JESSICA ROUSE: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stood on yet another drought affected property over the weekend to make yet another announcement. It’s the third in a suite of drought measures from the Government. To discuss it a little bit further I’m joined on the line by Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel, thank you so much for your time this morning.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Always a pleasure Jess.
ROUSE: Now this announcement over the weekend, is it going to help farmers or is it just helping Turnbull’s image at the moment?
FITZGIBBON: Every bit helps Jess, there is no doubt about that and on that basis I welcome the announcement. But you know the drought has been with us now for seven years in the case of some farmers but certainly it has been becoming very severe for at least four years and you know Malcolm Turnbull really only started to show some interest when the media drew attention to the plight of so many farmers and then now suddenly after five years of doing nothing basically, Malcolm Turnbull has made three announcements in two months and in fact the last two announcements within a fortnight of one another. Each time he makes one he claims this is enough and yet continues to make more announcements. Now we need long term strategic planning not these on the run announcements which seem to be driven more by Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership problems rather than the plight of our drought affected farmers.
ROUSE: And speaking to some drought affected farmers already this morning at the face of it these announcements seem like good things like increasing concessional loans, giving councils a million dollars to spend on what they need most in these communities but the hoops these farmers have to jump through. I had a farmer this who has been waiting since April and another one since June for forms to be approved for money to come into bank accounts.
FITZGIBBON: This is the problem, it’s all on the run. Bill Shorten and I made a couple of announcements a fortnight ago. One, we should continue with this Drought Communities Program which the Turnbull Government had let lapse away, fall away. Now yesterday he announced they would do we said should be done. We also said we would put more people into Centrelink and fix up this terrible problem with income support payments. Its execution has been absolutely hopeless. It’s alright talking about what people qualify for but they have to secure these payments and they have been unable to do so. So again I welcome these things but we are five years into Government and in every one of those years has been a drought year. It seems like Malcolm Turnbull is playing catch up and you have got to ask yourself about what it is about. Is it about politics or is it about the needs of our farmers? Because if it was about the needs of our farmers he would have done this some time ago.
ROUSE: Yes, and these loans I guess they will help farmers now in the short term, but long term is it just going to drive them into more debt?
FITZGIBBON: The last thing a farming family affected by drought needs is more debt. Debt is already a problem for them. Malcolm Turnbull when he talks about 1.8 billion of drought assistance, he counts the total value of those loans if they were lent to people. It’s a bit of a misleading guide of what the Government is doing. I’m glad we have concessional loans there, they may help some people but doubling their amount isn’t an answer to this problem. Nor is talking about Farm Management Deposits which allow people to put money away in good times to be used in more difficult times. The farmers we see in the 6 o’clock news don’t have Farm Management Deposits so fiddling around with the rules of Farm Management Deposits doesn’t help those farmers most affected by drought.
ROUSE: Exactly. I know we have spoken about it before, but we definitely need to, well we hope that an announcement from the Federal Government might be for something more long term and there are things like the COAG Agreement you would like to see back on the table too.
FITZGIBBON: That’s right, back in 2008 on a bipartisan basis the major parties said, look we need change the way we do drought, we need to have long term strategic planning but five years ago Barnaby Joyce tore up all that process and we’ve lost those five valuable years. Along with giving immediate responses assistance, we need to be accepting of the fact that the climate is changing and becoming more challenging and we need to help farmers better drought proof themselves. And more than drought proof, be able to work through drier times and there are ways of doing this but it takes time and needs the guidance of Government and collaboration between the Commonwealth and the States – that’s what the COAG Agreement is all about. We want to restore that process and get on with it.
ROUSE: And lastly Joel, what do you hope next time Malcolm Turnbull stands on a property to announce what the announcement will be?
FITZGIBBON: I would like to see him accept that climate change is real and that the climate is becoming more challenging for our farmers with many farmers moving from the marginal column to the unviable column in the absence of long term strategies. Commit to restoring the COAG Agreement and the collaboration with the States and look toward the best science, the latest science and the best farming practices and to put the processes in place to make sure they are being embraced by farmers everywhere.
ROUSE: Well Joel we really appreciate your thoughts on the program, thank you so much for your time this morning.
FITZGIBBON: Always a pleasure, thanks Jess.