SUBJECTS: Labor’s budget response, Rural Investment Corporation.
ABC CENTRAL WEST
FRIDAY, 12 MAY 2017
HOST MELANIE PEARCE: Bill Shorten released Labor’s budget response. Among the measures, Labor would do if it held the purse strings would be to scrap the new Regional Investment Corporation. This was the body the Coalition promised in the election to streamline the delivery of up to $4 billion in concessional loans. To ask why Labor doesn’t support this new body, I’m joined now by Shadow Minister for Rural and Regional Australia Joel Fitzgibbon, good morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Great to be with you Melanie. I will just warn I am traveling back from Canberra and am on the mobile so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.
PEARCE: Your flight was delayed slightly so we will bear with you. Now Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has called this new body the Regional Investment Corporation a boondoggle, a wasteful or fraudulent project. On what basis does Labor make that claim?
FITZGIBBON: It’s true Melanie. Barnaby Joyce has had difficulty selling his concessional loans to farmers suffering from drought or other challenges. Basically they have been failing partly because we are in a very low interest rate environment and farmers don’t in any case see much use dealing with problems by going into more debt. They have only slowly been taken up in a very small way so Barnaby Joyce is in the habit of blaming the states because they are administered by the states. So he made a hero of himself by saying - well I’m going to make a new organisation in Canberra and we will administer them from Canberra. Well that doesn’t help farmers, it’s just another bureaucracy. It’s going to cost the tax payers $28 million just to shuffle the administration of these loans from one organisation to another. Now I actually have great respect for the rural adjustment authorities in the states. They do a very good job and it’s wrong for Barnaby Joyce to blame them for the failings of his own policy, and worse, he’s spending millions of dollars of tax payers’ money to demonstrate that he’s doing something about it.
PEARCE: So you think the system is not wrong with these state based rural adjustment authorities continuing to administer this money?
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely not and I checked last night, in Queensland for example within the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority there are about four people in that state working on concessional loans. Now why does Barnaby Joyce have to create a bureaucracy of around 100 people he is claiming to do the work of six states? It’s just silly. Every situation in every state is different. The states have pushed to adjust the concessional loans for their own parts of the world to reflect their own situation and Barnaby Joyce is now going to make them uniform and I think that’s going to make them less attractive to farmers in each of those states.
PEARCE: You don’t think there will be any economies of scale having one point of coordination under a federal body?
FITZGIBBON: No I don’t because the Rural Adjustment Authority is highly skilled in this work and have been doing it for decades and indeed I am told, Barnaby Joyce is already dispatching Canberra bureaucrats to the state to learn how they do the work. You can’t criticise how they do the work then learn how they do it. It makes no sense and it is just a stunt and Barnaby Joyce creating his own bureaucracy and enlarging his own empire, but it’s coming at great expense to the tax payer and it won’t improve things for farmers. In fact it could make things worse for farmers.
PEARCE: There’s a lot of excitement though, particularly amongst Coalition MPs not surprisingly, about the potential for a new corporation or federal government body based in regional area with these 100 jobs. Are you saying that is not a good idea to have that sort of centralised body but decentralised in a regional area.
FITZGIBBON: If Barnaby Joyce’s corporation has 100 employees there is something very wrong if Queensland can do its share of the work with four people. A local economy can’t rely on Barnaby Joyce moving some bureaucrats to it. It’s just not how regional economies work. More importantly, he can’t promise every town the same corporation, which is what he’s trying to do, and that’s to get him past the next election. He wants everyone to believe in the lead up to the next election that they might get this corporation in their own backyard. Only one can in the end. If we have our way, $28 million of taxpayers money will not be wasted. If you combine it with the up to $60 million to relocate the APVMA to his own electorate, that’s a lot of money to do good things for farmers.
PEARCE: It’s not just about where this centre would be located. I put it to you, would you be in favour if it happened to be put in a Labor electorate?
FITZGIBBON: I don’t care if he’s putting it in Canberra or in my own backyard, wherever that may be. My first obligation is to taxpayers generally and there is no justification for spending $28 million on what the states are doing already and much more economically efficiently and effectively for farmers. Of course I have an obligation to farmers to make sure scarce money is spent in areas like R and D where they will benefit most not wasted on a new bureaucracy just so that Barnaby Joyce can try to secure some political capital.
PEARCE: Joel Fitzgibbon, before you go, in terms of regional listeners and you are an MP in a regional area, what good is there that you can promise if Labor was to manage the budget? Detail some of the regional measures in the response last night.
FITZGIBBON: Barnaby Joyce’s big boast of course is the inland rail a project commenced by the former Labor Government but set back three years because the current Government cut funding for the project for the first three budgets, so it’s a limited boast. The current Government said they were going to start construction by 2016. They may have done that if they continued with the funding left by Labor. While the inland rail is good news for some parts of the country certainly not for Tasmanians, South Australians Western Australians and Northern Territory farmers, what really is going to help our farming community is to become more productive to further value add to our product and that goes to things like R and D and innovation in particular and of course that funding is cut in this budget.
PEARCE: In terms of the inland rail, while you say it has been delayed and it is a Labor idea, you’re not saying anything about Labor wanting to cut or discontinue the path that has now been set by the Coalition are you?
FITZGIBBON: Well it wasn’t their idea. It had its beginnings in the Government of John Howard. We were the first Government to seriously fund it. Now this Government is going to revisit it and start funding it again. That can only be a good thing. I’ll leave the route of the track to the experts. We need to make sure that we take the most economical path, the one that is going to be most value for our farmers and our economy.
PEARCE: Joel Fitzgibbon thank you for joining us this morning on the road from Canberra.
FITZGIBBON: Nice to talk to you in Orange.
PEARCE: Thank you, Joel Fitzgibbon is Labor Shadow Minister for Agriculture also for Fisheries and Forestry also the Shadow Minister for Rural and Regional Australia outlining a little bit more from a regional perspective - Labor’s response to the 2017 budget.