SUBJECTS: Government’s failed drought policy, Murray Darling Basin Plan, FHA.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Barnaby Joyce and Joel Fitzgibbon, welcome to National Wrap. Let’s start with you Barnaby Joyce, you’ve been appointed special envoy for the drought what does that mean? Do you have more staff, do you get paid more? Can you give me the parameters as the have been explained to you?
BARNABY JOYCE, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR NEW ENGLAND: PK you won’t get paid more otherwise it would be profit from the Crown and not only would it be the end of your envoy but the end of your job. You are entitled to more support whether that’s seconded from the Department. And it makes sense too because I’m fielding calls straight away, even as I came in here. People wanting to send in 600 tonnes of barley straw from Western Australia. All this part of coordination, you do need extra staff and I am using that to basically work with Major General Stephen Day to find out where our resources are, find out where our requirements are and trying to make these two ends meet so that we can mollify some of the extreme effects of the drought. Obviously it’s only the good Lord himself is going to be able to provide the rain to fix it . But we will see what we can do to try and assist in some way in between.
KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon, is Labor satisfied with having this extra role given the drought is such a tragedy at the moment?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Well I just don’t understand it PK and I suspect nor do farmers. We have a Minister supposed to be in charge of these matters. We have Major General Day as Barnaby pointed out, he’s the drought coordinator. I don’t know why we need yet another person involved? I think we know what this is all about. It’s so Barnaby can freely travel the country, campaigning all the way to the next election. What I would really like to know is what David Littleproud thinks about it.
KARVELAS: Well he’s not on the panel so I will get to some of the substantive issues. Barnaby Joyce, there are calls for the Federal Government to redistribute hay earmarked for export to China and Japan to drought stricken farmers. Is that an idea worth exploring?
JOYCE: Well all ideas are worth exploring but I think we do have the capacity to actually grow fodder. We have a lucerne season that will open in the next few weeks, start growing in southern NSW. We have a huge amount of water held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. We don’t have to use it all but we can use some of it though and divert it for the growing of lucerne and show a real and decisive way to produce the fodder. That will work hand in glove with the grain we can get from places such as Western Australia to assist in this drought. We also have issues such as fodder from the Northern Territory but there is a bit of a bottleneck in bringing it down. We need to be able to coordinate how we can bring grain up country. So you load grain from lots of places PK but actually unloading it up country which is, in country areas is a bit more difficult because there is only certain places that can offload it from trains. We have to look at all the possibilities of what we can do and then basically decipher from that what we can use to try and make two ends meet. The requirements for cattle and our sheep to make sure the cash flows remain for the town and on very rough terms PK a beast of about 400kgs uses about 5 kilograms of lucerne equivalent a day and that is the best way to work it out so we got to – the large amount of cattle multiplied by about five kilograms of lucerne per day - and we have to grow it and get it from somewhere or get another substitute for it that does the same job.
KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon is it a stretch too far? Because it would involve essentially a declaration of a state of emergency according to the Minister David Littleproud. Is that going too far?
FITZGIBBON: Well I think it is going too far. When you are in desperate times you are often forced to turn to desperate measures and we know that transporting all this feed and fodder across various states is pushing up the price in the source states and making it more difficult for farmers in those states which aren’t quite in drought to the extent to as they are in Queensland and in NSW. So none of these are real solutions, they are emergency measures. What we need to do is spend more time - I mean, if the Prime Minister was going to appoint an envoy, he should have appointed someone who was going to return to the original plan of 2013 and focus on building more resilience in our farm sector making sure farmers can better prepare for drought and can better stay profitable and on a sustainable basis throughout drought rather than focus just on the measures we are taking in drought in the immediate when there’s is already plenty of people looking at those issues. We need to return to a medium to long term strategy to ensure that the next time the drought gets this bad, and there will be sadly a next time, there won’t be so many farmers in such desperate straits.
KARVELAS: Barnaby Joyce, you’ve called for changes to national water laws to divert reserved environmental flows from the Murray Darling to help farmers facing the drought. How much water do you want released?
JOYCE: Well I’d like enough PK to be able to facilitate the growing of a large section of fodder, lucerne fodder for one, to assist with the feeding of cattle and sheep. If I can just address the thing Joel brought up. That is like going to someone and saying, look, I know your house in on fire, but what I really want to talk to you about is how we can construct a house in the future that has more fire retardant in place and has a greater capacity to deal with fire. The people in the house would be saying listen here cyclone, put out the fire in my house. That’s what is happening now. People in the middle of the drought don’t want to hear about your long term plan. They want to hear about what you’re going to do right here, right now.
KARVELAS: But Barnaby if you don’t have a long term plan this will just keep happening and you will find cycles of farmers going through the same situation won’t you?
JOYCE: I hear you and that’s why in our $ 4 billion plus White Paper we talked about 100 per cent write off for water reticulation, 100 per cent write off for fencing. We put money on the table for dams which Joel wants to take half of it away. We put, we facilitated the creation of the inland rail to try to get better movement of product around the inland. We made sure we got $800,000 farm management deposits and we set up the Regional Investment Incorporation, a multiple billion dollar bank to assist farmers. Believe you me we are doing that and more to help farmers but right now we have a crisis and we have to deal with the crisis of now. Not the wishes of what might happen in the future, we have to deal with the crisis of now and if you want to infuriate people turn up in the living room while they are under the pump of the bank manager, while their stock are dying in the paddock, while they can’t move it because they are not in the right condition while they have no feed on their place and say, look what I really want to talk to you about is a philosophical concept of what we should do in the next five to ten years because they are gonna say, so how to I bank that cyclone?
JOYCE: How does that help me right now?
KARVELAS: Joel Fitzgibbon, what do you make of these calls that Barnaby Joyce has raised of diverting water. Calls I’ve got to say that many people say are just not possible under the law.
JOYCE: Well change the law.
FITZGIBBON: Well PK, Barnaby’s colourful rhetoric achieved nothing in four years as Minister and that’s why we find ourselves in this situation. He claimed in many cases wrongly all those achievements and yet we have seen no outcomes. He almost destroyed the political settlement on the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Thankfully, David Littleproud, his predecessor (sic), the person who followed him in the job was able to come to the table with the Labor Party and put that back together. I didn’t say we shouldn’t be doing things for farmers in drought.
JOYCE: What you going to do?
FITZGIBBON: What I said is why do we need a Minister, a Coordinator General, a drought envoy looking at what is happening in drought, that is the immediate assistance, but no one, absolutely no one PK looking at the long term strategies and how we can ensure the people we see on the 6 o’clock news at the moment we don’t see on the 6 o’clock news during the next drought cycle. We have got no one looking at that. We have all these people running around with all sorts of different ideas and Barnaby’s ideas are different than the ideas of Minister Littleproud. They seem to not align with the coordinator Major General Day. It is a mess PK and we do need to – drought it not just an emergency, it’s a productivity agenda as well.
JOYCE: PK you’ve got to ask Joel, you must ask Joel what is his plan for now?
KARVELAS: I would actually like to ask you another question.
JOYCE: What is the Labor Party’s plan for now?
KARVELAS: Barnaby Joyce, I’m the host here and I’ve actually got another question for you. Given the new Environment Minister Melissa Price says the Government has absolutely no plans to amend the legislation, it’s not going to happen is it?
JOYCE: PK the whole point is, if you want to change the legislation it can. If there is a bushfire PK they come and take your bulldozer whether you like it or not. They will cut a fire road through your place whether you like it or not. They cut your fences whether you like it or not because it is a national emergency. Now PK we have areas, areas of NSW that have received the same rainfall as Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. That will do me for a national emergency. When I see gumtrees dying on the side of hills, that will do me for a national emergency. And PK you must ask the Labor Party because, to have a competent discussion, what is their plan for now? What would they do now? I have plans, what are theirs?
KARVELAS: But to be fair, the plan I just put to you is an idea you have that your entire government is opposed to. But I will ask Joel Fitzgibbon, what would you change other than the critique you have given that there are too many people in charge essentially. But other than that what would you change about the government’s current strategy?
FITZGIBBON: Well we go back to the plan the Commonwealth and the States agreed to PK in 2013 which Barnaby Joyce ignored for four or four and a half years. But you missed the point on Barnaby. He doesn’t care whether his Government agrees -
JOYCE: What’s the plan Joel, tell us what the plan is?
KARVELAS: Let Joel finish please.
FITZGIBBON: Barnaby aspires to once again lead a minor party which at best is chasing 5 per cent of the primary vote across the country. His whole modus operandi, his whole political model is to divide and secure the support of the minority that share his view. That’s what he is about. He is about wrecking the ideas of his own Government.
JOYCE: PK did he answer your questions?
FITZGIBBON: He wants to again resurrect his political stocks. The point is that when we need a productivity plan, a long term strategy as I said to ensure the same people (inaudible) -
JOYCE: PK did he answer your questions? (Interjecting)
KARVELAS: If I could just, excuse me, excuse me if I could just interrupt. Joel Fitzgibbon. Is there anything you would change about the Government’s current strategy? I mean the money on the ground, the strategy right now?
FITZGIBBON: We have supported every measure the Government has taken throughout the course of this terrible drought by necessity because the Government didn’t properly plan over the last five years for this drought. We have been critical of course of the way they have managed the income support which is called Farm Household Allowance because it has been all too difficult for farmers to access it. Look we moved an amendment and we even supported their supplementary payment of $12,000 as imperfect as it was, but we moved an amendment in the House of Representatives calling upon them to allow farmers if necessary to take the $12,000 up front and members of the National Party voted against that amendment.
JOYCE: Okay we’ll summarise that. Joel’s plan, the Labor Party plan, is to agree with everything we have done and apart from agreeing with everything we have done, they have no plan at all. Well done.
KARVELAS: I’ll ask you a question Barnaby Joyce because you have talked about this plan, this Murray Darling Plan. Environmentalists say borrowing the water will further harm river communities and your entire government, the Morrison Government appears oppose to it. Are you out of step with everyone else?
JOYCE: Well my job is as, I’m not a Minister, I’m a backbencher we have the capacity to. I have heard other backbenchers such as Sussan Ley who has agreed to this –
FITZGIBBON: You don’t have the capacity to do it Barnaby.
JOYCE: - And Broad I think has agreed to this. We already Joel do trading from the Commonwealth Environmental water holder. You would surely know that wouldn’t you Joel?
KARVELAS: Wouldn’t it further harm river communities?
JOYCE: What would hurt them is no capacity to earn a cash flow from growing a crop and what will hurt the cattle is if they have nothing to eat PK because they drop dead and I don’t think that is a good plan. That is a very bad plan and Joel’s plan is no plan except to agree with our plan which is rather remarkable. I think, you are complaining about us having too many, well it seems like the Labor Party has got none at all.
KARVELAS: Okay I will just give Joel Fitzgibbon the right of reply there. Obviously you don’t have any intention of changing that particular law. But Labor has talked about the same measures. Do you think that more than $1.8 billion should be spent?
FITZGIBBON: The water holder is already doing this. That’s the way the system works. But the water holder is an independent authority making these decisions to ensure that we also stick to the political sentiment, the Murray Darling Basin Plan and our river flows and the environment remains protected. I might ask Barnaby when he next speaks, which of the state governments supports the proposition? His own government doesn’t support his proposition, that is to reap even more environmental water back out. I’m not aware of a state minister that supports the proposition. It is just not possible. He is a lone voice. But in any case he, I’m tempted not to say cleverly, wants to talk about something that is already happening but tries to embellish it to suggest that if he was in power, he would be doing more. Well it is a reckless approach and that is why his own government is opposed to it. On the $1.8 billion, there is a bit of a furphy in there too PK. He talks about the $1.8 billion, his $4 billion Agricultural White Paper which has been absolutely discredited by everyone in the sector. It is known to have been a failure.
JOYCE: Which part would you take away Joel? Which part would you take away?
FITZGIBBON: The $4 billion is arrived at by taking into account the full value, the capital value of all these concessional loans he has on offer, or his Government has on offer, whether they are taken up or not. It’s not the cost to the Government. It’s not $1.8 billion drought package either because it also takes into account the capital costs, the value of all loans whether they are lent or not. So let’s get back to some reality here, I have said we have supported everything the Government has done in drought by necessity because it allowed this situation to occur but we need to lift productivity in the farm sector and we need to ensure that in the next cycle, these people don’t go through exactly the same experience. Now I think he may have mentioned Farm Management Deposit Schemes. We support those schemes. They have been around for much more than a decade. But the people who are facing the biggest challenges throughout this drought don’t have Farm Management Deposits and the people facing these challenges don’t have the opportunity to claim capital depreciation on water infrastructure et cetera because they just don’t have the cash to invest and it is hard to take a tax break when you’re not making a profit.
KARVELAS: Well we are out of time, thanks for joining me tonight.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure PK.
JOYCE: Thank you PK.