SUBJECTS: Drought policy, Q&A, water infrastructure, Farm Management Deposits
MICHAEL CONDON: Is man-made climate change causing drought? It was a question put to the Q&A panel in Lismore. You can text us your thoughts on that one as well, 0467 922 684. The Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud responded with ‘that’s a big call’ and said ‘he didn’t give a rat’s’ whether it was man-made or not. The Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon told our reporter Kim Honan that the Government’s climate change denial is disappointing.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: You can’t address a problem until you can acknowledge the problem exists. I have never seen someone deliberately lose weight until they come to the conclusion that they need to lose weight. David Littleproud can’t move forward on sensible long-term drought strategy until he accepts that the climate is changing and at least takes a precautionary principle and accept we could be making a contribution so therefore we need to do something about it.
KIM HONAN: What would you be doing differently if you were a farmer?
FITZGIBBON: If I was a farmer I would be doing my very best to embrace the very best and latest science-based best practice farming methods. That’s what we need to do. Some farmers are already doing that very well. Some farmers are trying and might need some assistance in that regard and I think that’s where Government can play an important role.
HONAN: If you were the Agriculture Minister? A lot of farmers have been saying that Government needs to take more ecological responsibility.
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely and sadly we have lost five years. The current Government has basically dispensed with the COAG process of developing resilience on our farms. The first thing I would do is start that process again. Only last week I made one announcement relevant to that. I said we would use our agriculture based Research and Development Corporations to both further build on the science but get that science down onto the farms.
HONAN: When it comes to that science, is that surrounding soils? You spoke about the need to improve soils to help drought proof farms last night.
FITZGIBBON: There is no doubt we can improve our soils quicker than we can build dams and do it better in an economic sense. We are seeing farmers everywhere improve their soil quality, increase their carbon levels in their soils and I made the point last night on Q&A that if we could just increase our carbon in our soils by one per cent in a thousand hectares then we would be holding back the equivalent of a large slice of an Olympic swimming pool. Now that makes more sense and that’s what we need to have our farmers do.
HONAN: You don’t want to build a dam? Which is good because Barnaby Joyce tweeted in last night to Q&A that Labor wouldn’t be able to build a dam anyway.
FITZGIBBON: Well let’s move on from Barnaby’s madness. There is good reason no one has built a catchment dam in decades. It doesn’t economically stack up and doesn’t environmentally stack up. It in itself has its risks and someone has to pay for the water in the end. If we get these farming practices right and help farmers get there they can be retaining so much moisture that we don’t need catchment dams. We do need irrigation projects and when last in Government Labor funded many of them. We do need to concentrate on better practices on the farm itself.
HONAN: What are your thoughts on some of the media reporting on the drought situation at the moment?
FITZGIBBON: I’m a little bit challenged by some of the media reporting. I think we need to spend at least as much time looking at the success stories as we do on those who are really struggling. I think the majority of farmers don’t want handouts or any economic assistance from Government. They do want guidance and do want an opportunity to make that transition to the very best science-based farming practices, but we do need to celebrate our successes and the point was made last night that $6 billion in the FMDs, it does say some people are doing well and are putting money aside and some people are proving themselves resilient to drought and it can be done.
HONAN: But you’re concerned that the farmers actually in drought don’t have FMDs?
FITZGIBBON: Exactly and it was a little bit cute for David Littleproud to be bashing the banks last night and focusing on Farm Management Deposit Schemes because the people we are seeing hurting most in this period of drought don’t have FMDs so adjustments to FMDs is of no help to them whatsoever.
CONDON: Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon speaking to Kim Honan this morning in Lismore following last night’s Q&A there.