electorate of Dawson?

FITZGIBBON: I’m announcing today that Labor will establish an Institute for Biosecurity. This is one of the biggest productivity agendas in Agriculture.  Too many growers and producers are struggling, indeed some very much struggling because of invasive species; pest animals, plant disease. Weeds and the like.  So good work has been done in the past but the Coalition is withdrawing funding for a number of CRC’s - Cooperative Research Centres -  in this area.  We’re concerned that research is going to come to a dead stop and there’s too much intellectual capital there to be captured so we want the research to be put on a sustainable footing and we’ll have this institute working on invasive species issues right across the country, across all commodities.

JOURNALIST:  So for this policy is there funding? How, I guess, will you tackle it?

FITZGIBBON: We’re investing $76 million into this project so it’s a very, very serious commitment.  Of course we’ll have private sector partners too, and so that money will be further leveraged.  It’s the sort of money we need if we’re going to seriously tackle the invasive species issues. Like just here in your own local area of course, you have problems with feral pigs, you have borers in cane for example.  They’re devastating for productivity and for many growers they are a real threat to livelihood.

JOURNALIST:  Have you identified, I guess, a company or organisation you would be working with?  Or it’s something they would apply for funding with you and then you would work together?

FITZGIBBON: There are a number of people who are well known in this area, researchers and the like, that we’d be looking to work with but we haven’t raced ahead of ourselves on that detail.  I want to work, sit down and work through these issues with all the partners post-election and we’ll have this institute up and running as quickly as is possible.

JOURNALIST:  And it’s something, is it something you’ll need State Government funding from, or a State Government commitment from to implement?

FITZGIBBON: No, this funding is unconditional.  The Commonwealth will go it alone.  A Labor government in Canberra will go it alone on this. But we will be seeking private sector contributions and maybe leveraging off other research grants.  In other words, getting economies out of combining both finances and other research money which is available to ensure that we are focusing on what is a very serious problem.  And we’re doing this on a cross sectoral basis as well, we can do good things that help cane farmers but also help other growers and producers.

JOURNALIST:  And is the idea to have sorry a facility based here or like an overarching body that would facilitate research?

FITZGIBBON: My first obligation is to make sure this institute is as effective and as efficient as is possible.  So we need to sit down with some of our partners and work out the location and work out which location is going to be most effective.  Of course I’d like it to be in the regions rather than in one of our capital cities if I can have people agree to do that and this region we’re standing in today is a perfect example of an area which is inviting of such an institute. You’ve got the university and the researchers here, you’ve certainly got many invasive species problems here.  So somewhere like this would make sense if we can make that happen.

JOURNALIST:  And are regions like Cairns or Bundaberg included or is it 75 just for Mackay?

FITZGIBBON: No region is included or excluded, and to be frank no capital city is excluded.  We want to make sure first and foremost that this institute does the important work it’s designed to do.  But unsurprisingly Frank Gilbert has been on my case for the last 24 hours and unsurprisingly, he too thinks Dawson would be a pretty good place to put an Institute for Biosecurity.

JOURNALIST:  And I guess talking to industry, have they seen this as a good plan to go forward?

FITZGIBBON: This has been very much welcomed by industry. In fact industry has been lobbying me to do something like this for the last 3 years really because they could see that CRC funding was coming to an end.  Now unfortunately Barnaby Joyce today has made a similar announcement but only $20 million. But he’s focusing on feral or pest animals alone.   We’re extending it to plants and other primary products.  We need to deal with this on a cross sectoral basis and that’s why our spend is a lot larger and of course it’s a problem that sadly, is going to require a big investment.


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