SUBJECTS: Drought Inaction; Future Drought Policy; Dairy Farmers
LAURA JAYES, HOST: Joining me now live in the studio is the Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon. Joel Fitzgibbon, what really got me about Alan Jones' program last night was Mark, a farmer calling in from regional New South Wales, and he was he was in tears, and you could hear the emotion in his voice. It's hard for us to understand how bad it is for farmers; is that a similar story right across the country?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Yeah, it is – I've had those personal experiences. I've not seen a farmer in tears, but I was having a beer with one on the farm recently and he just disappeared for a while outside. And he came back and I said where have you been mate? And he said “look I've just been leaning on the front fence overlooking the paddock and wondering whether I could have done something differently.” Now this is a relatively young guy who is right into all the most recent innovation, best management practices, trying different pastures – he built an on farm dam about a decade ago thinking that would drought proof him forever. And now, of course, the dam is bone dry. So he was second guessing himself. And I could see he was really in an emotional state. So that's happening everywhere, Laura.
JAYES: Desperate times. I know time after time you've said what the government needs to do. There's $300 million being spent. Scott Morrison yesterday went on Alan Jones's program and spoke about the money given to farmers to help rid their properties of pests and weeds – in drought are pests and weeds even a problem?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah look, I really wish we could start again. I really wish Scott Morrison hadn't sought to talk up or exaggerate what the government is doing. He would have been better off saying, look, this is really tough, we're doing our best. I know there's probably more we can do and we'll keep trying but all this spin about $7 billion and the $5 billion future fund, I mean he's really been loose with the truth. And now, under all this pressure he's being found out, we now know, from his admission yesterday, that not one cent of the $5 billion Future Drought Fund will go to farmers in drought.
JAYES: In drought now?
FITZGIBBON: In drought now or ever – or ever. That's not what the Future Drought Fund does, Laura. It's designed to fund research and innovation into different practices.
JAYES: That’s fair enough isn’t it?
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, you know, I support that. I've been calling that – I've been calling upon them to do that for years. But don't pretend it’s part of your immediate drought response package, because it’s not going to help farmers at all. And this is how it gets to the $7 billion. Now he would have been better off understating his commitment in the hope that people would see that he's having a go. So that loose with the truth stuff is just damaging him and now you can see that playing out in the media. Remember, we've offered a bipartisan approach to this since day one and Anthony Albanese did an extraordinary thing when he stood up at the Bush Summit in Dubbo, in front of Scott Morrison and a big crowd, and said “this is really bad Prime Minister, we will back any level of expenditure you want to put forward. We will give you the blank cheque, just do it.” And for some reason, Scott Morrison has not been prepared to – I think that's because he's got this obsession with his – producing a budget surplus. So in other words, now what he's doing is sticking to his determination to have a budget surplus, but at the expense of our farmers in our rural communities. It makes no sense to me.
JAYES: So what is the immediate? What immediately should the government be spending money on? Is it, you know, the government putting money on the table today and trucking fodder out to these farmers? Is it about trucking water in? Is that what money should be spent on?
FITZGIBBON: I’m not pretending it is easy or to have all the answers but I do suspect that Major General Stephen Day’s report has some answers for us. I mean, they recruited him, they gave him a brief, go out there, talk to farmers and find out what would work best. He's come back, he's written a report and for some reason, they won't share the report.
JAYES: But people don’t have time to wait for the report and the cabinet process.
FITZGIBBON: No, farmers don't have time to wait for the report, but they've had the report for six months, Laura. And I – you've got to ask yourself, why won't they release that report? Now, I'm not suggesting it's easier – I'll tell you a story. David Littleproud said maybe we should, the Commonwealth should fund councils to provide rate relief for farmers. And I thought that was a good idea, and I've had a similar idea in the past myself. My idea was to give them a rebate for signing up to certified better land management practices – so you get rewarded for that effort. So I was interested. And I said to one farmer, one dairy farmer, what do you think of that idea? It doesn't sound too bad to me rate relief. He said yeah that'd be good. I said what are your rates? He said about $30,000 a year. And I said, so what will $30,000 do to you, and he’s in pretty bad shape. He said it will feed my herd for nine days.
JAYES: Nine days?
FITZGIBBON: So I'm not pretending This is easy.
JAYES: So are you saying that you can't just – government can't pay for fodder for the next year? It’s too expensive.
FITZGIBBON: I don't think - I don't believe the government should rule that out. Let's look, have a look at what Major General Day said.
JAYES: And trucking in water? Is that practical?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I think the problem we have now, Laura, is that this is becoming a food security issue. You know, we keep losing – farmers are – one of the dairy farmers I was speaking to very recently has already culled 20% - sold 20% his stock. You know, and next week it will be more. So where's our milk coming from? Where's your beef coming from? Where's your lamb coming from? Where's your pork coming from if people continue to be forced off the land?
JAYES: Look, we're running out of time and I know you've been jumping up and down Mr Fitzgibbon. But shouldn't Labor be doing more? I know you're not in government. We see Alan Jones crying on air, we have farmers calling into radio stations crying on their broadcast saying their kids don't want to go home because there's actually nothing left to go to. This is the number one issue surely for our parliament to be dealing with.
FITZGIBBON: Laura, Laura we are in opposition for the next three years, we’ve got to come to terms with that. We can't do anything more than get out and about, as Anthony Albanese and others have been doing.
JAYES: Ask every question in question time?
FITZGIBBON: Talking to farmers, pressure the government. Well is that going to help our farmers? Asking – people worry we are politicising it. You know, we're trying our best.
JAYES: Are you?
FITZGIBBON: Well sometimes it’s a hard one. We got to put pressure on the government to act without doing so much that we're being accused of – that's a hard one for us. But we – pre-election, I had a very good policy about a minimum farm milk price for dairy farmers. You know, where is that? Why doesn't the government come to us and say, you might have been onto something there. If we don’t save our dairy farmers, we're going to be importing all our drinking – fresh drinking milk. We don't want to go there, Laura. So I appeal to Scott Morrison to stop being loose with the truth, to put the spin aside, to come to us on a bipartisan - let's have a wall cabinet. Let’s have Anthony Albanese, Scott Morrison and the key people sitting around the same table, taking the politics right out and say what are we do about this national emergency?
JAYES: We'll see how that goes. And you're right, it is a national emergency. Appreciate your time this morning story on short notice appreciative
FITZGIBBON: Thanks, Laura.