SUBJECTS: Another piecemeal drought policy announcement; Drought Coordinator’s report; tax relief for farmers and rural businesses.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Today, we’ve had another drought policy thought bubble from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has to stop this idea, or this practise, of drought policy by media drop. Today’s policy I can’t comment on because we don’t really know what it looks like and apparently we won’t know what it looks like until next year. It’s time for the Prime Minister to concede he has lost all credibility on drought policy. Another drop from him this morning, a drop through the week from the National Party, and of course we’ve had both the National Party and the Nation Farmers’ Federation conclude – declare that Australia lacks a national comprehensive drought policy. So my message to the Prime Minister today is to forget about the media drops, forget about the spin, forget about being loose with the truth, but release the report of the Drought Coordinator, Major General Stephen Day. Show some contrition for the misjudgements of the past year in terms of the ad hoc, piecemeal and on-the-run policy. Convene an all party conference, Drought Cabinet, whatever he likes to call it, so that the major parties can come together in a bipartisan way and for the first time in six years talk meaningfully and cooperatively about developing a strategic, meaningful national drought policy.
JOURNALIST: I understand that report is coming out early next week; what do you understand about it?
FITZGIBBON: Well I know Major General Stephen Day. I had a number of conversations with him while he was formally in the role. I enjoyed perusing his battle plan, his concentric circles, and all the approaches he was taking to the job. And having seen that, I have come to the conclusion that we can assume that Major General Stephen Day did deliver to the government a comprehensive report. And I think with all the resources he was given, and given his experience and expertise, he is the right person to be making recommendations, not just to the government, but to the parliament on how we best respond to this ever-worsening drought. Now, why won’t the Prime Minister release Major General Stephen Day’s report? Well, I have a few theories. Either all, he has said some things about the government’s current drought arrangements – maybe some things that were quite critical – maybe he made some recommendations that were quite tough and come with political consequences and, of course, that is why I invited, and Anthony Albanese, has invited to work with us so that we can tackle those political consequences where hard decisions are needed to be made. And maybe he made some recommendations that would be a threat to Scott Morrison’s budget surplus.
JOURNALIST: The Drought Taskforce was announced in August just after Scott Morrison became Prime Minister. It seems as though the Major General did a lot of travelling between August and early this year and then nothing since last March. The Taskforce seems to have just stopped consulting with regional communities; what do you make of that?
FITZGIBBON: Well, this is a government that loves a committee. It keeps kicking hard decisions down the road. You know, the last parliament we had a committee on regional development; it reported, the government never responded. This parliament, we’ve got another parliamentary committee on regional development, and I suspect the government will ignore its recommendations too. The work of the Joint Taskforce and the Drought Coordinator cost the Australian taxpayer $5.7 million, and having invested $5.7 million I believe the Australian people, and the Opposition, are entitled to know what’s in that report. And the Prime Minister can start to rebuild his credibility by releasing that report today.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the latest reports today that in the Courier Mail regarding tax breaks for farmers and local businesses and States having to do a bit of work to reduce payroll tax for businesses in those struggling communities?
FITZGIBBON: Every piecemeal, ad hoc drought policy this government has had in the last year, and indeed over the last six years, has enjoyed the support of the Opposition. So the Prime Minister has some ideas about how he might be able to extend tax relief to rural communities, then of course we will consider that and hopefully welcome that. But we don’t know what it looks like; he’s made that clear that no decision has been made. We know that we won’t know what it looks like until next year, but I’ll state what I believe most farmers and rural communities will be thinking today in the first instance: you don’t pay tax if you’re not earning any money. Thanks everybody.