SUBJECTS: Auditor-General Request; Drought Policy; National Emergency
ALAN JONES: I mentioned this week that 21 dams currently being built, or have been built since quote “we came to power” – according to an interview I had with the Prime Minister on July 22 – there are none. N O N E – none. Not one is being built, but they boasted 21. Now, I don’t know where we go from here. This National Water Grid Authority announcement by McCormack is most probably a metaphor for where we are. This bloke McCormack is the Deputy Prime Minister – supposed to be the leader of the bush – launched $100 million organisation to the National Water Grid authority, he said would be a holistic oversight body – whatever the hell that means – which will use the world’s best minds, scientists and local knowledge to assess the myriad of water diversion and storage proposals and provide a science-based approach to the future requirements of Australia’s water infrastructure, and there is nothing supposed to start on October 1 – it has no boss. As I said, where do we go? Joel Fitzgibbon is the only person prepared to talk about this. He’s on the line, Joel Fitzgibbon good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Good morning Alan.
JONES: This is a major political issue. You have now, this week, asked the Auditor-General to examine “all government drought initiatives since 2014”. You’ve written; have you had a response?
FITZGIBBON: I have written indeed, Alan, and unusually I saw the Auditor-General tweeting my letter and saying my request was under consideration and the decision would be put up on their website in the not too distant future. I thought that was encouraging and I am very hopeful that he takes a very, very close look at these programs, or what might be called more appropriately, non-programs.
JONES: You said you asked him – your particular reference was to quote the government’s claim it is spending $7 billion – a number that doesn’t appear to be reflected in actual measures – you said, and the design implementation and effectiveness of each program including the Drought Communities Program. You referred him to the media release of last Friday – pardon me – of last Friday which referred to the latest drought package – this $100 million – have you any idea where this $100 million is right now?
FITZGIBBON: Well, you said earlier that Scott Morrison doesn’t seem to know what he is doing. I’m really angry because he knows exactly what he is doing; he’s announcing really big numbers to pretend he is acting on this drought but we all know they are fictitious numbers, there is no $7 billion – you’ve said yourself how that number is generated, and he just continues to mislead the Australian community and, more particularly, our drought-affected farmers and rural communities. And you talk about Michael McCormack; I was on Ben Fordham on your radio station not that long ago with Michael McCormack and he accused me of exaggerating the drought and defended his position by saying that in 2015 we had some rain and, indeed, in some areas we had too much rain. This is how out of touch some of these people are.
JONES: Totally – then you’ve got the Prime Minister adding 13 councils to the list of those eligible for funding under another name, the Drought Communities Program, and the Moyne Shire, which I understand yesterday rejected the money, but it was included, and you’ve got drought-affected parts of your electorate and the Eden Monaro were not. So according to the Morrison Government, Muswellbrook is in drought but Singleton is not.
FITZGIBBON: Exactly - I’d love the Prime Minister to take a short drive with me from Muswellbrook to Singleton and understand that the climate doesn’t recognise local government boundaries. There is no difference between the position Singleton finds itself in when compared to the position Muswellbrook finds itself in. And on the issue of the Drought Coordinator’s report, a very good piece in the Guardian by Sarah Martin suggests that the drought Coordinator’s report or his work combined with the so-called Drought Taskforce, cost taxpayers $5.5 million and yet they refuse to show us either of those reports.
JONES: I know. I spoke to a woman yesterday from Yarrowitch, which is 50km from Walcha, her tanks are nearly empty, they have to take washing to a laundromat, they can’t shower, they are trying to preserve the last bit of water in their tanks; they don’t qualify for any help at all. What happens to someone who has no water and no money – they can’t afford cartage. I mean, the government talks about freight subsidies – no, no, no – there might be a subsidy but the balance of the freight – they’ve run out of money, this has been going on for two years. So I’m simply saying there’s only two things you got to: you got to look after the farm and the farmer. If you look after the farm you need to feed the stock, the stock need fodder and water and someone needs to bring the fodder and the water from where it is to where it is needed and no charge to the farmer; isn’t that what the army could do? They got trucks galore.
FITZGIBBON: And Barnaby Joyce has worked out what all this means in the end when he said in an article this morning that the Coalition faces an annihilation in the bush and I think he is spot on; we can agree on that – people are waking up for over the course of the last six years despite all the talk about drought and other measure, the government hasn’t lifted a finger. Now he is calling Federal Labor to help him persuade his own government to do something on water infrastructure.
JOYCE: Isn’t the first step, Joel – isn’t the first step to call this what it is: a national disaster, and bring all the resources of the nation to bear to keep rural Australia alive?
FITZGIBBON: It is absolutely a national emergency and it should take all the energy of Commonwealth, state and local governments – it should be our number one priority. And when Scott Morrison became Prime Minister he said he’d make drought and the farmers his first priority but he hasn’t followed through Alan.
JOYCE: Absolutely - good on you – good to talk to you, keep at it. There is he is, Joel Fitzgibbon the Shadow Minister, but it’s unbelievable; this has become a major, major political issue.