SUBJECTS: Drought Fund; Newstart; Farm Trespass Laws.
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining us now is the Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon. Thanks so much for your time. On the drought and this money, that $100 million, that the Government says is going to go into drought adaptation and response out of its fund. Apparently, if Labor had have agreed earlier they would have earned $67 million or there about in interest.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: That is just a ridiculous proposition and just shows the desperation of the Government. Lets think that through in a couple of ways the Government could have put this Bill to the Senate prior to the election. You know what probably would have happened? The same thing thats going to happen this week we wouldve put up the good fight to have the money spent earlier and to not raid the money away from regional roads, and the Bill wouldve passed through if wed lost that fight as it would in the Senate. They couldve introduced the Bill in the first sitting week of the new Parliament when they introduced seventeen other Bills, but they did not. So, we havent delayed anything, but think about this too, Kieran. If the money wouldve earnt more in the drought future fund than it would in the building Australia fund, the question is: why? Its sitting in one fund rather than the other fund, why? The reason is for six years because they dont like the discipline of the Building Australia Fund, they havent renewed its mandate. So, instead of getting higher returns its been getting what I would call, to keep it simple, bank interest. So the Government should now explain if $67 million has been lost because it didnt move from one fund to another quicker why have we lost money?
GILBERT: So youre saying its their fault because they should have been adopting the mandate of that Building Australia Fund, but in terms of
FITZGIBBON: Absolutely. Its an admission.
GILBERT: But have Labor really picked the right fight in this? Because you were going to back it anyway so why not just say yes?
FITZGIBBON: Well, you cant say we were going to back it anyway because we genuinely didnt know whether we might win the fight, and our fight was a very legitimate one. They have been in Government for six years and just havent delivered for farmers in terms of a drought response, and this is not going to help the farmers at the very earliest until sometime after July, the end of July, or July 1 2020. Now, thats the time the money can be drawn down, its not the period in which the money will be spent. So, I think Im reasonable its reasonable for me to claim that it will be something like two years before any of this money hits the ground. So we were worried about delaying the spending the investment they cant tell us how the money is going to be spent no detail there whatsoever and of course, we were concerned that they were raiding the money away from regional road projects.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: The thing is, their argument, is that they have their own infrastructure programs. When you say they dont agree with the mandate of the Building Future fund, they certainly have their mandate now. So, what was the opposition why would you not want to get that money out to farmers? Really, when its just sitting there.
FITZGIBBON: No, we havent delayed anything. The money was never going to be drawn down until post July 1, 2020. We have not delayed anything, and the two points about their other road infrastructure money the first is that they dont like the discipline of the Building Australia Fund. Anthony Albanese put this architecture in place. It forces governments to invest in the projects on a merits basis. So, the projects go to Infrastructure Australia and they say: these are the projects we believe should be invested in, these are the projects which produce the greatest economic return. Thats the architecture and then the BAF money goes to those projects. The National Party, in particular, hate this construct because they dont want to be investing this money on a merits basis. They want to be pork barrelling and sending the money where it delivers them the greatest return. So, this is one of the fictions. The second is, every Budget in recent years this Government has promised to spend X, but only spent Y. Theyre promising big numbers on roads in the Budget but they never spend the money they say they were going to spend. So, I take it with a grain of salt when Scott Morrison says, Oh well weve got billions over here already were going to spend on infrastructure. Well, I think its a great leap of faith to take that on face value.
GILBERT: This morning we asked the Deputy Prime Minister about the push by Barnaby Joyce and others for an increase in Newstart and the Newstart allowance because obviously it effects many people and the towns effected by drought theyre on unemployment benefits and so on. Its not just people in the cities, many people in the bush as you well know struggling on a low payment. Mr McCormack says that those unemployed should move to another town, to think outside of the square. Youre not necessarily going to find a job in the town where you grew up.
FITZGIBBON: Well, you know this guy hes supposed to represent a regional community but has no idea about whats happening in regional Australia. He believes that if you leave Sydney or Melbourne you automatically get a job in Wagga or Orange or in Cessnock in the Hunter Valley. Well, I can tell you, Kieran, people in my home town of Cessnock will find that a very, very strange proposition, indeed. You dont automatically get a job in the bush. Its not necessarily easier to get a job in the bush
GILBERT: But hes saying you might have to move to somewhere like Dubbo, or somewhere where there is a booming economy, low unemployment is that a fair enough proposition?
FITZGIBBON: And I know people do that all the time, Kieran. I have three adult children and none of them live in my home town. Theyve all moved elsewhere to work. So, this is not a work of genius on the part of Michael McCormack, its something you say when you dont have anything meaningful to say.
NIELSEN: So, arent you on the same page though then? Arent you both saying that maybe people do just have to leave the regions, head to cities to find jobs, and is that something that you could possibly sell to the regions?
FITZGIBBON: We already have a very mobile workforce here in Australia, and people already do this all the time. Again, its something you suggest when you dont have a jobs policy when you dont have a vision for either peoples aspirations or, indeed, a vision for rural and regional Australia.
GILBERT: One final question before you go on the trespass, toughening of the legislation in terms of New South Wales, but also federally, do you welcome that onto farms?
FITZGIBBON: I sense in the gallery here in Parliament House that people are starting to work out that this is a Federal Government trying to play themselves into an issue because they think its a popular thing to do. We have no problem with the objectives of the so called trespass laws although they are not trespass laws theyre about the use of carriage services but were worried that its just impinging upon what the states already do, and therefore making the law unnecessarily complicated. But more particularly we think it lacks protections for journalists I know you have an interest in whistleblowers and there are even some questions about the constitutionality of that bill. So, were open to supporting it well, our posture is to support but it will be reasonable for us to ask a committee to have a look at it to make sure there arent any unintended consequences because theyll need to be dealt with.
GILBERT: Joel Fitzgibbon thanks. Talk to you soon.
FITZGIBBON: A pleasure.