SUBJECTS: Private Members Bill to reinstate the Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports, Drought policy.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: In September of 2013 as Agriculture Minister I announced the appointment of an Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports. In fact I appointed an Interim Inspector General. The position needed consolidation in the Parliament and sadly, the Coalition Government did not proceed with that consolidation. We haven’t had an Inspector General for the last five years. That was a very, very bad mistake. What the Awassi Express incident and Senate Estimates last week reminded us of is the need to have independent oversight of the regulator of the live export trade. Today I give notice in the Parliament that I will introduce a Private Members Bill to reinstate the Inspector General for Animal Welfare and Live Animal Exports and I call upon all Members of Parliament of all political persuasions to back that plan. There is no argument for not having independent oversight of the regulator indeed the Productivity Commission recently recommended we have independent oversight and I call upon all Members including Members of the Government to back my Private Members Bill.
On a related matter, it is now two months since we saw that terrible footage of the Awassi Express on the 60 Minutes program. David Littleproud has been talking tough about big change. He hasn’t yet implemented all the recommendations of the McCarthy Review as inadequate that review might be. He has been talking tough on fines and penalties. We still don’t have that legislation through the Parliament. It is sitting there ready to go. I call upon the Government to give speedy passage of that legislation through the Parliament today. We think and believe the fines won’t make much difference but they certainly can’t make matters any worse and we stand ready to give that legislation quick passage through the Parliament today if the Government brings it forward.
On a third point, I wanted to say something about drought. There is lots of talk about drought in the media today. There is no doubt that in five years this Government has let Australian farmers down and regional communities down by not progressing drought reform. In 2012 all the political parties, the National Farmers’ Federation and other peak farm groups agreed we needed drought reform. We signed an Intergovernmental Agreement on drought reform in 2012. It has now expired. This Government formally doesn’t have agreement on drought. In the last five years with the abolition of the COAG committee we have no review or benchmarking on the success of current programs, so what are farmers now to do? The same farmers who are now coming off the Farm Household Allowance payment and have nowhere to turn. It is time to restore the COAG process, to start working with the states and to start developing a drought policy which is effective in helping farmers and the regional communities around them and of course it must begin or be underpinned by an acknowledgement that the climate is changing and we must have a focus on natural resource management and best land use practices.
JOURNALIST: Would you agree that we should probably have a National Disaster Fund for all the things that go wrong in Australia that goes on pretty much every year?
FITZGIBBON: What is certain is that we can’t adequately tackle the drought challenge without working in cooperation with the states. That partnership is key and sadly the agreement between the Commonwealth and the states will expire in July. Not one piece of work has been done to restore that cooperation. Not one piece of work has been done to assess our success over the last five years. It is clear to us and clear to everyone out there in farming communities that this Government has been underdone on drought policy, ineffective and people are suffering as a result.
JOURNALIST: What about just a National Disaster Fund? Not a policy, but just a fund that can help with any disaster whether it be drought, flood or cyclone. Which happens periodically in Australia, all the time, so we have a national fund to help those people?
FITZGIBBON: I believe the mistake people continue to make is to treat drought as an abnormal event. A changing climate is with us on a permanent scale. These droughts will become more severe and more protracted overtime. The science is very clear on that. That’s why our focus needs to be on adaptation and making sure farmers take the measures necessary to adapt to a changing climate and there is a critical role for Governments, plural, to help them in that transition.
JOURNALIST: So would you agree with a fund idea? That we have a fund or pool of money, billions of dollars to help pay for this when times get tough?
FITZGIBBON: It has to begin with adaptation. Farmers need to adapt to a changing climate and we need a greater focus on natural resource management and we must enrich the quality of our soils and make sure we are using our water more efficiently.
JOURNALIST: All that costs money.
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s all about cooperation from the states and they are the key factors we need to focus on. Thanks everyone.