SUBJECTS: Drought support in Stanthorpe; Drought policy.
REPORTER: Can you tell us why youre here today?
JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, Im here to express solidarity with thelocal community, including the growers, and the producers. What you see behind us is confronting, and we can see apple trees being pulled from the ground it could almost make you cry. So, we stand with the community. We want to help the community, and importantly I need to know what more the Government can do.
REPORTER: And what have you been hearing from those on the ground as to what the Government can do more of?
FITZGIBBON: Im hearing a distressed community. What started as a problem for agriculture has now become a problem for the township for households, and of course, for business, and look, we cant let people continue to deal with these issues on their own. Theres a lot more I think government can do, and I think we need strong leadership from the Federal Government. Weve had drought summits. Drought coordinators. Drought envoys. Drought taskforce. What we really need is some action that helps people in the short-term.
REPORTER: What kind of action?
FITZGIBBON: Well I think weve got to put cash in peoples pockets, and were hearing about people having to transport water, for example, at an enormous cost, and, you know, if that stops happening well lose investment and that will cost the Government revenuein the future. It would make more sense for the Federal Government to invest nowto protect the trees, to protect the crops, to protect the orchards so that we continue to derive revenue from those businesses, but more importantly so the regional economy can remain vibrant.
REPORTER: When you say more cash in peoples pockets, do you mean in terms of, you know, drought assisted loans, or do you mean in terms of grants?
FITZGIBBON: Well, we have people no longer qualifying for Farm Household Allowance. We have infrastructure programs that closed last December from the Commonwealth Government. We have people paying $23,000 a mega litre to get water to their orchards. There are a number of ways the Federal Government could step in now to lend more assistance. And a number of weeks ago, very importantly, Anthony Albanese said:'look whatever it costs whatever the Government wants to spend Labor will give support'.
REPORTER: So in the Labor Governments mind is a sorry, is a loan better, or is a grant?
FITZGIBBON: Labor believes that the Government has been talking and meeting for too long on these issues. We need action, and a great credit to the local community here. The entrepreneurship. The investment involved in the Emu Swamp dam, but thats two or three years away. The growers need help now. The town needs help now. Labor is offering bi-partisan support. Were saying we will back anything the Commonwealth want to do; we just want them to do it.
REPORTER: You hinted at it before, Joel, so maybe a relaxing of, you know, who can be eligible for these loans and grants?
FITZGIBBON: The Government has been fiddling around with Farm Household Allowance since 2014, and yet people are still being denied or are unable to secure access to the scheme. So, theres still more work to be done there, and look drought solution is short, medium and long-term. What the Government can do now is help people get water to their orchards, for example. We cant have people continue to pull trees out of the ground.
REPORTER: Can you tell us why you are here?
ANTHONY CHISHOLM, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Ive spent a lot of time with Joel Fitzgibbon getting out and about across regional Queensland; first time I have been able to visit Stanthorpe as a Senator and its been really confronting. I think some of the opportunity we have had to talk to local businesses and thelocal community on the tour today but the community have been really generous, theres a real resilience and a real pride around their town, and I just want to do what I can as a Senator for Queensland to ensure that their voice is heard on the national stage.
REPORTER: You just touched on then, on the national stage, you think a lot of people around Australia dont appreciate whats happening here?
CHISHOLM: Oh look, I think that we can always do more to ensure Australians understand what is going on, but it also our job to pressure the Governmentto ensure that this community doesnt get left behind and that they do have a viable future.
REPORTER: So you want to pressure the Government: how are you going to do that? What are you calling for?
CHISHOLM: Well make some learnings based on today, but it's obvious that the government needs to take action, that they cant sit around theres a lack of confidence in the community whether it be town water, whether it be local business, or whether it be those farming communities. So it is really important that the Government does listen and take action and give people confidence that they are going to have a long term future here.
REPORT: What action are you hoping that they take?
CHISHOLM: Well, I think that they just need to give confidence; that there can be viable towns, that the agriculture sector can continue to thrive, and thats what well be about listening today learning from that. But for me its about building a long term relationship, Ill be a regular visitor here and Ill continue to advocate for the needs of the community.
REPORTER: Is that the best way to build confidence or presence? Or does money come into it as well?
CHISHOLM: Well obviously that is part of it. We are in opposition; we obviously arent responsible for that. But what we can do is ensure that those voices are being heard, and if the Government does take correct action, we will be the first ones to congratulate them.
REPORT: So what is the correct action you would like to see?
CHISHOLM: Well we want to see that the Government provides support for this community, thats what needs to be done; thats what the Government needs to do.
REPORT: Support in what forms?
CHISHOLM: Well, providing support for this community, so as Joel said that theres a number of assistance measures that could be in place. We want to ensure that the community are getting access to them.
REPORTER: Can you tell us what conditions are like at the moment?
DINO RIZZATO, LOCAL FARMER: Look, its pretty tough at the moment. Its been dry for a long time, its been one of the driest that Ive seen around, and just the lack of water its really tough, because, you know, weve got a sizeable business here. We have a lot of people employed, and its making it tough on making decisions. Weve had to pull some trees out, so that way to try and spare that water. Weve been carting water in from up to 60 kilometres away, been doing that for several months to try and keep our trees alive and keep them going. So going forwards hopefully we can just keep them, yes, ready for the rain.
REPORTER: How long have you been here for?
RIZZATO: Ive been I was born here. So, Ive been around for 60 plus years. So, this is what Ive done, and this is what I love doing. Its, yes, our business is third generation. So our, our whole family is involved here. Yes, its affecting us. Its affecting staff, jobs and look the whole community does need rain, we need water, we need a dam, all that. So, its great to see that we have some politicians come down and have a look at this, here. Its really good, the support is very welcome.
REPORTER: What message do you hope they take back to Canberra?
RIZZATO: Look, from what theyve seen, that they can see that its a resilient community here, but we just need some help.
REPORTER: What kind of help what would help you in this situation? What are you hoping for?
RIZZATO: Look, were hoping that, okay, the Emu Swamp Dam is the biggest thing, and we know that its not going to help tomorrow sort of thing, but we, you know, weve got to look forward. Weve got to hang in there, keep going. At the moment there are sort of items like helping the community of the town with a say freight subsidy, cart water for the town, but also say include horticulture in part of that for freight subsidies. They would be things that would help now.
REPORTER: If you dont mind me asking, and you dont have to answer this, but how much has it cost you to cart that water in?
RIZZATO: Ok, look, without being down to the details, its over a million dollars its cost us to cart water in.
REPORTER: In total?
RIZZATO: In total, yep.
REPORTER: What kind of impact does that have on your business?
RIZZATO: Well its a fair impact because you cant cart enough water for what your trees need. So youre doing only the bare minimum, so youre taking as much as you can and as much as you can afford too.
REPORTER: Whats it like for you to look around and to see that dams are empty and trees that youre pulling out?
RIZZATO: Its hard. But you just have to get on with it and with the help that is coming, we have just got to make it fit.
REPORTER: Keep waiting?
REPORTER: With those trees, youve obviously put everything into them, they might have even been planted before you came and took over the farm kind of thing, whats that like to then have to make a decision on the trees future?
RIZZATO: Its a difficult decision, its something that when youre born and bred into this industry, like theyre hard decisions, but you just got to do it just like cattle people have to make hard decisions, we have to, too.
REPORTER: And do you know how many trees have you pulled out, do you know on the top of your head?
RIZZATO: Its approximately about 20 acres at this stage.
REPORTER: And have you ever had to pull trees out before?
RIZZATO: Yes we have but not based on a shortage of water.
REPORTER: And obviously that was a really tough decision to make?
RIZZATO: Yep, it was tough. But youve got to sort of say well take those trees out and that will benefit the all the younger trees and newer varieties and all that coming along. So you have got to sort of make a commercial decision.