SUBJECT/S: Election campaign, NBN, Youth Allowance for regionals students, Government’s agriculture policy.

FIONA WYLLIE: There are just 9 days until you will be casting your vote and we find out who will make up the next Australian Government. We’ve seen politicians from all parties campaigning hard travelling across the Country and discussing everything from Medicare to same-sex marriage, asylum seekers and of course the economy. So at the very pointy end of the campaign and to talk about some of the big issues being discussed at the moment this afternoon the Member for Hume and the Assistant Minister for Cities, Angus Taylor good afternoon.


WYLLIE: And the Member for Hunter and the Opposition’s Agriculture Spokesmen, Joel Fitzgibbon, good afternoon.


WYLLIE: Now we have seen the Prime Minister loose his voice, Barnaby Joyce has travelled hundreds of kilometers in a day and politicians popping up all over the country. Joel Fitzgibbon you are in Queensland this afternoon, how demanding has this election campaign been?

FITZGIBBON: Yes I’m driving in between Mackay and Rockhampton and I’ve got my fingers crossed on the mobile phone network.  If we drop out I’ll blame Malcolm Turnbull of course. Look it has been a long 8 weeks and indeed we were all ramped up - I think Angus will agree - well before the day the Prime Minister called the election because we all knew basically it was coming. So it’s been a long campaign and we’re all exhausted but I’m always energised by this. It’s my 8th campaign as a candidate in a Federal election. There’s no greater opportunity to get out there with the people, they want to talk with us about issues during an election campaign whereas in other periods they’re more reluctant. So it’s good and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it but I must admit, I’ll be pleased when it is all over.

WYLLIE: Angus Taylor has it been hard to maintain the pace needed for what has been one of the longest election campaigns ever?

TAYLOR: Well I love my running Fiona and I’ve tried to treat this as a long race not a sprint – I’ve tried to pace myself - but like Joel it’s got tougher as we’ve gone because it is a such a long campaign. Look I think for the most part it’s been positive and good. I’ve been disappointed with how negative it’s got in the last few days and I’m hoping that it will switch back to the good positive territory over the next week or so.

WYLLIE: Have you noticed the electorate’s interest waiver during the last 6 or so weeks?

TAYLOR: I think in general I find in rural and regional areas people don’t like the really negative stuff, you know the scare campaigns and all that really negative stuff they don’t like that they do tend to switch off.

WYLLIE: Joel Fitzgibbon have you noticed the interest waiver, you’re saying how good it is, everyone wants to talk to you?

FITZGIBBON: Well on scare campaigns Fiona I just heard the Prime Minister speaking to a charity group and  running a scare campaign on boat people. But I think generally speaking people have been disengaged and like most election campaigns even the shorter, they don’t really start thinking about their vote until the last 8 or 9 days or so. I’ve just detected now that they are starting to become engaged and of course with each election more and more people are voting pre-poll so that 8 or 9 days is being pushed back up the election campaign. So I think people are starting to listen and the important thing is that it indicates that the major political parties are very competitive. This is a very unpredictable election and I still think that while we still remain the underdogs anyone is capable of winning.

WYLLIE: Let’s turn our attention to an issue that I know is important to many voters in regional areas, internet and data. ABC Rural Political Reporter Anna Vidot took to the internet to ask people across regional and rural Australia what their internet was like and the words data drought, restrictions, poor coverage, expensive plans and slow connection were all mentioned. Angus Taylor we know the NBN is being rolled out, satellites switched on yet people living in rural and regional Australia are not reporting an improvement in their internet service. How can there be such a divide in terms of speed, data and price between metro and regional areas?

TAYLOR: well I don’t actually accept what you say there. Certainly when we got into power it was a disastrous situation. But what we have seen over the last couple of years is a reprioritisation of the rollout of the NBN. I now have a large number of NBN towers- 20 odd towers- in my electorate already operating and more on the way. Sky Muster is up and running and I’ve got a number of constituents who are already on it. We’ve got the fibre turning on in my home town of Goulburn in weeks not months, in weeks we’re just about there now as well as many other parts of my electorate. So those who are on it, the feedback is extraordinarily good.

WYLLIE: Well they had every right to answer Anna’s request to tell us what it was like-

TAYLOR: Well of course people who are happy tend not to bother and people who are unhappy do. Now I absolutely accept that in the area where it hasn’t been rollout people eagerly want it and of course as they see good internet in neighbouring towns or people nearby and of course the fell, the desire to have good internet increases because they see how good it can be and yeah there’s definitely a difference between those who have got good internet now and those who haven’t. But the key here is we have prioritised regional areas with a needs growth. Look we inherited an NBN where the focus was rolling out fibre to people who already had good ADSL in our cities which was just crazy stuff. So we have reprioritised it , those who are getting it the feedback has been extremely good, those who haven’t we are trying to get it as quickly as we can and we will.

WYLLIE: How much concern have you got though that we are always going to be a bit behind the rest of the world because of our size and the fact that many people are in a topography that just makes getting the internet difficult?

TAYLOR: Well it is harder there’s no doubt about it but we’ve got to be innovative about it and that’s why we are using innovation solutions like the fixed wireless which is very good. The feedback I’m getting on fixed wireless; I’ve got a number of very good friends who are on fixed wireless now, the feedback is stunningly good. It is a good technology, its working well, we’ve increased the amount that we are going to do and we’ll see more of it in the coming years. So we’ve just got to be innovative in the way we go about it Fiona. It is a harder country to get good internet coverage then Switzerland or Holland or somewhere like that probably Holland being flat is easier than anywhere but you know it is harder but we’ve got to be innovative and that’s exactly what we are doing and that’s why we are using a range of technologies which is the right answer here and I’m confident with that innovation that we can actually get good internet everywhere and I accept that everyone wants it tomorrow but it is happening quite quickly now.

WYLLIE: Joel Fitzgibbon what are you hearing as you travel around the country when it comes to internet in rural and regional areas?

FITZGIBBON: Let me make two points Fiona. Angus spent a lot of his time talking about what is happening with satellite and fixed wireless. Now that’s the component of Labor’s NBN plan that Malcolm Turnbull didn’t change so that’s our legacy and we’re proud of that. But what Malcolm Turnbull has changed of course is he has gone from Fibre-to-the-Premises back to Fibre-to-the-Node and we all know the outcome. Now let me give you a little anecdote-

WYLLIE: Isn’t it your plan too now though?

FITZGIBBON: No our plan is to go back to Fibre-to-the-Premise where we can and where they haven’t contracted the Fibre-to-the-Node arrangements. Let me give you a little anecdote. I put up on my facebook page recently a little yarn – I did a video message – I said that my constituents who have received Malcolm Turnbull’s Fibre-to-the-Node technology are telling me that their Fibre-to-the-Node service is inferior to the ADSL 2 service they had previously. I had all these people posting on it saying haha I’ve got Fibre-to-the-Node – Malcolm Turnbull’s inferior service – and it took me 6 minutes to watch your 1 minute video because it buffered all the time. So that’s just a perfect example of the feedback that I’m getting. People are unhappy. The Fibre-to-the-Node technology is inferior and as we always say, if you are going to build a broadband service do it once, do it properly and go fibre. We’re building a system for the future and we need to do it right the first time around.

WYLLIE: Yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce gave an address at the National Press Club. In it he announced that there would be $83 million to reduce Youth Allowance from 18 months to 14 months for regional students. Angus Taylor why is this an important policy for the Coalition?

TAYLOR: Can I just respond to Joel’s comments on the-

WYLLIE: Certainly

TAYLOR: Just before I go to that - Youth Allowance is very important – that is total rot that you heard from Joel-

WYLLIE: What these people are lying?

TAYLOR: Fibre-to-the-Node, there can be all sorts of reasons why people are unhappy with what they have got but we know the experience on Fibre-to-the-Node has been very good. We have also changed the fixed wireless rollout. It is not what Labor had, we’ve extended that rollout so look he’s comments there are simply wrong. Now going to the-

WYLLIE: Changes to the Youth Allowance

TAYLOR: This is a fantastic initiative and it’s an issue that many constituents contact me about over the last couple of years. We’ve made the Youth Allowance more assessable to regional people. Independence can be gained in 14 months not 18 months it’s very very important for people in regional areas. We also have 1200 new Rural Regional Enterprise Scholarships - $24 million being spent for students undertaking STEM, so this is all about recognising the big problem for regional people when they go off to University is the cost of relocating-

WYLLIE: Is 14 months enough though because it’s still going to be hard for those students who stake the standard 12 month gap year?

TAYLOR:  Well no no that’s not right. So a gap year is 14 months so by the time you finish your HSC to when you go off to uni you’ve got 14 months-

WYLLIE: Yeah but you have to work the whole time-

TAYLOR: I mean I did that actually before we even called it a gap year, it’s a pretty common thing to do now, that’s why we have established 14 months so that someone who is doing a gap year will then be eligible in a way that they weren’t previously. So this is an important change it makes a lot of people in regional areas eligible and most importantly the big barrier for them is not anything to do with university fees or HECS or any of that, it is actually about relocation and the cost of accommodation moving to a place where their family doesn’t live.

WYLLIE: Joel Fitzgibbon do you feel these changes go far enough to support rural students heading off to university? What’s your policy on it?

FITZGIBBON: I support any initiative that helps regional kids get themselves a tertiary education or indeed vocational education training. Absolutely, of course we haven’t seen much detail around this so of course I’d like to see that-

WYLLIE: Do you have a policy on that 18 months and regional kids being able to get onto access Abstudy?

FITZGIBBON: Look I’ll support the changes but I remind you that this is the same government that has been forcing young people from regional areas off Newstart making 25 year olds wait a month before they get any support for example, changing age qualifications for Newstart. So if we are going to support  regional kids, lets be fair across the whole spectrum. The other point that I’ll make is that when Youth Allowance they are is only a finite amount of money to spend on things like Youth Allowance so if you are going to liberalise the eligibility criteria I trust that the Government has also looked to make sure that the right people are being targeted. For example there more kids in our capital cities that receive Youth Allowance to go to university then there are in the regions so I just want to see some modelling to make sure that we are not using finite funds to subsidise the wrong people. I think th e reason that you will find that the originally 12 or 14 months was pushed out to 18 months is because the Government decided that many kids from wealthy families including those on the edges of capital cities were taking a gap year  simply to establish their independence from their parents and therefore to secure Youth Allowance. So I just want to make sure when I look at the detail that we are using finite dollars to target the right people and of course the right people from my perspective are kids living in the regions who genuinely aren’t dependent on their parent’s wealth.

WYLLIE: I might finish on agriculture and today the Coalition has released its plan for the agricultural sector. A $240 million Agricultural Policy. Angus Taylor what do you feel the strengths of this policy is?

TAYLOR: Well there are many strengths and it builds on the White Paper and it covers a number of areas that I think are really fantastic and real breakthroughs. One in particular is setting up Regional Investment Corporation that will have a $2 billion water infrastructure facility that’ll also administer drought loans. One of the issues here has been making sure the Federal Government has the capacity to finance major pieces of infrastructure for famers and for agriculture as well as the financial support that we provide for those in distress. This is going to establish that capacity and it’s an extremely important issue but there are a number of other good imitative - $8 million for ESCASs for the supply chain assurance for our live exports, a couple of million dollars for the commodity milks price index which I think is very very important for the dairy industry to make sure that we have real transparency in pricing and we don’t have the same situation that we had recently with Murray Goulburn dairy producers in Victoria. So look a whole package here that I think has the potential to really continue to drive the very strong economic performance that we have seen in agriculture in recent years.

WYLLIE: Now Joel Fitzgibbon, you’re Labor’s Spokesperson on Agriculture and as part of the announcement Barnaby Joyce today said that it’s truly shocking that among Labor’s 100 policies agriculture doesn’t rate a mention. Is this true?

FITZGIBBON: Well that’s not true and I’ll be releasing our Agriculture Policy well and truly before Election Day. We have so many positive policies you can’t get them out all together. The policy document that Barnaby announced or release today was again very scant on detail and it involved lots of re-announcement and of course drew on other re-announcements from other portfolios. So there's not much fanfare in there and you know they say the definition of madness is to continue to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Barnaby’s whole Agriculture Policy is lacking in narrative as it is has now been around these concessional loans and they’ve not been that successful and of course all he announces is that he is going to have a body to hand out the loans rather than rely on the States to hand out the loans so I don’t think too many farmers will be doing cartwheels in the paddock over that-

WYLLIE: Ok well you said you haven’t launched yours yet but can you give us you know the key focus if Labor was in government when it comes to agriculture?

FITZGIBBON: Well one of my key focuses of course will be something that not ever speak its name when Barnaby Joyce speaks and that sustainable profitability. Dealing with the changing climate and the challenges around that making sure that farmers are adapting and embracing best management practice plans etc and of course lifting productivity. Now I haven’t announced our policy in full but just today I announced $75 million to deal with a very important productivity issue in agriculture and that is the challenges of invasive species, pest animals, plant disease and of course weeds. We need a war on weeds, I know it’s not very sexy for many people but we need a war on weeds in this country - if we’re going to lift agricultural policy. So you’ll hear from me lots about productivity and sustainable profitability. Barnaby Joyce’s White Paper just ignored any such narrative and let me say Angus m entioned $8 million for the live export trade. Now what Barnaby Joyce has done here a week after the Vietnamese controversy and just a day after the 7.30 story last night he’s announced that he is going to give money to the industry to further self-regulate the industry-

WYLLIE: Look we do have, yes, we do have to leave it there-

FITZGIBBON: When last night was clearly about the culture and the need to have independence-

TAYLOR: Well at least we are supporting the cattle industry Joel which is more then what you did when you were last in Government-

WYLLIE: Ok, I know we could have you arguing all the way to the news. I’m going to have to wind it up there. I do which you both luck in surviving.

TAYLOR: Thanks Fiona.

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