SUBJECT/S: Government’s drought package in chaos; Cuts to R&D in the agricultural sector; Class action – 2011 live export suspension, Minister misleading the House.

SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS, JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well last night, in the House of Representatives the Member for Mallee confirmed what I have  been saying for many months now, and that is the Government’s drought package is in chaos.  Money is not getting to desperate farming families and that’s why Barnaby Joyce last week was embellishing drought outcomes in the House.  In doing so he misled Australian farming families and of course raised false hope amongst those farming families.  He needs to do more than come back into the House and blame his staff, he needs to show some contrition and to apologise both for misleading the House but also to apologise to all those farmers who were given false hope by the suggestion that they can just claim money from the Government and automatically be allocated money from the Government.   Of course all this is compounded last night in the House also, when the Government secured passage for a bill which cuts research and development in the agricultural sector.  This is a clear election promise breach.  They went into the election saying they would spend more on R&D in agriculture.  This bill clearly cuts R&D in agriculture and comes on top of a number of other cuts to the CSIRO, to our Co-operative Research Centres and of course the Rural Industries Research and Development Centre.  Agriculture needs this Government’s support, it is not getting this Government’s support.  Barnaby Joyce needs to lift his game and he needs to apologise to both the House of Representatives and of course all those farming families who were misled.

JOURNALIST:  Several farmers will be taking class action for the live export debacle, is this finally the chapter closed on that episode?

FITZGIBBON:  Well I actually don’t want to comment on the court case, but I can say ABC television footage back in 2011 caused a lot of distress in our community, caused a  lot of pain for many players, the good thing is that out of it came the world’s best animal welfare system which has put the industry on a sustainable footing.  So I am looking forward, I see a bright future for the sector and I look forward to working with it.

JOURNALIST:  So they are not justified, in other words. in seeking some form of settlement?

FITZGIBBON:  Well, again I will not comment on the case itself.  I will say that back in 2006 the Howard Government also suspended trade, the sheep trade to Egypt and missed an opportunity then to put the trade on a more sustainable footing.  That’s what we did in 2011, it was a difficult time and a regrettable time, but the outcome now is a sector which is facing very strong growth and a sector which faces a very bright future. 

JOURNALIST:  But do you think the impact on farmers was fully considered?

FITZGIBBON:  Well there is no doubt that it was a tough time for producers, of course it was exacerbated by an increased quota system in Indonesia back in 2011, it was a difficult time for everyone.  The ABC footage highlighted problems in the sector, the former Labor Government has fixed that by putting in place the best animal welfare system in the world or at least we have addressed it as no system is perfect and there will always be an incident or two.  Just as there will always be work place accidents.   But we have put the best animal welfare system in the world in place and that has put the industry on a sustainable footing.

JOURNALIST:  In retrospect, could the Gillard Government have acted better?

FITZGIBBON:  I think one thing the Government could have done better is work with the industry and bring them into the tent earlier.  I think with persuasion and argument the sector probably would have accepted that something needed to be done in the sector and maybe it could have been implemented in a more seamless way.  But having said that, while it caused a lot of pain it has had positive outcomes and the positive outcome of course being a welfare system, an animal welfare system, which has put the industry on a sustainable footing.

JOURNALIST:  Joel, do you support the Government’s Foreign Fighter’s Bill?

FITZGIBBON:  I will leave others to comment on that.

JOURNALIST:  Just on Barnaby Joyce, I mean he has said his staff member did change the record without his knowledge, why should he apologise for that?

FITZGIBBON:  Well, the buck stops with the Minister, the Minister has clearly misled the House, he has clearly misled the Australian farming community and you know, doctoring Hansard to that extent, I suspect doesn’t happen without the concurrence of the Minister.  I’d invite him to further expand on that.  I find it difficult as a former Cabinet Minister myself to believe that a staff member would so extensively change a Hansard record without at least consulting the Minister.


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