SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
SATURDAY, 4 JULY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Agriculture White Paper; Same-sex marriage.
DAVID LIPSON: With me on the program now the Shadow Agriculture Shadow Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon thank you for your time.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: Pleasure.
LIPSON: What do you need to see out of this Agriculture White Paper?
FITZGIBBON: Well obviously I have to be careful to qualify everything I say I haven’t seen the White Paper yet but if the newspaper reports are correct, and if my intellegence is correct, there will be a lot of disappointed people around. We’ve been almost two years waiting for this Agriculture White Paper and all we got really was something that could have been written almost two years ago. There is no big picture, there is no strategic guidance. All we really got was a compilation, a grab bag of promises - some fine, some good some not so good and many just on the never never.
LIPSON: So some of those ones that surely would be welcomed like the Farm Management Deposits changes. Farmers surely would be happy to see those.
FITZGIBBON: FMD’s are fantastic; I think they might have even been a Labor creation initially. I’ve been calling for that for a long time. We’ve now got famers in their fourth year of drought and yet it has taken the Government this long to act on what is probably the only effective pre-drought preparation measure I’ve seen in my time and in public office. That’s a good thing. But it gets pretty tough after that. What we really needed was a big high level strategic vision guiding the sector sending signals to investors, letting people know where the Government wants to produce or direct our natural resources into the areas where the return is highest - attracting foreign investment. The Government is doing just the opposite by putting road blocks in the way of foreign investment. There is nothing on sustainability not surprisingly because sadly, sustainability wasn’t within the terms of reference. There was nothing on a varying climate and sustainable profitability will come by lifting our productivity and making our land use practices more sustainable. Now the document is entirely absent, as I understand it, on those questions so that’s a very big omission as is by the way was skills; we need human resources with skills education and training and participation. We need another generation of farmers on the farm and there appears to be nothing in this document which addresses those issues; that will be a great disappointment to the farming community.
LIPSON: So if we break down a few of those things, skills, what sort of things would you suggest should have been in?
FITZGIBBON: We need to look at what farming is going to look like in the future. That’s what a white paper should be about - planning long-term and identifying the skills we will need in the future. Some of those skills sets don’t change but there are many new skill sets too as we move towards more sustainable farming practices for example, higher tech faming, the use of satellites and other technology on-farm. Now there was an expectation the Government would put a greater emphasis on that and ensure that there are the training courses available that people can access the right courses and university. I was in South Australia only yesterday where of course, horticulture is a very big sector, and you know, you can’t do a horticulture course at university or at TAFE in South Australia. Now obviously that is a problem that has been around for a while but you might have thought that two years almost in the making and looking at the future that issue may have been addressed in this White Paper.
LIPSON: What about sustainability, anything suggestions I should say from your side?
FITZGIBBON: The people have to deny a change in climate or climate change if you like but it is with us and most farmers if not all farmers recognise that. The only debate is around what is causing it
LIPSON: [Interrupts] but Government policy can’t change
FITZGIBBON: [interrupts] Oh course it can’t
LIPSON: Count on its own
FITZGIBBON: This should have been a strategic document which used market-based policies to produce market-based signals. We’ve done that in water for example in the Murray Darling Basin which means that our precious water resources go where they produce the highest return. What are we going to do about the soils for example. This Government likes to talk about water, and that is very important, but you need both water and soils to produce food, most foods at least, and there is no talk about soils, soil quality. By the way this year is International Year of Soils. So there is no strategic vision here. A compilation of spending promises many of which are over-stated. And we’ve got more money going to what is a failed drought policy but the headline figure is inflated by the fact that they value the total price of the loan.
LIPSON: [interrupts] Concessional Loan
FITZGIBBON: Concessional Loans for drought affected farms so if I lend you a million dollars at a higher interest rate than what I pay as a government, then I’m putting that one million dollars towards what I say I’m spending in this package. Well I’m not spending that at all. See they have deliberately inflated the package. They are also talking in water infrastructure - $600 million maybe. But I’m told that most of that money will be expected to come from the states - state governments which of course simply don’t have the money. And most of this stuff is on the never-never. The additional R&D money for example is well beyond the forwards and therefore doesn’t offset the money that has already been cut in R&D and the CSIRO and our CRC’s and our Rural RDC and the list goes on. So you know there are some good things there but it’s only catching up on what we’ve lost in recent years and others of course are on the never-never.
LIPSON: [Interrupts] What about the Agriculture Commissioner and the Trade Counsellors that all go overseas are they welcomed?
FITZGIBBON: Trade Counsellors are very good news and something else I’ve been promoting. We’ve got Free Trade Agreements commenced by Labor completed by this Government, that is a good thing, but we’ve still got a range of non-tariff barriers, technical barriers in the host countries which remain a barrier to exporting to those countries and you do need to have professional people on the ground in those countries - in China for example - building relationships and working day-to-day face- to-face with these people, to break down these technical barriers to trade.
LIPSON: And the Agriculture Commissioner?
FITZGIBBON: The more strength to the ACCC can only be a good thing. I don’t agree that the ACCC doesn’t have expertise now but if you want to put a hat on someone that is a welcome thing. It’s not a lot of money but there is a certain inequality between the power of the retailers for example and many of our farmers and growers. Any cop we can put on the beat to deal with that problem will be a welcome thing.
LIPSON: What about this more generally, productively growth in the farming sector it has halved over the past decade according to some estimates. Is there from what you can see adequate measures in this White Paper to address that and if not what would you suggest ?
FITZGIBBON: It is certainly true we have been falling behind on productivity and we have been falling behind in terms of our share of global market. Many people talk about the dining boom, as do I, but people don’t realise that we are fully behind not winning and we have to do something about that and I haven’t seen anything in any report in respect to this White Paper which would suggest that they are doing anything short to medium term on either front. Now again I go back to sustainable practices. Now one of the ways we got productivity gains in the past was the increasing use of chemicals for example, of fertilisers and herbicides. We’ve past that now and we are going into another phase but we’ll see how much is in the White Paper about the change in consumer and investment attitudes, about sustainability. I suspect nothing. And lifting productivity and water retention from moisture in soils and all these things. These are the productivity enhancers of the future, along with them of course, are skills, education and training which is another omission issue. These are the productivity lifting measures that should have been in a strategic document which seem to have be forgotten.
LIPSON: Not long left, I just want to ask you about same-sex marriage. You’ve been agnostic I suppose in the past, you have voted against it once before but you have changed your position since then. What should happen now in the Parliament in your view?
FITZGIBBON: That’s right. Three years ago or so, I voted against the measure - trying to reflect the majority attitude of my electorate. I hope I got that one right first time around but I think in the three years which have passed since people have moved on and now I can safely say that I’m prepared to support this measure and still hopefully keep faith with my electorate. But Tony Abbott just has to get out of the way here. Forget about the issue per se, what he is doing now is that he is using his power over the party room to represent the case of the shrinking minority over the case of a growing majority in the People’s House. Now I couldn’t think of anything less democratic. It is clear that if he got out of the way and let people have a free vote this measure would pass the House of Representatives so he is using his power over the party room to bind a majority of people against their will. I think that is a very, very bad error on his part. I’m confident the numbers are there and they are clearly increasing on a daily basis.
LIPSON: Joel Fitzgibbon thanks so much for your time
FITZGIBBON: It’s a pleasure.