SUBJECTS: Drought Communities Program; Government Embellishing Drought Funding Numbers; Carbon Emissions; Major General Stephen Day’s Report
NICOLE CHVASTEK, HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon good afternoon.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Great to be with you Nicole.
CHVASTEK: Joel Fitzgibbon, this money that the government is handing out, million dollar grants which it offered to a constituency which is not in drought but refuses to give to a constituency which is in drought. What was your reaction when you heard this latest development in the management of this particular natural disaster?
FITZGIBBON: Not one of surprise, Nicole, because there are a number of towns across the eastern seaboard in the same situation. I have one in my own electorate in the Upper Hunter in NSW. I have two neighbouring towns, Muswellbrook and Singleton, and it’s a short drive between the two. They are experiencing the same rainfall, or lack of rainfall pattern, and it appears to me I can’t get a breakdown on the shire by shire ABS numbers. It appears to me that they would have an equal amount of people working in the agricultural sector. I’m just gobsmacked by that; we see it on the south coast of NSW too. It just highlights the dysfunction and the piecemeal, ad hoc approach this government has taken to its drought response.
CHVASTEK: You say that it’s dysfunctional but it has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars now into the problem and this a drought that many of – the scale of which many have never seen before. It’s not the sort of thing that you can just fix overnight.
FITZGIBBON: No one is pretending there are easy answers, Nicole, but sadly in 2013 Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce stalled the drought reform program – right back in 2008 governments, State and Federal, Territory, and indeed both of the political parties agreed that we needed a newer approach to drought. And if we continued to progress that reform over the course of the last six years, we would be in a better place. But what really disappoints me is the way that the Prime Minister continues to embellish the amount he is spending, and of course what that does is become an excuse not to do more.
CHVASTEK: What’s your solution Joel Fitzgibbon? I appoint you Agriculture Minister; you know there is no magic wand to deal with this, the drying up in the Murray Darling Basin, this incredibly deep drought, climate change – this has been decades in the making this disaster – this isn’t something you can just fix overnight.
FITZGIBBON: Exactly true and we should have been investing in water infrastructure over the last six years. The former Labor Government in Canberra was doing just that, but we need to spend more money. I mean, what was admitted in Senate Estimates today by Ministers is that they are not spending $7 billion; over the next four years they will spend $2.6 billion. Now, that sounds like a lot of money on its own but, in fact, the scale of the disaster is so large we are going to have to spend that and a lot more. There are four pillars in my view; you got to be serious about mitigation, Nicole, you got to accept that the climate is changing and we need a government response to that. We got to deal with adaptation; that is changing our behaviour both on farm and in urban communities. Helping farmers to adapt to the world’s best agricultural methods…
CHVASTEK: Well you could stop burning fossil fuels, Joel Fitzgibbon, and you live in a coal mining seat and you’re big advocate of coal mining and coal seam gas extraction. These are the villains that are causing the climate change that has left us in this disastrous situation.
FITZGIBBON: And I’m a supporter of Australia meeting its commitments under the Paris Accord, which of course…
CHVASTEK: Which is great for you in Paris, but the climate is continuing to change; we aren’t doing enough.
FITZGIBBON: And the problem – and yes we aren’t doing enough, that’s right. And Scott Morrison is allowing emissions to rise in Australia and has been doing so, he and his government, for the past six years. So, a part of that is turning that around and putting us on track to meeting the obligations we made in Paris…
CHVASTEK: Well hang on. You want to equate Labor’s emissions targets with Scott Morrison’s emissions targets. You can’t complain about him having these emissions targets on the one hand when you want to adopt them yourself.
FITZGIBBON: I want the Labor Party to adopt a strategy to force Scott Morrison to turn the growth of emissions around over the course of the next six years. We will be in Opposition for three years and I don’t want to sit back to allow Scott Morrison to continue to allow emissions to rise over the course of the next three years. And what I’ve been talking about is a strategy – we can sit back and be policy pure and throw stones at him, but what we need is some form of political settlement which forces him to start reducing emissions rather than allowing them to rise year on year.
CHVASTEK: Have you seen Major General Stephen Day’s final report to the Prime Minister, the Coordinator General for Drought?
FITZGIBBON: Sadly I have not and this report, as part of the joint taskforce – the departmental taskforce – cost the taxpayer around $5.6 million, Nicole. And I know the Major General, and he is a serious guy of course as a senior military officer. I had a number of discussions with him. I know he took the job seriously and I know he would have delivered a very meaningful report and why the government is keeping that a secret for us and the Australian people is inexplicable. And in part to your question about what would we do, well I suspect there are a lot of initiatives put forward by Major General Stephen Day that we in government could very, very easily embrace.
CHVASTEK: Joel Fitzgibbon thank you so much for giving us your time.
FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.