SUBJECT/S: Drought Concessional loans.


JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Well I will begin where the Minister left off … he talked about a bipartisan approach in agriculture and certainly we have shared a glass of wine or two and we do work hard to establish a bipartisan approach to agriculture policy. You will all remember that since the election night we have tried hard to work with the Government and extended bipartisan support particularly on the drought package.

But the problem is the drought package was announced in February of this year, and make no mistake about it, it was a considerable political circuit breaker for the Government.

You will recall back then the drought was on the front page of every newspaper and regularly on our 6 o’clock news.

The Drought Tour by the Prime Minister and Minister Joyce and of course the subsequent announcement stopped that publicity.  We stopped reading about the drought the moment the Prime Minister announced the Drought Package.

Now three months on, not one cent, not one cent of that money has flowed to farming families, so there is a limit to my bipartisan approach.

I have a responsibility to speak out for the hundreds of farming families who have not yet been beneficiaries of that Package.

The Minister’s announcement was today that soon farming families would be able to apply for Drought Assistance.  Soon? I don’t know what that means.

Last Friday on AM in an interview with Alex Kirk, the Minister implied very clearly that money would be flowing to farming families early in June.

I call early in June roughly the first week in June now all we get today is an announcement out here on the lawns of Parliament House that soon, whatever that means, people will be able apply for concessional loans only in Queensland and New South Wales, and I note 200 of the 280 million is going to Queensland and New South Wales he says, leaving only 80 million, for the balance of the States.

Now I do acknowledge that the bulk of the problem is in those two States, New South Wales and Queensland, but I think Western Australia in particular will be again asking the question “What about us?”

They are still waiting indeed for some money under Labor’s concessional loans scheme that should have been flowing to people a long, long time ago.  I will be happy to answer your questions.

JOURNALIST:  Do you also acknowledge that Minister’s main concern in how long this has taken being about lines on the map and by ensuring that enough people who need the money will actually have access to it and he says that took time?

FITZGIBBON:   We are all concerned to make sure the money is properly targeted. But the Minister should have known that, and indeed I would suspect did know that, in February when he left the Australian farming community with a clear impression that help was here and help was coming very soon and that and that is now more than three months ago.

JOURNALIST:  How do you think farmers are feeling waiting for that Package when it was so urgently announced in that plan in February?

FITZGIBBON: I don’t have to assume anything here.  I have talked to farming families who are distressed and I have heard them in the press indeed who are distressed that despite being told in February that help was about to arrive, that here they are in June still waiting for that help. And again it was a great political circuit breaker back in February but the real test of this package is whether farming families are securing assistance and they clearly they are not, and given what the Minister said today it is going to be some time before they secure any of that assistance.

JOURNALIST:  Why do you think that $100 million of the Farm Finance Loans which were announced before the Drought Concessional Loans is still waiting to be allocated?

FITZGIBBON:  Well, some of that money of course was withdrawn by Minister Joyce, $40 million was withdrawn, $10 million each was taken from the smaller States, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, without explanation and I know there was a lot of unhappiness particularly in Western Australia on that point. And the $40 million additional to that which was withdrawn which Minister Joyce promised would be returned has not yet been sighted.  So he is taking money out of Labor’s package and failing to deliver on his own package.

JOURNALIST:  But why hasn’t that money been delivered, in your opinion?

FITZGIBBON:    Well it seems to me, Minister Joyce, on taking office, just as money was starting to flow to farming communities; that he decided to change the rules, change the goalposts mid-game.  That is why people in Western Australia are still waiting for their assistance.

JOURNALIST:  When you came into the Ministry last year you had to sort out what had been sitting on the table for three months under Minister Ludwig in delivering farm finance, are we getting into the issue where it is too hard having the States being involved and that perhaps Commonwealth needs to take a stronger role in delivering the money?

FITZGIBBON: I am not claiming for a moment that negotiation with the States is easy; in fact I encountered that myself as Minister. That is all the more reason, all the more reason, that Barnaby Joyce and the Prime Minister should not have given the impression in February that money would be flowing to farming communities soon after.  They should have known then how difficult this negotiation is.  But I can tell you this also, I fixed Farm Finance in a number of weeks, it has taken Barnaby Joyce three months and he is still not there.  Thanks everyone.


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