SUBJECTS: Drought policy, Regional Investment Corporation, Live Sheep Exports.
LAURA JAYES: Now to an issue that is almost as big as the Summit in Singapore and that is the drought that our farmers are facing in parts of Queensland and NSW at the moment. The Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon joins me now. There you go, level billing with Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un at the moment. And that’s what our farmers deserve, Joel Fitzgibbon.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: Thanks Laura.
JAYES: Just how bad is it?
FITZGIBBON: The drought is very bad Laura, indeed it couldn’t be worse. It is now protracted in many regions six years long and the forecast for the winter ahead is not good, so no climatic relief anytime soon.
JAYES: Even in your area in the Hunter it’s pretty dire isn’t it? We didn’t see the Prime Minister go there but I’ve got to give credit to him, he did spend three days travelling up and down the coast. Do you give him similar credit?
FITZGIBBON: Look there is never any harm in going out there and consulting and listening to people Laura. And yes, he did visit the Upper Hunter to feed his own cattle actually with cotton seed which is quite an expensive way of going about it, but indeed that’s another sign of how desperate people are. After five years in Government I don’t really know if he had to be out there listening and learning. We know exactly what the drought looks like and we know exactly what the impact has been and will be and of course we know where the misgivings are, the shortfalls are in the Government’s drought policies.
JAYES: Where are they?
FITZGIBBON: Something very interesting has happened over the last couple of weeks or so. I read remarks from the Minister David Littleproud this morning and they were remarks that could have equally have come from a Labor Spokesman or Minister. He talked about the need to treat the drought as something other than an abnormal event, in other words, climate change is with us and is unfortunately here to stay. He has talked a lot about resilience and a lot about adaptation and that has to be the foundation of any drought policy. Barnaby Joyce when he first came to Government five years ago abolished the CoAG process which is most unfortunate. We had an Intergovernmental Agreement. We can only be successful in tackling drought if we have the strongest cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States. We need to rebuild that process before we do anything else.
The really interesting thing is that Malcolm Turnbull over the last four and half years has endorsed everything that Barnaby Joyce has done in drought policy including the establishment of this ridiculous Regional Investment Corporation in Orange which is just a pork barrelling exercise. Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce in the past have said that’s the solution to drought. Malcolm has backed Barnaby on silly ideas like unnecessary damming of water and other inefficient uses of our water resources. Everything Barnaby said, Malcolm backed. Now Malcolm is backing everything that David Littleproud says which is actually in stark contrast to everything Barnaby Joyce has said over the last four or five years.
JAYES: But wouldn’t you expect a Prime Minister to defer to their Agriculture Minister. I mean they are meant to be the experts in the field, Barnaby Joyce was at one time, apparently for the Coalition side of politics. David Littleproud is now. You say there is pork barrelling particularly in Orange, but when the drought is in, you know, certain parts of regional Australia, then you can’t really blame the Government for being in that area. How can you call that pork barrelling?
FITZGIBBON: Laura, we are dealing with the same drought and have been for the last six years. Barnaby Joyce and David Littleproud can’t both be right. And yet Malcolm Turnbull has backed both of them in everything they have said. Now this Regional Investment Corporation is there to administer the drought loans which are already administered by the States, yet Barnaby Joyce wanted us to believe, as has David Littleproud and Malcolm Turnbull that these drought loans are the answer to all the problems in the farming sector with respect to drought. They are of course not, in fact loans too often are not the answer for the majority of farmers. We need to get serious. David Littleproud seems to be getting serious, and I welcome that, and I hope Malcolm Turnbull keeps backing him. If he stays on that path and that narrative he will get plenty of support from me, and plenty of support from the Labor Party.
JAYES: Wow, Joel Fitzgibbon and David Littleproud on a unity ticket then? I never thought I’d see that. Let’s talk about live exports. We are moving into the next sitting week of Parliament next week, and the last sitting week we saw the Government pull the bill at the last minute to get these changes to live exports through the Parliament because there were fears that perhaps there were enough numbers from the Government’s side to cross the floor to get this up. Where is this at, at the moment? Looking at the measures that David Littleproud has already put in place for stocking density on ships to the Middle East. Can you see that some of this has actually worked and resulted in a better outcome for those sheep?
FITZGIBBON: Well, going back to bipartisanship Laura. I extended a bipartisan hand to the Government on this live sheep trade issue, but unfortunately the Government decided to ignore the science. David Littleproud keeps saying he has embraced all the recommendations of the so-called McCarthy Review. In fact he hasn’t. In fact he, in the I think ten weeks now since the Awassi Express appeared on our television screens, very little has changed. Now we provided the Government will opportunity to both immediately put a stop to this summer trade and phase out the balance of the trade more generally over the course of the next five years. We put that opportunity to the Government last time we sat. What did they do? They pulled their own Bill from the legislative agenda. Next week we go back and if they are serious about increasing penalties for rogue operators in the trade then they will bring that Bill back to the Parliament and they will provide the Parliament with an opportunity to express its democratic will.
JAYES: Okay, well looking at penalties and looking a one final question on this Joel Fitzgibbon, looking at the penalties, they are pretty severe penalties, you have criticised these penalties in the past, because they are never actually enacted. People, operators, are never actually being charged or penalised.
FITZGIBBON: It is just a statement of fact, Laura. These penalties are rarely ever imposed.
JAYES: But you are going to support them anyway?
FITZGIBBON: Well, because we don’t think they can do any harm. We want to cooperate with the Government in any way that we can, and if they provide some disincentive in the future, they would be welcome. But they are not going to really make a difference. The science is in, it says you cannot, for example, proceed with that northern summer trade at the same time being consistent with reasonable community expectations on animal welfare standards. The Government needs to act very quickly, follow the science, come with the Parliament and put an end to the live sheep trade in the first instance, the summer trade, then phase out the balance of the trade over the course of the next five years.
JAYES: Okay Joel Fitzgibbon, we will speak to you again about this. We are going to have to leave it there. Appreciate your time today.