SUBJECTS: Labor’s Red Meat Strategy Discussion Paper, Murray Darling Basin, election terms.
HOST MICHAEL J BAILEY: Morning to you Zac, how are you?
ZAC BEERS, ALP CANDIDATE FOR FLYNN: Good mate, thanks for having me.
BAILEY: And if we can’t take the mickey out of you, who can? That’s what I reckon. You are doing a terrific job, going around and introducing people to your new policies and things like that. And I believe you have Joel, what a great minister, to come into the studio here this morning.
BEERS: It is good to have Joel Fitzgibbon here today. We have got some pretty important stuff to talk about while he is in town. He is also joined by some other members from the Country Caucus of the Labor Party. Basically to get together today, have a bit of a discussion about our Red Meat Strategy Discussion paper, which we are launching today. And also have a bit of a look at how we do things in this part of the world and what opportunities exist in this regional area, that we need to get right from a government perspective.
BAILEY: Good morning to you Joel, how are you?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Great to be here and what an honour it is to be here in the studio watching Wheel of Fortune live. Such a sophisticated operation you have there.
BAILEY: We can rest assured that our boss, Jace McIntyre, has dipped into the barrel and I do believe the Mens’ Shed is making us a brand new fair dinkum Wheel of Fortune, it is not bad is it? I tried to buy a Wheel of Fortune but there were none in town, I popped into Toy World and they actually made that for me.
FITZGIBBON: Innovation, that’s what it is all about.
BAILEY: Innovation, that’s what it is all about. Talking about innovation, red meat. What’s the story about that Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Well people often lament the decline in manufacturing in this country, we do want to be a country that continues to make things, and when people think we are in decline they too often forget that our largest manufacturing industries are in food. The red meat sector is the largest of those, $18 billion in the Australian economy.
BAILEY: It’s a mind blower isn’t it? $18 billion.
FITZGIBBON: It is a big employer, but it is in trouble too. It is facing enormous challenges, productivity, higher costs, market access in international markets, et cetera. We want to make that industry as profitable as it possibly can be. Both for producers, those who produce the cattle and other red meat, but of course for the processors and those who work in the processing sector. So we have been, over the last twelve months, consulting with all the various stakeholders, asking them what a Labor Government could do to lift productivity and make all those businesses more sustainably profitable to create more jobs in regional Australia. And that is the key point. Most of these jobs are in regional Australia so if we can further bolster the food manufacturing sector, in particular the red meat sector, then we are going to be creating jobs in regional Australia. So we have spent the last twelve months consulting stakeholders, that lead to us to collectively write a discussion paper, we have identified all the main opportunities and challenges and all the things that are holding the sector back. We have formulated that and put it into a discussion paper which is going to form the basis of our next round of discussions and today, here in Gladstone, we begin that next round using our discussion paper. And what better place to do it, but here in Central Queensland which is effectively “Cattle Central” for the Australian continent.
BAILEY: I would like to see yourself and Bill Shorten, or even Zac, getting into your rain dance gear because that would really help out the industry, ok? I can imagine you in Winton or something and doing the rain dance with the local indigenous people and making sure the good moisture comes through because that is really stopping a lot of businesses not just the red meat industry, do you not agree?
FITZGIBBON: Well, the drought is very serious and while the media caravan has largely moved on, not much has changed for our growers and producers and the key message there is we have to accept that droughts are going now to be more regular and going to be more protracted and more importantly, they are going to be hotter. That is all the evidence. We need long term strategies to counter that and to help producers better ready themselves for drought and better deal with drought through those drier spells. The Labor Party has a lot to say about this, I am determined if we are given the opportunity to serve in government, for the first time in a long time you will have a government looking at the long term gain and helping farmers build the resilience they need to live in a very different climate. And of course we need to take climate change seriously and start the mitigation process, something our opponents have been opposed to for more than 10 years.
BAILEY: I know it has nothing to do with beef but I’ve just got to mention the Murray River. You know a billion fish, and they want to do an inquiry and all that sort of stuff. Why are they wasting their money when it’s just the drought? I mean we have been through this before. Can we save the Murray? Can we get more water down there? Or do we just have to accept the fact it’s the drought and we just have to wait until big rains do come again?
FITZGIBBON: It’s not just the drought obviously. We need to get the scientists to tell us exactly what went wrong in the Menindee. When Bill Shorten said he would form a scientific committee, the next day Scott Morrison rejected that idea and now of course David Littleproud is going to have some scientists do an inquiry. But look, we need to learn the lessons of conflict. For many decades, before 2012, people resisted a plan to save a Murray Darling.
BAILEY: Yes they did.
FITZGIBBON: Finally you have a settlement in 2012. It was somewhat of a compromise but it was a good settlement. It was the first time we had a plan which we all hoped would do what we need that plan to do and that’s provide the irrigators with the water they need but also to ensure they can do it for decades to come by saving the environmental flows in the Murray Darling Basin. Sadly it appears we’re not winning that battle and many will now push for us to do more but the important thing is to try to maintain that bipartisanship because we can’t afford to waste decades more arguing the toss so bipartisanship is important and we are committed to that but I’m a bit concerned about the politics in recent days. People are starting to play games with the basin again and we can’t afford that.
BAILEY: And that’s because of the election. But we must also emphasise that the Murray River is not dead. There are some sections of the Murray River that are actually flourishing.
FITZGIBBON: That’s very true and it is a complex water system. It’s not a case of just pouring a litre of water in one end in the north and it just comes out at the other end. It’s far more complex than that. Evaporation is a big player so we need to be guided by the science on these matters and arguing about the science is a waste of time and only refers real solutions.
BAILEY: Looking forward to that, so Zac the Red Meat Proposal, is there a special meeting that people can pop into or is it just going to be launched?
BEERS: It’s going to be launched today and we are catching up with industry representatives and people from the industry to have a good conversation about that after we launch it today, but there will be plenty more opportunity. I know that Joel’s team is going to be putting together a comprehensive plan about where this goes from here. But this is the next step in the journey with industry to make sure we get the policy right to make sure that industry not only survives but thrives under a Labor Government.
BAILEY: That’s what it’s all about isn’t it, getting the plan out there. It’s time we started talking long term. I’m sick of three year plans.
FITZGIBBON: Short-termism is one of the biggest enemies of the Australian Agriculture sector more generally. Why do we have short-termism? Because people want to be popular, decision makers want to be popular. They say the things they think people want to hear, but you have to show real leadership in this sector and we do need long term strategies to lift sustainable profitability.
BAILEY: Here’s a thought provoker for you. I hate three terms. I think they should be five year terms. Just like France and European countries because the first year you’re in, you do unpopular things, second year you’ve got to swim or sink, third year you have an election year and make rash promises. If you can’t get the policy right than you deserve to be kicked out.
FITZGIBBON: Couldn’t agree more. They are too short and indeed, I think it was in 1988 – that’s showing my age now – we had a referendum on fixed four year terms and sadly that referendum question was defeated. Sadly further, the Liberal Party at the time opposed that referendum question.
BAILEY: Uh oh, need we say any more. Hey guys thanks very much for coming in. we wish you all the best of luck and make sure you’re back in town.