SUBJECTS: Prime Minister’s Future Fund announcement; Drought Summit talk-fest; Barnaby Joyce response to Peter Schwarz allegations.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Well sadly this morning’s announcement confirms that today’s drought summit is likely to be no more than a talk-fest. The Prime Minister confirmed that when he pre-empted it by making his Future Fund announcement this morning. The trouble is this is just an accounting trick, designed to generate a big dollar headline for the Government. Some $5 billion. It is fake money until it is allocated to a program. If it is going to spend $100 million a year after 2020, which seems a long way away, then it will be less money than the Government claims it is currently spending on drought measures. This Government is very good at generating fake big dollar headlines, remember the $4 billion Agriculture White Paper? That is just a front, it takes into account the whole value of capital loans whether they are lent to farmers or not lent. The Government had within that, a Regional Investment Corporation in Orange you might recall, something I described as a pork barrel. Well, the RIC never mentions its name any longer. It doesn’t exist. It doesn’t have a CEO, it doesn’t have any staff, it doesn’t have anywhere to live. It was already supposed to be administering water infrastructure loans, headlined at $2 billion. But they are loans the Government has not been able to allocate. So a promise sometime in the future, to spend $100 million is not what today should be about. Today should be about building that resilience, long term plans, to ensure farmers are better adapted to drought and are better placed to withstand drought. And talking about spending money in 10 years’ time is not going to make a contribution to the development of that plan.
JOURNALIST: Joel, could I ask you about reports we see in Fairfax papers today about Peter Schwarz allegedly fleecing this $850,000?
FITZGIBBON: What you see in Fairfax papers today is exactly what you expect to see when you put the National Party in charge of water policy and it was a disgrace that Barnaby Joyce defended the position this morning. His test always is whether something is “legal”. He needs to talk about morality and what’s moral. There are very big questions that have emerged from that article this morning and Barnaby Joyce should take them more seriously.