SUBJECTS: Question Time; Inaction on Drought Policy
BEN FORHAM: Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, has exploded in question time launching an extraordinary spray on Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon. The Nationals Leader was talking about tough times in the bush, but the Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, was interjecting from the opposition benches. Eventually, the Deputy Prime Minister had had enough. I’m going to play the audio right now of what unfolded in Question Time this afternoon:
BEN FORDHAM: Ok – so you were listening to Michael McCormack from the National Party, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Joel Fitzgibbon, the Member for Hunter and the Labor Party member. Now I know both of these gentlemen, Joel Fitzgibbon and Michael McCormack, they both are very passionate about the bush and they’ve had a blow-up in Question Time today. In the interest of sorting these things out, they are both on the line. Michael McCormack, good afternoon.
MICHAEL MCCORMACK, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon Ben; good afternoon Joel.
FORDHAM: Joel good afternoon.
FORDHAM: Joel Fitzgibbon good afternoon? Where’s Joel gone?
MCCORMACK: He’s probably taking a cold shower.
FORDHAM: Sounds like he is listening back to himself in Question Time by the sounds of things – anyway ill find him right now. Can you tell what he was saying to you Mr McCormack?
MCCORMACK: Well he interjected all day yesterday on me while I was answering a question about the drought and the importance of farmers, and the importance of our regional communities, and I let it go. I just thought: no, rise above it. But today, when he did it again, and it continued to just mouth off during what I thought was a bipartisan answer; what I thought was a bipartisan position about out helping farmers; helping out our communities which are really struggling and I thought: you know what? I’m not going to cop this, so I just gave it to him both barrels.
FORDHAM: Well I made the observation at the top of the show today; usually issues like the drought are above politics.
MCCORMACK: Well indeed, and today we saw Labor jump to their feet and offer support on our motions; on our answers about fire and about veteran’s suicide – and so they should – and you know, it would have been far better for Joel to have just sat there, been quiet, and then got up when I had finished and also praised that great organisation, the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, because it is doing some important work. And it has always had bipartisan support and that’s the message I was trying to get across.
FORDHAM: So what was his intention; do you think he was trying to goad you? Do you think he was trying to throw the bait out there in the hope that you’d took it?
MCCORMACK: Possibly, but the fact is we’ve done a lot for rural and regional communities suffering drought. Whether he thinks we’ve done enough, who knows? But, of course we will stand side-by-side with our farmers and we will do more, and let me tell you, the Future Drought Fund, which Labor opposed in the last parliament, which they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to offer support for in this parliament since the election. The fact is had they supported it, back when it was introduced, it would of actually had tens of millions of dollars in interest to actually get out to farmers as this drought continues. And, of course, we’re offering farm household support, we’re offering rural financial counselling; we’re doing a lot in the space of getting money to organisations, such as Rotary, such as the FRRR, such as the Country Women’s Association, to help these country communities. I just thought; I just expected that he might have been just a bit more magnanimous today.
FORDHAM: Do you want to talk to him?
MCCORMACK: Sure, I’m happy to.
FORDHAM: Joel Fitzgibbon, good afternoon?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: G’day Ben – technical problem there I’m sorry.
FORDHAM: That’s ok – Michael McCormack is on the other line.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah – g’day Michael.
MCCORMACK: G’day Joel.
FITZGIBBON: I should begin with asking you: are you ok?
MCCORMACK: I’m fine Joel, how about you?
FITZGIBBON: No I’m fine…
MCCORMACK: Well our regional communities aren’t Joel, and I just think when we are in parliament, when I am being bipartisan that, I think, a bit of quiet and respectful attention might have been better.
It’s ok, I’m happy to have a cup of tea with you any day.
FITZGIBBON: You completely lost it in Question Time today when all I was interjecting was: why don’t you actually do something? And you lost your shit because you are under pressure from rural communities…
MCCORMACK: Well there is no need to swear Joel. I will always loose when we’re talking about…
FITZGIBBON: You are – you are under pressure. Will you let me speak? You are under pressure from rural communities because you have been exposed; they are coming to realise that you have done 2/5s of bugger all for them with respect to this drought.
FORDHAM: Hang on a moment, if I can jump in there Joel. I mean, look I know you care about the bush, I know Michael McCormack cares about the bush, but when it comes to the drought we know that this is something that is a major issue at the moment for people in several parts of Australia. New South Wales is doing it tough; Queensland is doing it tough and elsewhere. You’ve got to give some credit to where it is due when it comes to those in power who are doing everything within their power when they’re up against mother nature to try and help.
FITZGIBBON: I don’t think that’s true, Ben. I mean six years ago they tore up the agreement we had with the states to progress a serious, comprehensive, strategic drought plan. Then they sat on their hands for most of the six years. Forget about this “Future Drought Fund” which will not release any money until next year – that’ll be seven years into the drought – that won’t go to farmers. It’s not going to help farmers. That is just spin you heard from Michael. We needed real and meaningful assistance for our farmers, not next year. We needed it six years ago. He’s failed to deliver, and that’s why he lost it in question time today. He’s been exposed; he’s been found out.
FORDHAM: Michael McCormack?
MCCORMACK: Yeah, well that’s just non-sense, and the fact is, in 2016 in my area, in fact, there was almost too much rain. In fact, many of the crops which had been planted towards that spring time when they just needed decent showers just to top them off – they were just pounded with rain – and in fact whilst they got a harvest, it wasn’t as good as what the early promises showed because they actually got too much rain. There are a lot of areas which actually have received a decent rain in the last seven years, I appreciate that some parts of the north…
FORDHAM: If I can just jump in for a moment because I know I’m playing the role here of a bit of a mediator. I think that if the Deputy Prime Minister could make it rain, he would. But he doesn’t have that power and I think that people in the bush really don’t want to hear you two arguing at the moment. They want to hear some team work.
FITZGIBBON: Ben, I’ve been offering bipartisanship on drought for the last six years. Farmers around the country will be collectively, are collectively shaking their heads at what the Deputy Prime Minster just said. He said it rained in 2016, so everything’s okay. The fact is, Ben, they’ve got a Farm Household Allowance system that is an income support payment for farmers which has been broken. Farmers can’t access it. Now they’re being told they’ve got to come off it because they’ve been on it too long.
He’s got his future Drought Fund which doesn’t start until next year, and in between we’ve had concessional loans, Ben, which cost the Government next to nothing, on which most farmers say, I don’t – switching debt or taking more debt on is not a solution for me. Ben, they haven’t been doing the work, and they are now being found out, and that’s why Michael McCormack got so upset during question time today.
FORDHAM: Look, I’m sure there’d be farmers listening saying that people have been taking their eye off the ball when it comes to drought proofing Australia for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years, or even longer, but Michael McCormack if I can go back to you, I’d just say again what I’ve been saying to Joel Fitzgibbon – farmers want to hear you guys working together at the moment, not working against each other.
MCCORMACK: Indeed, and always willing to work in a bipartisan way, that’s why I think during my answer today I mentioned the word “bipartisanship” a couple of times, and indeed, very, very pleased that Bill Kilter, the former union warrior has actually joined up with John Sharp for that Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal. I think that bipartisanship is commendable.
And what else is commendable is the national water grid we are going to put in place. We are going to put in place a national water infrastructure building; we are going to take the petty politics out of it. We’re going to get those states on board, we’re going to make sure we’ve got the best available science, and we’re going to actually store the water when it rains – it will rain again, no question. It will probably rain that much we’ll be cursing it, and then we will be able to use it, and harvest it, and harness it when it’s dry again, because that is Australia – a land of droughts and flooding rains.
FORDHAM: Hang on a moment. When can you two catch up and break bread?
MCCORMACK: I’m happy to have a cup of tea with Joel now if he wants to come around to my office, or I’ll even go around his if he really wants.
FORDHAM: Joel, can you go around there now and the two of you have a conversation face-to-face?
FITZGIBBON: Not right now, I’m on Chamber Duty in the Parliament, but…
FORDHAM: When can you catch up with the Deputy PM?
FITZGIBBON: Ben can I say…
FORDHAM: When can you catch up with the Deputy PM? People want you guys on the same page, here.
FITZGIBBON: We almost had a game of golf in Wagga Wagga not that long ago, we’re good mates, but let me say this – he talked about water infrastructure, they have been talking about building dams and other water infrastructure now, Ben, for six years, and guess what? Haven’t turned a sod, Ben…
MCCORMACK: Look, is turning a sod before the end of the year, Joel at emu swamp dam in the granite built near Stanthorpe in Maranoa – which is one of the most hardest hit areas by this drought?
FORDHAM: Joel, can you give my listeners a commitment that you will catch up with face-to-face with the Deputy Prime Minister in the next week?
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely. I have no problem with that at all, he knows that.
MCCORMACK: We’ll send the photo…
FORDHAM: I appreciate your time, both of you.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you.
MCCORMACK: Good on you Joel.
FORDHAM: Joel Fitzgibbon and Michael McCormack. They will catch up together in the next seven days.