SUBJECT/S: Establishment of an Institute for Biosecurity.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY: Well it’s great to join Frank Gilbert at the Mackay Show. It’s obviously a great success and the weather is wonderful. I’ve been with Frank for the last 24 hours campaigning both in Mackay and in Bowen and we’re really pleased to have Frank as our candidate here, he is doing outstanding work. We think its game-on of course in Dawson and we’re very confident about this seat and that’s largely because of the hard work that Frank has done and the high value of his candidature. Today, amongst other things, I’m announcing that a Shorten Labor Government will contribute $76 million towards the establishment of an Institute for Biosecurity. This is part of our productivity agenda which is one of my key focuses as the Shadow Minister and will be a key focus for me as the Agriculture Minister. The problems we have w ith invasive species, pest animals, plant disease weeds and other matters is costing the agriculture industry some $5 billion a year. That’s not good enough and we need to do more in research terms. Some good work has been done in the past but it’s patchy and it lacks continuity. We want this institute to be there for many, many years to come to continue the good work which has already begun but of course to better coordinate the various research bodies so that we get the best possible outcomes for the agriculture sector. Now one of the reasons that I’m doing this in Mackay is that - depending on whether this institute best works in a capital city or in the regions - obviously this region would be an ideal location. The problems here are very significant but the opportunities are just as significant - the learning institutions, the academics and the researchers. So while first and foremost I want to make sure this works properly, want to work with our partn ers and of course they will have a view about where the institute is best placed but in the first instance, if we can I would like this institute to operate in a regional area.

JOURNALIST: And this is a national institute isn’t it so it will cover the whole of Australia?

FITZGIBBON: It’s a national institute covering the whole of Australia. One of the wonders of our Federation of course is that we’ve got jurisdictional overlap in the area of invasive species and we want to ensure that that’s not one of our challenges in terms of research. We want to make sure that all of the stakeholders involved have an opportunity to input into the institute but more particularly that the institute does the long term research work that’s required to adequately overcome the various issues we have with invasive species.

JOURNALIST: What specifically will this institute look at, I mean, researching?

FITZGIBBON: It’s a research institution. For example, we have a number of co-operative research centres which are now having their funding withdrawn by the Coalition Government. All their work is just basically going to come to an end which means all of the intellectual capital they’ve established is at risk of coming to an end. So we’ll have the opportunity now with this institute to pick the ball back up and run with it into the future and further build upon their work. We cannot give up on weeds and disease for plants and of course other pests, we need to keep this work going if we are going to lift productivity in the agriculture sector.

JOURNALIST: Just looking at Mackay here, I mean what’s something that will be looked at within the institute that will potentially affect farmers here in Mackay and will help farmers here in Mackay?

FITZGIBBON: Well here of course you have significant issues in cane, you’ve got borers for example so in other words disease that makes its way into your plantations. You have a very serious issue with feral pigs so there are a number of issues here like many other places in Australia where they have significant problems. It’s affecting productivity, it’s affecting the livelihoods of growers and this institute will ensure that we are making every effort to deal with these various invasive species issues.

JOURNALIST: Just talking about feral pigs. How do you research feral pigs? How do you research getting rid of those?

FITZGIBBON: Well that’s a complex area and of course there are a number of ways you deal with pigs. You shoot them from the air, you use fencing and of course you use baiting. Now baiting is a very complex area of the science. For example, there are baits coming on stream now which if consumed by domestic pets have an antidote so the domestic pet survives the event so that’s one example of how quickly things are changing but you can of course eventually design a bait which is only attracts certain animals and not others so it’s a very complex area of science. We need to remain on the job and further progress some of the good work that has already been done.

JOURNALIST: What chance realistically is Mackay at getting this institute here?

FITZGIBBON: Well if this institute goes to a regional area I could think of no better place than this part of the world, that’s the reality. Again because one the challenges here are very significant but the institutions are here as well. But first and foremost my job as the Minister would be to make sure this institute works as effectively and as efficiently as it possibly can and that it provides the outcomes produces and growers require and where the institute goes will be mainly determined on where we get the best outcomes.

JOURNALIST: Labor is throwing a lot of money at the region in the last week, $150 million for the Walkerston bypass, now $76 million not directly for Mackay but an announcement made in Mackay. Is this just a like a last minute scramble to try and secure Dawson?

FITZGIBBON: Well Frank has been working very hard here for many, many months but yes we believe Dawson is winnable for the Labor Party. We believe George Christensen has ignored the electorate, he’s taken it for granted. There are a whole range of issues that he’s left unaddressed that’s put us in play along with Frank’s very, very hard and effective work. So yes, we’re here regularly because we care about the electorate, we care about its people and we intend to win.

JOURNALIST: That’s a lot of money. Can you afford it one and how quickly can you get these things rolled out?

FITZGIBBON: Well forget this myth been perpetrated by the Coalition that we don’t have the money to fund our programs, its they that have the problem. Take backpackers for example where they’re taking $540 million in revenue over the four years and spending it already even though we know that backpackers that don’t come here don’t pay tax. By contrast Labor has announced a whole range of savings to fund our promises and of course we don’t have to find the $50 billion that Malcolm Turnbull has to find to give tax cuts to big business in Australia that makes our job somewhat easier.

JOURNALIST: I’ll just repeat that question again, how quickly can you get this institute money out?

FITZGIBBON: As the new Agriculture Minister it will be one of the top priorities for me. We will move quickly; we need to because the Coalition is withdrawing funding for our Cooperative Research Centres. They are coming to an end and we can’t afford a time gap in between their work and the work of the institute.

JOURNALIST: So when could you look at seeing this institute being built?

FITZGIBBON: Well I’m not going to talk about days and months but it will be a top priority for me and as quickly as we can get the institute up and running the better because we can’t afford time gaps in our research in the area of invasive species, it’s too important to agriculture and our productivity agenda.

JOURNALIST: And just lastly, some of the research, if guess if hypothetically if the research institute is here how many of those staff will actually come from Mackay?

FITZGIBBON: Well this is a collaboration between researchers and you might find indeed that the researchers aren’t necessarily co-located. These are things that we will work out in Government. The key point is that we are absolutely determined that invasive species are addressed and that we lift the productivity agenda in the agriculture sector and we protect those many producers and growers who have for their livelihoods literally threatened by invasive species whether they be pest animals, plant disease or other pests in our crops and on our properties.

JOURNALIST: Great, thank you very much.

FITZGIBBON: Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Frank you’ve really brought a lot of money to the region or a lot of promised money to the region in the last week, 150 for Walkerston and now $76 million for a potential institute here. Do you think this will really get you over the line?

FRANK GILBERT, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR DAWSON:  Look, we have promised a lot of money in recent times in Dawson buts it’s a result of bringing people here over a period of time. I think Bill Shorten has been here seven times since he has become Opposition Leader. I had Tony Burke our Finance Minister come, I’ve had Chris Bowen our Shadow Treasurer come and before we made these promises we sat down with industry and we discussed what the problems were. So it just hasn’t been a thing at the end of the election campaign. They are considered, funded and fully implementable otherwise we wouldn’t be making those promises. I’m really confident that yes it will help but the message that I’ve been getting across to the people in the south is that we have been really suffering. We’ve lost 7,000 jobs in this region, we need attention and we need it now and luckily they’re responded a nd responded really well.

JOURNALIST: Obviously there is a chance for the institute to be in Mackay. Are you going to be pushing for that quite hardly?

GILBERT: I haven’t stopped nagging Mr Fitzgibbon since he has gotten in the car with me on day one about this institute and he told me about it. Look, we see the practically problems that cane farmers have with feral pigs but this invasive species we need to wage a war on weeds; you know rats tail, grass and those sorts of things have been a real problem in our area. I want to see Mackay become a centre for agricultural and mining research and engineering excellence and that’s our business, we’ve got mining we’ve got agriculture and we need to build on existing industries and add value to them. All the infrastructure there I have brought means that we can build upon those industries. The infrastructure is not just there as a pretty thing, they’re things that the industries can use. Tourism will use the Whitsunday infrastructure, mining and agriculture will use the Walkerston bypass. It means a more efficient supply chain for our industries that’s why I’m doing it and that’s why I’m advocating here for this institute to come here.

JOURNALIST: Anything else you’d like to add?

GILBERT: Well, I’ll just contrast it with the Coalition. When we were in power we had a Mining Centre of Excellence here in Mackay. The first thing that this Coalition Government done was close it down so I just think we need to get back and we need to really get fair dinkum about the regions and that’s what the message I’m going to take to Canberra.      


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