Transcript - Radio Interview - ABC Riverina - Tuesday, May 7 2019

SUBJECTS: Labor’s Forestry hub announcement, forestry industry, Murray Darling Basin Plan.

SIMON WALLACE: The Shadow Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry and the Shadow Minister for Rural and Regional Australia Joel Fitzgibbon is in Tumut today. Mr Fitzgibbon, good morning.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Great to be with you Simon.

WALLACE: You’re making an announcement for the forestry industry?

FITZGIBBON: I am indeed. We are very, very keen to grow the industry and want to create more timber worker jobs and we want them to be well paid jobs. We’re going to do so in a number of ways. You had Kim Carr down here with Mike Kelly not that long ago talking about our manufacturing fund and assisting investment in the manufacturing side of things. Today I’m talking about further up the value chain. We are going to do two things in particular. We are going to give the region the timber hub it needs and deserves and we are going to remove this ridiculous so-called water rule which restricts where you can plant the plantation estates and where you can get carbon offsets for doing so. That will make plantations more profitable and have a big impact along the value chain. These are two things the Government has refused to do. They have refused to remove the water rule and they have refused to give this region the timber hub it deserves.

WALLACE: That water rule - so that changes,  600 metres you could only plant trees above that and it’s  bringing it down to 400 metres I believe Joel Fitzgibbon? 

FITZGIBBON: That’s right Simon. It means that you can’t plant trees where they successfully grow. It is just ridiculous. And we will remove it both for plantation and for farm forestry. The important thing about farm forestry is that it gives farmers an opportunity to earn revenue in the carbon economy diversifying their income and of course this is the best defence to drought.

WALLACE: What is the science behind this change? Because local farmers we have heard from in the past feel like that change would change run off in these areas.

FITZGIBBON: No it won’t change run off, well not in a negative way. We know that plantation of trees is good for our water flows. It’s good news for our farmers because if they want to they can earn other sources of income in the farming economy and that is so important in these very, very dry times.

WALLACE: Could you mention the amounts you’re going to put into regional forestry hub in the region?

FITZGIBBON: We are going to spend $13 million across the board and initially a million dollars immediately into this region to get this forestry hub up and running. See this is about making sure – we need to get a security of resource and more trees in the ground and more wood supply but then in anticipation of that we need to ensure we have the workforce, the infrastructure and the coordination in place to make sure we can accommodate that additional supply. Down here people who have been pushing for a hub are well advanced in their thinking and planning and on that basis I think that you should be the first cab off the rank. We look forward if we get the opportunity in government to work with people down here to ensure we grow meaningful jobs in the timber industry in this region.

WALLACE: I’m sure people will be looking for those jobs because a mill has closed in Tumut and a mill in Tumbarumba seems to be certainly looking for timber but will this be a long term strategy? We often hear the projects that the Labor Party put up can sometimes be well, weakened as time goes on if they have to do deals with different parties.

FITZGIBBON: Simon,  six years ago this government took the word forestry out of the portfolio title. Instead of being the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the minister became the Minister for Agriculture only and we have seen a decline in the focus in that time. Our coordination is really in two levels. We are going to have a National Forestry Summit to talk about the overarching strategic plans for the country and then at the local level we will be using the forestry or timber hub to coordinate strategy at the local level.

WALLACE: Can I ask you as the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, a lot of people are concerned about the water policy by the ALP if you get into parliament and a lot of people are really concerned about the Murray Darling Basin Plan as it is operating now. What would you say to those irrigators in the western Riverina area that are listening to us at the moment Joel Fitzgibbon?

FITZGIBBON: I think the key point to make is that there is a bipartisanship on the Murray Darling Basin Plan and I think that is really important. What has gone wrong really is two things. First of all the National Party have been able to run amok with the plan. They have distorted the plan, they have corrupted the plan and it has caused all sort of problems in the basin. The second point is that back in 2012 we underestimated how dry our continent was going to become and how challenging water flows in the Murray Darling Basin have become and the Labor Party in office will do the responsible thing working with irrigators and other consumers of water in the Murray Darling Basin to ensure we put it on a sustainable basis because you can’t grow anything from a dead river system.

WALLACE: When you look at the situation in South Australia where they are nearly on a full entitlement and people on the Murray system are on zero per cent general security and I think the Murrumbidgee is at 7 per cent and they are seeing that water flow down the river above the Murray and the Murrumbidgee heading to South Australia.

FITZGIBBON: Well you know the water sharing plans are basically a matter for the States and this is why it’s so important that we keep a unity and purpose among the States and the Commonwealth- the Commonwealth doesn’t have responsibility that’s why we have a deal with the States and when you get a Minister like Barnaby Joyce riding into town and promising the undeliverable to irrigators you upset that settlement amongst the States and the various stakeholders so we need to settle that back down and get back to a coordinated process and make sure that whatever we do is right for environmental flows because as I said, you can’t grow anything out of a dead river.

WALLACE: Thanks for speaking with us this morning.

FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.

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