SUBJECT/S: Drought assistance package; Stephen Conroy.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Well it appears that this morning the Prime Minister’s going to do what we’ve been asking him to do for the last month.  That is finally announce a drought package for struggling farm families.

Why it has taken so long, is for the Prime Minister to explain but many struggling farm families will be asking that question today particularly given it seems the centre piece of the package is the very initiative Labor’s has been calling upon him to act on over the course of the last month.

That is the enhancement of Labor’s low interest, interest only concessional loans scheme.  It was always the most effective, efficient and obvious response to drought of course we’ll hold our final judgement on the package until we’ve seen it today but we will welcome a significant investment in a very, very significant problem.

JOURNALIST: How significant is it really, it’s reported this morning, it’s that it is 325 million is that enough?

FITZGIBBON: Well that would be a significant enhancement of Labor’s concessional loans scheme but we’ll see how much of that is going to that particular initiative.  We asked these questions in Senate Estimates last night, and it seemed to me that confusion was the order of the day the Department doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with what the Prime Minister is talking about.

One of the tests today is whether he does something on the farm household support payment. Two days before the Griffith by-election, I think acting entirely on his own, without advice, the Prime Minister said he would bring that payment forward.  That initiative is not without its problems, it was pretty obvious that was the case in Senate Estimates last night.

We will see what he does today but he will have failed his own test if he doesn’t do something to enhance the farm household support payment, to both bring it forward and to make the means test of it more liberal.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

FITZGIBBON: Well that probably needs legislation, unless by executive order he is going to adjust the current transitional scheme which would be unusual.

JOURNALIST: But would you support that [Inaudible]

FITZGIBBON: I’ve been saying for the last month he needs to do something to put cash into the pockets of struggling farm families. The most obvious way to do that immediately would have been to do something on the farm household support package.  He said two days before the Griffith by-election he would do so but here we are still waiting for him to act.

If wants to do something with the July 1 payment he needs to legislate and of course he missed the opportunity to do that last time we were in Canberra when the Senate was sitting.

JOURNALIST: Is it appropriate for Senator Conroy to accuse Angus Campbell of a political cover up?

FITZGIBBON: I’m going to leave it to Stephen Conroy to speak for himself.

JOURNALIST: As a former Defence Minister though do you think those comments are appropriate?

FITZGIBBON: I have the highest regard for our military leaders in this country and I’ll leave Stephen Conroy to speak for himself.

JOURNALIST: What about your regard for Senator Conroy?

FITZGIBBON: Stephen Conroy is doing an excellent job as the Shadow Minister and of course he has my support.

JOURNALIST: He’s not been too much of a trouble maker is he?

FITZGIBBON: Anyone else got any more questions on drought?

JOURNALIST: In regards to [Inaudible] we’ve obviously had a fair bit of rain in the past fortnight in key parts of Queensland and NSW is going to be enough though to solve all the problems [Inaudible].

FITZGIBBON: The rain was welcome but what the farmers need really is about 100mls in one week and another 100mls the week after that and the week after that.  The rain was welcome but it goes nowhere near far enough to breaking the drought.

An assistance package is needed, it was needed weeks ago.  It’s for the Prime Minister will explain why it took so long but we’ll welcome any appropriate package today.

Thank you.


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