SUBJECT:Meeting with Northern Territory Producers, bipartisan support for further drought relief, concern at rising debt levels in farming communities.
E&OE TRANSCRIPT PRESS CONFERENCE PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA WEDNESDAY, 27 AUGUST 2014 SUBJECT: Meeting with Northern Territory Producers, bipartisan support for further drought relief, concern at rising debt levels in farming communities.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: I thought I would come out and make some bipartisan comments following the Minister’s contribution. I too met with the Northern Territory producers this morning, as did a number of my senior colleagues. We welcomed them and congratulated them on the good work they are doing and on another bipartisan note I look forward to joining the Minister at the Rising Champions dinner tonight. Starting on bipartisanship, it is very clear that drought funding is not working – that the Government’s package is not helping people most in need and today I extend to the Minister a bipartisan hand – the Opposition stands ready to work with the Government to further improve their drought package. Second I am really concerned about rising debt levels in farming communities and on farm enterprises, this has now been raised by the Deputy Speaker in the Parliament, the Member for Maranoa, he is also concerned that relief isn’t going to debt-burdened farmers and I think it is time for the Minister to restore the funding he took off the smaller States: South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia; and back on drought: he needs to guarantee the $40 million in the drought assistance loan program which wasn’t spent before June 30 should be carried over into the new financial year. Farmers shouldn’t be penalised for the Government’s inability to properly implement that scheme in a timely way.
JOURNALIST: In October 2012 Wayne Swan had a roundtable with bankers and the ag sector to look at the debt issue and the viability issue for the farm sector, they now seem to be saying that it’s just northern Queensland cattlemen two years on situation has intensified, are you hopeful that this Forum on 23rd September will produce a different outcome?
FITZGIBBON: I am always hopeful and forums never do any harm and Wayne Swan did hold a Debt Forum and from that flowed Labor’s $420 million dollar concessional loans scheme. Unfortunately the Minister’s first act was to rob tens of millions of dollars under that scheme from the smaller States –Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia - and today I am calling upon him, as did Jan Davis the CEO of the Tasmanian Graziers’ Association yesterday, to restore that money. That program as you indicated was never a drought program per se, it was a debt relief program. Often debt can be associated with drought, and it is just not right for the Minister to say there is no substantial drought in Tasmania and therefore the money is not needed in Tasmania - he should restore that funding.
JOURNALIST: Bruce Scott was also very critical, is saying, is still very critical of the live cattle bans in June 2011, saying it is still having a compound impact upon the debt issue and the viability issue. Do you think that maybe people need to move on from that or do you think it is still having an impact?
FITZGIBBON: Well the live trade suspension in 2011 was regrettable, I suppose you could say it was based on the same principles invoked when the Howard Government imposed a similar ban in Egypt some years earlier, it also can be said that very good outcomes came from the suspension, no less than the best animal welfare system in the world, something the Minister now invokes every time he opens a new market. So we have got to be forever vigilant, but I do regret that whenever the Minister is in trouble he drags back out the live export ban. The things he was claiming credit for today in terms of increased live export numbers have very little to do with anything the Minister has done, it does reflect a recovery from the 2011 suspension and it does reflect the ongoing work which Kevin Rudd and I began in around July of last year and I welcome the fact that the Minister has continued our good work but I think there’s some shared credit can be taken there but basically market forces have ensured that things have recovered and improved substantially.
JOURNALIST: You say that the situation has been escalating, and we heard that from others today, is there anything that the banks could be doing now to change the way they interact with farmers or the way they implement their policies with farmers to help emolliate?
FITZGIBBON: The Member for Maranoa is the Deputy Speaker and a very reasonable person and I know how reluctant he would have been to openly criticise his own government, his sentiments does reflect a level of desperation in farming communities particularly amongst producers in the North and it’s time that the Government paid more attention to that state of desperation. We heard the Industry Minister MacFarlane last week go out with the Member for Maranoa express surprise at how bad the drought is, well it is unfortunate that so long after the Prime Minister’s Drought Tour that Minister MacFarlane has realised things are really bad and more needs to be done. And I don’t want to run interference on the Government, I just want to say we think they should do more and extend a bipartisan hand in terms of supporting whatever they decide to do.
JOURNALIST: In terms of the banks, is there anything that those institutions can do? Because a number of farmers have raised over the past couple of weeks their concerns over banking practices.
FITZGIBBON: Well, banks have a certain risk tolerance and I would simply appeal to the banks to on these occasions extend the risk tolerance as far as they possibly can in recognition of the very real pressures being faced by our producers and the farm sector more generally.
JOURNALIST: What is your response to reports that the Prime Minister used his visit to the cancer centre in Melbourne to justify spending taxpayers’ dollars?
FITZGIBBON: You might expect me to take the opportunity but to be very frank with you I have not watched this story with any detail today, I’ve been busy with the Northern Territory Producers and doing things within my Portfolio and I will leave that to others who know more about it to pass comment - thankyou.
JOURNALIST: Will you be at the Roundtable?
FITZGIBBON: Will I be at the Roundtable?
JOURNALIST: Have you been invited?
FITZGIBBON: I am still waiting for my invitation but I am sure it is on the way!