SUBJECTS: Singleton missing out on Drought Funding; Drought Policy
JENNY MERCHANT: For more on this, Joel Fitzgibbon is here, the Labor Member for Hunter. Good morning Mr Fitzgibbon.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Great to be with you team.
MERCHANT: Can we start out by just getting the context of this funding program; what is it?
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s actually a modest program that provides a million dollars to councils in drought affected towns. The idea, of course, is to bring forward work programs council might have on its books that they are unable to fund, and in doing stimulate the local economy. So it is pretty modest. The big thing here is the principal; Scott Morrison has declared that Muswellbrook, for example, is in drought but Singleton is not. I mean, anyone local will tell you that it’s just silly and go to the CBD of Singleton and they will tell you that they felt the impact of the drought and the downturn in consumer spending. But to rub salt into the wound, the council did on Friday list a place called Moyne Shire in southwest Victoria where the Mayor says: “look we don’t need this money, we are not in drought, please give it to someone further north who really needs it”. So I really have no idea what’s going on here.
DAN COX: The Water Resources and Drought Minister, David Littleproud, has defended the decision, here’s what he had to say on RN Breakfast this morning:
“There’s a methodology that is put in place that’s predicated of the Bureau of Meteorology. They drought map each shire, and as at 30 June, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, 62% of that Shire was in drought. I’ll be asking for a forensic audit by the Bureau to make sure their data collection was right, but that is the science that we predicate our decision”.
That’s the Minister, David Littleproud. So, he still says Moyne is getting that money; why did Singleton miss out then? Is the mapping not including Singleton as a drought affect area?
FITZGIBBON: Forensic audit Dan – let’s just have some common sense here. Why doesn’t the Minister just go to the DPI website here in NSW and he will see that the Singleton Shire is dramatically impacted by drought. There is no predicted and meaningful rainfall coming so it’s going to remain in drought sadly for some time to come. You just can’t rely on these arbitrary boundaries where Muswellbrook receives some money but Singleton doesn’t. And I’m surprised he’s trying to justify the money going to Moyne – Moyne Shire. When you have the Mayor in the media saying: hey I do not know why we are getting this, please give it to someone who needs it more, it’s pretty silly to double down and claim there is science behind the decision – it is just silly.
MERCHANT: Well what do you think is going on here, the Bureau of Meteorology is not a political organisation and yet they have provided the figure, what do you think is happening here?
FITZGIBBON: Well I always like to go for incompetence over conspiracy, and I hope this is just an error, but it is interesting that Singleton in my electorate missed out and a great guy by the name of Mike Kelly represents the Eden Monaro electorate – down sort of the south coast way – and he has a number of shires also dramatically impacted by drought and they’ve not being covered on this list either. So I just hope some towns aren’t being punished for being in Labor seats. I do hope it’s a mistake, but Singleton should be on the list – I’ve made representations to the Minister on this previously – they should just simply put Singleton on the list. I mean, they just got to start being honest with the Australian people. Scott Morrison keeps running around saying that he is spending $7 billion on drought. Now, I don’t know who he is kidding because the farmers know that not to be true; I know that not to be true, and he’s got to be more honest and release the Drought Coordinator’s report. Major General Stephen Day was commissioned to be the Drought Coordinator and to write a report and yet the government is refusing to give us that report, hiding behind cabinet secrecy. On what basis could they possibly be denying the Australian people the information available in that report? It is easy to come to the conclusion that Major General Stephen Day’s report is critical of this government’s inaction.
MERCHANT: Back to this grant program, Mr Fitzgibbon, is there anything further that you can do to try and bring some of this money to Singleton.
FITZGIBBON: What I am doing right now; I’m going on every national media outlet I can secure to complain that we are being left out unfairly and that we should be put on that list. I’ve tried writing to the Minister that has not born any fruit, so we’ll see whether we can put some pressure on them through the media.
COX: Mr Fitzgibbon, keep us posted. Thank you very much for speaking with ABC Newcastle Breakfast.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks Dan.