SUBJECT/S:  Agriculture White Paper, Polls

HOST:  Joel Fitzgibbon, the Government has been proclaiming this Agriculture White Paper represents a $4Billion investment in our farmers, surely the Opposition’s got to welcome that?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS:  And that’s a con job, this is not a $4 billion package, it’s nothing like that.  I could generously give it about $7 or $800 Million but that is over a ten year period and much of this money is well beyond the forward estimates and doesn’t even hit the Budget bottom line.  Also amplified by economy-wide infrastructure projects that are not specific to agriculture and much of the money is contingent on contributions from cash strapped State Governments, you know a little about that though it is massively and deliberately exaggerated.

HOST:  How much of this money do you reckon is coming from loans to farmers and do you think farmers welcome that?

FITZGIBBON:  Well first of all, these Concessional Loans as a response to drought have been a failure, farmers haven’t been taking them up, either because they don’t see them as being sufficiently helpful or they haven’t been able to secure them.   In South Australia for example, not one farmer has been able to secure a loan but the point here is that they are booking the total value of the loan over ten years  so if I were to lend you $10 million,  the cost to me as a government would be the cost of delivering that loan, not the headline value of the loan, so they are taking the total value and portraying that as a contribution in this White Paper and nothing could be further from the truth.  Really it is not a surprise that people are losing confidence and faith in politicians when they pull these tricks on the electorate.

HOST:  Now in his Press Club speech, Barnaby Joyce was encouraging farmers to pay down debt, but he is also encouraging them to put money aside in the good times in his Farm Management Deposits, farmers are going to get a bit of a mixed message here perhaps?

FITZGIBBON:  A bit of a mixed message but I have to say I do welcome the  additional enhancements to Farm Management Deposit scheme.  It is good public policy and we should see more of that.  But what we wanted on Saturday when this was first  released, after expectations were raised so high by the Government over a 22 month period, we wanted high level strategic guidance that set market based pricing laws for example to investors, domestic and foreign alike which set key goals and objectives like the New Zealanders do so we know where we are heading towards 2050 and investors are clear on what are the Government’s priorities.  We got none of that on Saturday or today, we just got a “grab bag” of policies, most of which could have been announced, like the FMDs, 18 months ago.  We didn’t need a 22 month period of consultation and study to come up with any those positive announcements that were in the White Paper.

HOST:  Now Joel Fitzgibbon, the Opposition has been quite bipartisan up ‘til now on this White Paper process, where do you see this going in the future, specifically what is Labor going to advocate for as this process moves forward?

FITZGIBBON:  Well I am determined to attempt at least to continue with the bipartisan approach, that is why I attended the Minister’s National Press Club address today, that is very unusual I have to say.  I said in the beginning, post the last election, that I wanted to take agriculture out of the short electoral cycle and give it some long term planning.  I sat down with Barnaby and he echoed my remarks  and I welcomed that and of course when they put out underdone White Papers like this it is really hard to maintain that bipartisan approach.  It is my job to criticise where criticism is justified and I have had plenty of critical things to say about this White Paper but tomorrow is another day.  I will wake up and start running again and be still be indicating that if he wants to work with the Opposition we are keen to improve this White Paper and to turn it into a strategic document which is what the sector needs and was expecting.

HOST:  Now I’ve just got to ask you another question today, we have seen the polling out, both the Newspoll and IPSOS, for Labor Newspoll is the 26th consecutive where they have been ahead on the two party preferred but a bit of a sting in the tail perhaps in the personal ratings for the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten.  Your reaction to the polls today?

FITZGIBBON:  Well as you know I watch polls very closely and I have been watching them for a long time and I think I know a bit about them and what I saw today was two separate polls which still have Labor in front on a two party preferred basis and I welcome that.  And in my experience, polls are very largely determined on how people are seeing the leaders of the political parties and on that basis Bill Shorten can be quite happy about the outcome because he is of course the Leader of the Labor Party.  Now Tony Abbott has spent between $70M and $80M running a witch hunt in the form of a Royal Commission trying to muddy up the trade union movement and hoping to embroil Bill Shorten in that process and of course he will have a bit of bark taken off, you can’t as a leader be taken to a Royal Commission and expect people to not sit up and take notice.   But I am absolutely confident that Bill Shorten will come  through this Royal Commission clean as a whistle.  I have spoken to him about it and he is confident about it, he is proud of what he has done in his working life through the trade union movement and the time will come when the Commission is behind us and he can get on with focussing on the important things, which generally speaking he has been doing.

HOST:  Joel Fitzgibbon, thank you for joining us this afternoon.

FITZGIBBON:  And that’s a great pleasure.





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