Doorstop with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources

Transcript
05 Jun 2018
Charleville, QLD
Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources
Drought, Barnaby Joyce, Qantas
E&OE

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES, THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP

Well welcome to Charleville and thank you to Cameron and Jackie for having us here on your property just outside Charleville. Again, to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, on this tour as I said earlier to you earlier today, this is the third visit of the Prime Minster to Maranoa, in the last two years.

So, he’s really listening to rural and regional Australia continually and we are hitting some more tough times, but he’s out here to listen and understand about what we can do better and to build on what we’ve already done as a federal government. Ann Leahy, the state member for Warrego has also joined us.

It’s pleasing as the Australian Agriculture Minister, today to announce $20 million to go towards rural financial counselling services, to ensure that service survives until 2020. We want to be able to keep the human capital out here; those young men and women that are out here as the rural financial counsellors, talking to local farmers, helping them get through this tough time, build the resilience in their business.

So, this commitment by the Australian Government is going to give that entity real surety, real surety to be able to come out and interact and work through the financial impacts, but also the emotional impacts that these people are facing out here.

So, proudly, the Australian Government has stepped up today as well as some other initiatives that the Prime Minister announced. But this is a huge investment in regional and rural Australia and particularly in those drought-stricken communities right across Australia - in terms of building the resilience, restructuring their business and getting them through this drought and getting them ready for the good times ahead.

So, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, thanks David, it’s great to be here with Michael and thank you so much for having us on your place and showing us around. I’ve never known so much about mulga as I do now.

[Laughter]

You’re really - in effect harvesting the mulga, aren’t you? I guess - your brother was knocking some of those mulga trees over, the cattle were running up to eat it, like it was absolutely the best thing to eat. Now, you recon those cattle have mostly lived on mulga over the last six years?

CAMERON:

In the last 12 months that’s all they would have eaten and over the last six years, that’s probably been at least, you know, 70-80 per cent of their diet. That’s all it takes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, and how long, how much rain have you had over the last six or seven years?

CAMERON:

We haven’t had our average rainfall in the last six years. We had five inches last year, two inches this year. Yeah so unless it picks up, pretty terrible.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah. I hope, that’s right and thanks to that mulga - it’s a good example of the resilience and the enterprise of Australian farmers.

You know - one of the big issues that we recognise we have to deal with and to be more open about, talk and do more about, is mental health. My government’s put in record funding into mental health services, right across the country.

One of the most important aspects of it, particularly in regional Australia and particularly in more remote areas, is using technology. Using tele-health. We were talking about that at the Blackall Hospital earlier today. And there are two very good organisations that are working in that field, that are providing us counselling, psychological assistance online – and that’s Virtual Psychologist and Aussie Helpers. And they’re doing a great job. We’re getting a lot of demand for their services. And we’re providing them with $2 million of the next two years, so that they can do more. We want to see how they go and of course if they continue to be successful, they will no doubt grow and no doubt other people will emulate them and follow in their footsteps.

It’s really important, everywhere in Australia, and we’ve seen this – whether we’re talking about the exclusion fences to keep dogs out and the new fencing techniques there. Whether we’re talking about telecoms. Whether we’re talking about the use of water - to always be focused on innovation and technology.

People forget, that some of the most innovative, enterprising and resilient Australians are Australian farmers, that have to deal with the toughest climate that nature can throw at them, but they keep on fighting back and they keep on coming up with smarter and better ways to grow the food and the fibre that we need.

So thank you very much for having us here and congratulations on the great work you are doing. You’ve got some beautiful children there and you are really determined to build a great future for them here - aren’t you Jackie?

JACKIE:

Yeah, thanks Malcolm.

PRIME MINISTER:

Come and talk to us a little bit about them.

This good-looking young couple, we’ll get them in here.

Tell us about – you’ve owned this place for how long now?

JACKIE:

Yeah, so we’ve have had the property for six years now and I suppose you could say we have been in drought the whole time that we’ve had it. But we are continuing to fight on with the mulga. And we can utilise the mulga, even when it is really tough and dry. The mulga is just one of those trees that – the way that’s its built, and everything about it – just makes it great for this environment. And we really do need access to the mulga and to be able to bin it.

CAMERON:

Yes that’s right, that’s our biggest concern at the moment - is the uncertainty with the vegetation laws.
Every two years we seem to lose a bit more of our resource, and its slowly choking our business and the surrounding towns. You know, everybody relies on it.

PRIME MINISTER:

And you were saying to me Cameron, you’re really farming the mulga in a sustainable way – that it what you are seeking to do. Or well - you are doing it.

CAMERON:
Well we are doing it and successfully too through the last six years. As you can see there is not much else up there for those cows to eat. But if we can keep running a viable business through the bad times, what can we do when we actually do get the good times. That’s what we keep waiting to see.

PRIME MINISTER:
And you’ve got – I’m very interested to hear that you’ve managed your affairs so that you’ve got - this is dry country, you know – relative to many other parts of the state. So it’s a good place for breeding. And then very often you will take those calves, when they’re about 200-250 kilos, and you take them down to a place you lease down – near Condamine. Which has higher rainfall and you can grow them out there before they go to a feedlot.

CAMERON:

We’re one of the more fortunate people that have that option, but generally, most people out there – it’s a calf factory Charleville – the mulga lands is a calf factory. They breed a lot of calves, we send them east, to more people down there that run their business on just backgrounding.

So they buy our younger stock, and they then take them on to different levels, depending on where they want to hone in on the market.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok, that’s fantastic. Well congratulations really, and thank you so much for getting us out here. It’s a big country, it’s really important that the Deputy Prime Minister, the Agricultural Minister and I get down here, around all of it.

We’ve been down in NSW talking to farmers facing the droughts here, and we’re up here in Queensland for a few days – so we are really honoured to be able to spend a bit more time with you and be able to learn a bit more about what you do.

CAMERON:

We’d like to take the opportunity to thank you for coming out and seeing this hands on – there are not many politicians that would have seen what you have just seen today – you know, we talk all the time - come out and have a look. And it’s good to see you turned up. Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER:
Very happy to do so, Cameron thank you good on you. Jackie.

Now I don’t know if there are any questions for any of us? For Michael, or for David?

JOURNALIST:
Certainly. Plenty of questions. 

PRIME MINISTER:
Yeah okay. Well not too many I hope.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve dubbed this as a listening tour, what have the people been telling you as you have been visiting the drought stricken communities? And will that translate in to more announcements, more assistance, beyond what’s has been unveiled today?

PRIME MINISTER:

All of our policies are informed by what we hear. We’ve heard a lot of different things. In fact, David and I were talking about it on the way out here that you’re hearing different things in different communities. We hear a lot of people talking about the family household assistance support, which is income support and talked about whether - it’s currently limited to three years - whether it should go for longer and we’ve had a number of people say it should go for four years rather than three.

We’ve had a lot of people, Jackie, I think in fact Cameron you were saying this, a lot of people have complained about the complexity of government applications for support and grants and loans. Whether it’s state or federal.  And what can we do to make that process of application more streamlined. And that’s something we have to do in the age of the smartphone. We have got to make sure it’s as easy to deal with government as it is with commercial enterprises.

We talked a lot about resilience, more in New South Wales than in Queensland to be honest.

We’ve heard a lot about whether there should be more support and incentive to store fodder. There already are concessional treatment for haysheds, and anything to - grain storage, storing cotton seed for example so that you’ve got that when the dry times come - questions about whether there should be further support.

But look we’ve talked about the GABSI, Great Artesian Basin, and the program - the capping and piping program - that’s been operating there and its continuance. So look we’ve had a lot of discussions and we’ll continue and we’ll keep listening.

JOURNALIST:

Would you be happy for Barnaby Joyce to run again as the member for New England?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes absolutely, absolutely. Look he’s been a great advocate for rural Australia and I look forward to him continuing to be so.

JOURNALIST:

And Deputy Prime Minister, do you echo the Prime Minister’s comments?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. At the end of the day it’s a matter for the local branch in New England and a matter for the National Party Members of the Federal Electoral Council there. And they do the preselection, just like they do the preselections right across Australia in the liberal national parties.

You know, a very democratic process, its democracy at work. So you put your hand up, anyone can get challenged, anybody can win so long as they’ve got the support of their local branch and their local federal electorate council and that’s the way it works.

So you know when I put my hand up again for Riverina, which I will.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good - well that’s very good, thank you.

[Laughter]

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

Thought you’d be gratified to hear that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, I wasn’t losing any sleep.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

I will have to face the branch at Wagga Wagga and then of course the Riverina electorate council. That’s the way democracy works in our parties.

PRIME MINISTER:

It does.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

We don’t parachute people in.

PRIME MINISTER:

Same in the liberal party

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:

They don’t have to be union apparatchik to get a guernsey.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, do you welcome Origin Energy’s promise to cut power bills in South Australia and Queensland and do you have faith that they’ll follow through with their promise?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. Well I’m sure they will.

Look, our energy plan is working. We have seen the wholesale price of gas comedown by 50 per cent or more over the last 18 months. We’ve seen wholesale power prices – this is the cost of generation - which is only part of your power bill at home naturally. That has come down by 30 per cent over the last year.

So our policies are working, we’ve got more to do.

So, it’s a very good sign that this constant escalation every year of power prices is starting to turn in the other direction. But we’ve got more to do. But everything we’re doing – the national energy guarantee, our policy on gas, the way we’ve been working with the reatailers, the way we’ve stopped the companies that own the poles and wires from continuously appealing to the courts to overrule when the regulator sets the price - a whole range of measures. They’re all focused on one thing. Ensuring that your electricity is affordable and reliable.

That’s our goal, that’s the object of our plan.

JOURNALIST:

Is it a concern that Qantas has bowed to pressure from Beijing on listing Taiwan as a country on its website?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Qantas has got to make its own decisions as a private company, but just so everyone is clear we’ve had a One China Policy for many decades now. And so our diplomatic relations are with China, and the People’s Republic of China and our Embassy is in Beijing. And so we deal with Taiwan of course, but we have a One China Policy and the diplomatic relations are with the People’s Republic of China.

[ENDS]