SUBJECTS: Drought Communities Program; Inaction on Drought Policy.
ALAN JONES: It’s not just a drought crisis; this is a political crisis the way this has been handled. The way this has been handled is in one word – I’m sorry –disgraceful. The poor farmers and rural people are being told all sorts of stories and those stories are inaccurate. Now yesterday, when I spoke to Joel Fitzgibbon, he was the person who mentions – now it’s everywhere – but he was the person who broke the story, that the Moyne Shire – M O Y N E S – in Victoria, infamous I might add for its wind turbines which are creating awful health problems for its people, one of 13 local government areas to win a slice of the $100 million drought relief package and they are experiencing one of their best seasons in years. And Joel Fitzgibbons from the Hunter, and there is not one project that addresses the problems of drought in the Hunter Valley, including his shires – Singleton in particular which is as dry as a bone – Joel good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: That’s right Alan, and the Prime Minister continues to run around claiming he is spending $7 billion on the drought. Now Alan, if he is, the question needs to be asked where in the hell is it going because as you know and you’ve said many times, the farmers we speak to aren’t receiving any assistance.
JONES: Well, I mean the $5 billion Future Drought Fund – that’s ridiculous – that’s not accessible until July 1 next year.
FITZGIBBON: And it doesn’t go to any farmers Alan.
JONES: That’s right
FITZGIBBON: It goes to innovation. It’s not a bad thing but not one cent of that money, if it’s spent on the basis they claim it will be spent, will go to a farmer.
JONES: See what gets me, Joel, is these people think they know everything – I think some of them have never been on a farm. What the farmers need – you speak to them, I think to them, I speak to them every day – they need fodder and water and they can’t afford the freight. Now, there is fodder and water. You take that Moyne Shire down there, they have had a terrific season – there is fodder and water available to be brought to the Hunter Valley, or to Walgett or to western Queensland Winton, but the farmer can’t afford the freight. What the government should say is we will pay the freight. Secondly, who is going to cart the fodder and the water? Well, the army. That’s why you make it a national disaster and you pull all the resources in. But Joel, it’s worse than that, you see – stupid me – I sit up all night going through these 21 dam proposals – 21 of them – 15 clearly have nothing to do with dams – 15! Now, the other six are on the margin, you might call them dams on the margin, but there is not a shovel in the ground and there is no likelihood of a shovel going into the ground, so it rains like hell tomorrow and we are in the same situation as we were this time last year and the year before, and the year before.
FITZGIBBON: And for six years, Alan, the Government has talked building dams, raising false hope, and now given their failure they’re trying to put their responsibility back onto the states. Well, as you know, it’s a joint effort and if we are not working together, well we are not likely to be getting any results. But, you’ve inspired me to do my own research. It appears to me that Moyne Council isn’t the only big question mark hanging over this Drought Communities Program. I got a text from a well-known and highly respected leader in the agriculture sector yesterday and it simply said: “just been through Kyogle, looks like a good year”, and I had no idea why he was sending me that message and I’ve checked, of course, that Kyogle was added to that list – now I’m not denying Kyogle any assistance, I don’t really know the situation on the ground – but the question will need to be asked. And then I had a look at the few of the others. Swan Hill City Council, also in Victoria, in the National Party seat of Mallee and there are some very interesting comments from the CEO, John McLinden, down there who says that they are pleasantly surprised they hadn’t applied for the money, they haven’t had a look at the guidelines, they don’t know what they allowed to do with it, but he said the season down there has been in quotes “a mixed bad” and it’s a irrigating community and drought is not usually associated with irrigating communities in that part of the world. So, it looks to me increasingly Alan, like this Drought Communities Program might be more a pork barrel than one designed to help drought stricken communities.
JONES: That’s right – well, just, look – we’ll talk and talk, but I’ll just make one final point for today, Joel, if you take the Darling Downs, the area you are representing, the Hunter Valley, and the Liverpool Plains, they would be three of the most productive, potentially productive agricultures in the world – in the world. They are as dry as a bone and not one project, not one project relates to the Darling Downs, the Hunter Valley, or the Liverpool Plains. Do these people know where these farms are? Have they ever been on a farm?
FITZGIBBON: Scott Morrison is more interested in political outcomes then he is helping drought affected farmers and community. Now I don’t want another committee, but I think we now need an Australian National Audit Office analysis, not only of the Drought Communities Program, but everything the government has spent on drought over the last six years because as you know it has been piecemeal and ad hoc, and we want to know where the money is going, because again…
JONES: And in the meantime, Joel, I mean financially and psychologically, rural Australia is on its knees. This should be a national disaster, declared a national disaster, the army brought in and we transport water and fodder from where it is to where it’s needed. We’ll keep talking to you; you keep emailing us; we will get there in the end.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you Alan.
JONES: Good on you there Joel Fitzgibbon, the Shadow Minister, but talking to anyone in the Government is a waste of space.