SUBJECTS: Question Time; Inaction on Drought Policy
BEN FORHAM: Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, has exploded in question time launching an extraordinary spray on Labors Joel Fitzgibbon. The Nationals Leader was talking about tough times in the bush, but the Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, was interjecting from the opposition benches. Eventually, the Deputy Prime Minister had had enough. Im going to play the audio right now of what unfolded in Question Time this afternoon:
BEN FORDHAM: Ok so you were listening to Michael McCormack from the National Party, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Joel Fitzgibbon, the Member for Hunter and the Labor Party member. Now I know both of these gentlemen, Joel Fitzgibbon and Michael McCormack, they both are very passionate about the bush and theyve had a blow-up in Question Time today. In the interest of sorting these things out, they are both on the line. Michael McCormack, good afternoon.
MICHAEL MCCORMACK, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon Ben; good afternoon Joel.
FORDHAM: Joel good afternoon.
FORDHAM: Joel Fitzgibbon good afternoon? Wheres Joel gone?
MCCORMACK: Hes probably taking a cold shower.
FORDHAM: Sounds like he is listening back to himself in Question Time by the sounds of things anyway ill find him right now. Can you tell what he was saying to you Mr McCormack?
MCCORMACK: Well he interjected all day yesterday on me while I was answering a question about the drought and the importance of farmers, and the importance of our regional communities, and I let it go. I just thought: no, rise above it. But today, when he did it again, and it continued to just mouth off during what I thought was a bipartisan answer; what I thought was a bipartisan position about out helping farmers; helping out our communities which are really struggling and I thought: you know what? Im not going to cop this, so I just gave it to him both barrels.
FORDHAM: Well I made the observation at the top of the show today; usually issues like the drought are above politics.
MCCORMACK: Well indeed, and today we saw Labor jump to their feet and offer support on our motions; on our answers about fire and about veterans suicide and so they should and you know, it would have been far better for Joel to have just sat there, been quiet, and then got up when I had finished and also praised that great organisation, the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, because it is doing some important work. And it has always had bipartisan support and thats the message I was trying to get across.
FORDHAM: So what was his intention; do you think he was trying to goad you? Do you think he was trying to throw the bait out there in the hope that youd took it?
MCCORMACK: Possibly, but the fact is weve done a lot for rural and regional communities suffering drought. Whether he thinks weve done enough, who knows? But, of course we will stand side-by-side with our farmers and we will do more, and let me tell you, the Future Drought Fund, which Labor opposed in the last parliament, which they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to offer support for in this parliament since the election. The fact is had they supported it, back when it was introduced, it would of actually had tens of millions of dollars in interest to actually get out to farmers as this drought continues. And, of course, were offering farm household support, were offering rural financial counselling; were doing a lot in the space of getting money to organisations, such as Rotary, such as the FRRR, such as the Country Womens Association, to help these country communities. I just thought; I just expected that he might have been just a bit more magnanimous today.
FORDHAM: Do you want to talk to him?
MCCORMACK: Sure, Im happy to.
FORDHAM: Joel Fitzgibbon, good afternoon?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Gday Ben technical problem there Im sorry.
FORDHAM: Thats ok Michael McCormack is on the other line.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah gday Michael.
MCCORMACK: Gday Joel.
FITZGIBBON: I should begin with asking you: are you ok?
MCCORMACK: Im fine Joel, how about you?
FITZGIBBON: No Im fine
MCCORMACK: Well our regional communities arent Joel, and I just think when we are in parliament, when I am being bipartisan that, I think, a bit of quiet and respectful attention might have been better.
Its ok, Im happy to have a cup of tea with you any day.
FITZGIBBON: You completely lost it in Question Time today when all I was interjecting was: why dont you actually do something? And you lost your shit because you are under pressure from rural communities
MCCORMACK: Well there is no need to swear Joel. I will always loose when were talking about
FITZGIBBON: You are you are under pressure. Will you let me speak? You are under pressure from rural communities because you have been exposed; they are coming to realise that you have done 2/5s of bugger all for them with respect to this drought.
FORDHAM: Hang on a moment, if I can jump in there Joel. I mean, look I know you care about the bush, I know Michael McCormack cares about the bush, but when it comes to the drought we know that this is something that is a major issue at the moment for people in several parts of Australia. New South Wales is doing it tough; Queensland is doing it tough and elsewhere. Youve got to give some credit to where it is due when it comes to those in power who are doing everything within their power when theyre up against mother nature to try and help.
FITZGIBBON: I dont think thats true, Ben. I mean six years ago they tore up the agreement we had with the states to progress a serious, comprehensive, strategic drought plan. Then they sat on their hands for most of the six years. Forget about this Future Drought Fund which will not release any money until next year thatll be seven years into the drought that wont go to farmers. Its not going to help farmers. That is just spin you heard from Michael. We needed real and meaningful assistance for our farmers, not next year. We needed it six years ago. Hes failed to deliver, and thats why he lost it in question time today. Hes been exposed; hes been found out.
FORDHAM: Michael McCormack?
MCCORMACK: Yeah, well thats just non-sense, and the fact is, in 2016 in my area, in fact, there was almost too much rain. In fact, many of the crops which had been planted towards that spring time when they just needed decent showers just to top them off they were just pounded with rain and in fact whilst they got a harvest, it wasnt as good as what the early promises showed because they actually got too much rain. There are a lot of areas which actually have received a decent rain in the last seven years, I appreciate that some parts of the north
FORDHAM: If I can just jump in for a moment because I know Im playing the role here of a bit of a mediator. I think that if the Deputy Prime Minister could make it rain, he would. But he doesnt have that power and I think that people in the bush really dont want to hear you two arguing at the moment. They want to hear some team work.
FITZGIBBON: Ben, Ive been offering bipartisanship on drought for the last six years. Farmers around the country will be collectively, are collectively shaking their heads at what the Deputy Prime Minster just said. He said it rained in 2016, so everythings okay. The fact is, Ben, theyve got a Farm Household Allowance system that is an income support payment for farmers which has been broken. Farmers cant access it. Now theyre being told theyve got to come off it because theyve been on it too long.
Hes got his future Drought Fund which doesnt start until next year, and in between weve had concessional loans, Ben, which cost the Government next to nothing, on which most farmers say, I dont switching debt or taking more debt on is not a solution for me. Ben, they havent been doing the work, and they are now being found out, and thats why Michael McCormack got so upset during question time today.
FORDHAM: Look, Im sure thered be farmers listening saying that people have been taking their eye off the ball when it comes to drought proofing Australia for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years, or even longer, but Michael McCormack if I can go back to you, Id just say again what Ive been saying to Joel Fitzgibbon farmers want to hear you guys working together at the moment, not working against each other.
MCCORMACK: Indeed, and always willing to work in a bipartisan way, thats why I think during my answer today I mentioned the word bipartisanship a couple of times, and indeed, very, very pleased that Bill Kilter, the former union warrior has actually joined up with John Sharp for that Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal. I think that bipartisanship is commendable.
And what else is commendable is the national water grid we are going to put in place. We are going to put in place a national water infrastructure building; we are going to take the petty politics out of it. Were going to get those states on board, were going to make sure weve got the best available science, and were going to actually store the water when it rains it will rain again, no question. It will probably rain that much well be cursing it, and then we will be able to use it, and harvest it, and harness it when its dry again, because that is Australia a land of droughts and flooding rains.
FORDHAM: Hang on a moment. When can you two catch up and break bread?
MCCORMACK: Im happy to have a cup of tea with Joel now if he wants to come around to my office, or Ill even go around his if he really wants.
FORDHAM: Joel, can you go around there now and the two of you have a conversation face-to-face?
FITZGIBBON: Not right now, Im on Chamber Duty in the Parliament, but
FORDHAM: When can you catch up with the Deputy PM?
FITZGIBBON: Ben can I say
FORDHAM: When can you catch up with the Deputy PM? People want you guys on the same page, here.
FITZGIBBON: We almost had a game of golf in Wagga Wagga not that long ago, were good mates, but let me say this he talked about water infrastructure, they have been talking about building dams and other water infrastructure now, Ben, for six years, and guess what? Havent turned a sod, Ben
MCCORMACK: Look, is turning a sod before the end of the year, Joel at emu swamp dam in the granite built near Stanthorpe in Maranoa which is one of the most hardest hit areas by this drought?
FORDHAM: Joel, can you give my listeners a commitment that you will catch up with face-to-face with the Deputy Prime Minister in the next week?
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely. I have no problem with that at all, he knows that.
MCCORMACK: Well send the photo
FORDHAM:I appreciate your time, both of you.
FITZGIBBON: Good on you.
MCCORMACK: Good on you Joel.
FORDHAM: Joel Fitzgibbon and Michael McCormack. They will catch up together in the next seven days.