Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m pleased to be here, just outside of Canberra today at Royalla. We're here today to make an announcement about basically common sense. I'm not going to call the roll this morning, as you can see there’s quite a lot of people here with us today and everyone has been playing an important role in what we're announcing today. Dealing with the relief and the recovery of the drought and building the resilience into the future is what we're about. Major General Stephen Day is pulling together his plan with the rest of the Government. I announced yesterday that we were having the Drought Summit on the 26th October and we’ll have more to say about that over the next few days as well.
But in dealing with this challenge, there is just a lot of common sense things you've got to do. One common sense thing that we need to do is make sure when you're driving a truck full of hay, they don't stop it at the border because it doesn't comply with some rule that frankly doesn't need to be there, particularly in circumstances like this. So, one of the things we've identified early is the need for these trucks, large trucks carrying the hay, to move past state borders and not be pulled up, not be fined, not have to face 6,000 permits a year, all of this red tape when we just need to get the feed to the farm. That's what we need to do. We want them to keep on trucking all the way and not get caught up by unnecessary red tape. So the entire team here, with Michael and Scotty Buchholz, who I particularly want to commend here for his work coming into the portfolio, he used to run trucking companies, so he knows these issues, very, very well.
We're just getting on and fixing the things that need to get fixed. It’s a very common sense thing. As the hay - as I've learned over the last few weeks - as it starts to compress, it expands and that means it becomes non-compliant with the regulation. So common sense must prevail. I think what we're seeing here, is a good demonstration of people working together, states and territories, the trucking industry, farmers and of course all of truck drivers as well, all wanting to get the right answer here and to be able to be supporting our farmers in whichever way we can.
So it’s a great announcement today. I'll let others go into more detail about it but I want to commend everybody on just showing some really good common sense and there’s a lot more that we need to do. Michael?
THE HON. MICHEAL MCCORMACK MP, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Scott. Tough times require common sense and I’m really pleased that this decision has been made to enable larger loads of fodder and hay to be transported interstate to enable farmers, sheep and cattle and other animals to be fed quicker. If they can get the fodder, they can now get it to their animals quicker. This is a sensible move. I certainly commend everyone involved and particularly our state colleagues, our road transport ministers across all the states.
This particular truck behind us, Jeremy Taylor has driven it yesterday from Jerilderie, it’s headed to Milton. This is an example of a truck that now, moving interstate, won’t be getting pulled up from midnight tonight. It will not be getting pulled up. It’s got a large load of hay on it, we need to get these bales of hay to where they’re most needed, in those drought-affected regions. This is good.
Delighted that of course we’ve got that summit later next month dealing with the drought. These are critical times and the Government wants to work with all communities, all stakeholders, to make sure that we get the help, the assistance and cutting through that red tape, cutting through that bureaucracy. That’s exactly what we’re doing. I’d like to now call on Scott Buchholz to make a few more comments about the particular details.
THE HON. SCOTT BUCHHOLZ, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR ROADS AND TRANSPORT: Thank you Deputy PM, thank you Prime Minister. Just on some of the details, basically the width of a semi-trailer is 2.5 wide. Different states and different jurisdictions have different weight and measures lengths. So what this does, is harmonise across the eastern seaboard, South Australia, Tasmania – not that you can get trucks into Tasmania that easily these days – but this blows us out to 2.83 metres. Which means the extra width that we’ve got is 33 centimetres, so 15 centimetres plus a bit on either side of each truck. Makes an enormous difference.
It’s the difference between operators getting their loads from point A to point B, without tens of thousands of dollars of fines. It allows them to go to 4.6 metres height. Vehicles that will be eligible in this category will be heavy rigid vehicles, prime movers and semi-trailer combinations, prime movers and loader combinations, B-doubles, low loaders. What is doesn’t allow is for road train access. So any of those operators that are using road train access, there are still some areas that we’re looking at. I would direct them to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, because some states are allowing it and some aren’t.
Also truck and dog operators. We don’t get many truck and dog operators doing the long haul, but in Queensland there’s a provision for them to move, in other states there are not. So I want to acknowledge the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, Sal Petroccitto, who has done an amazing job pulling this together out of Queensland. He is not here at the moment. I join with the Deputy Prime Minister on his acknowledgment of the state transport ministers with this common sense approach. Thank you gentlemen.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Scotty. Now Barnaby, put it in a bit of perspective, mate?
THE HON. BARNABY JOYCE, SPECIAL ENVOY FOR DROUGHT ASSISTANCE AND RECOVERY: Well thank you very much Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister. I hope you’ve all been listening to Scotty because we’re going to ask him some questions before we all go home. There’s eighteen tonne on the back of this. To give you a clear example, there’s 6,500 tonne over New Norcia, that’s a small amount. There’s a wheat crop over there that’s been frosted. If it fails, it could be close to two million tonne. So there’s 18 tonne and we might have to move two million. This is a large operation.
What we’re saying to the Australian people quite clearly is that we are moving, things are happening. This is no longer a talk-fest. These are things that are moving, happening, because we’re going to go into bat for the people who are under-the-pump and make sure that we help their lives get a little bit better.
PRIME MINISTER: Good on you Barnaby, thanks mate. Major General Day, this forms part of your broader plan that you’re bringing together and we’re looking forward to that coming forward at the National Drought Summit on the 26th of October.
But you know, we’ve been listening, we’ve been planning and you can see now, we’re really acting. This is part of a broader response to the drought as you know. One of those key measures about the towns is the million dollars that we’re putting into all of those drought-affected shires and councils, right across the drought-affected areas. This is going to be incredibly important to keep those towns, those economies, those communities firing. We can’t make it rain, but we can support those towns and those places to continue to be vibrant, to keep everything open there.
I’d say once again to all those Australians who have been reaching out and extending their great support for our farming and regional communities, the best way to do that is through direct donations through the registered charities and other organisations. By using vouchers, because that keeps the money in the towns. That is absolutely critical. So happy to take some questions, let’s keep it focused on the drought at first and then we can move to other issues, if that’s what you’d like.
JOURNALIST: How important is it to get positive stories out there about farmers dealing with the drought? I know Fiona in her address recently said farmers really resent the down-and-out portrayal?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ll ask Fiona to comment on this as well. But look I agree with that sentiment. A few days after coming into the job, I went up to Quilpie and we went up to Longreach. What I was really, I suppose, not surprised to see in one way but really pleased to see, was the story of resilience, the story of vibrancy, the story of hope. There is a lot of hope and we need to give people that hope.
In the cities, where we don’t know one end of a sheep from the other, we can get captured by a lot of those other more distressing stories and they are. But the reality is out in rural and regional Australia, drought is nothing new. This one is particularly severe, but the resilience, particularly of those farmers up in Queensland have been doing it for six years, I think demonstrates the great skill and the great capacity and endurance and resilience. So I think there are good stories that are out there. There are a lot of them and Fiona knows all about it. Fiona, do you want to comment?
FIONA SIMSON, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FARMERS FEDERATION: Thanks PM, I will say a few words. Thanks very much and first of all can I just commend the PM and his team? It’s been a multi-effort but certainly the National Farmers Federation was really pleased to sit down with the PM when he came back from Quilpie and to talk about some of the things that he saw. Certainly I think the resilience of the agricultural industry, the fact that drought is not new. It hits people in different ways, it’s really difficult to work out in each community how it’s going to work.
But one thing is clear; that people are strong, people are resilient, people are buckling down, people do want to get on with it.
The PM said; “What is one common sense thing, do you think, if I could do one little tiny thing today, what would it be?”
I said; “Well to be honest, bringing hay up from the south to New South Wales is too difficult. It’s 2.7 metres in Victoria and South Australia, 2.83 in New South Wales. It doesn’t make sense.” The PM texted Scotty Buchholz, we got on the job and here we are.
PRIME MINISTER: One job, one job, you did it. I’ll give you another one now, you can come back tomorrow.
FIONA SIMSON, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FARMERS FEDERATION: So look, obviously the bulk carriers, the trucking industry, NHVR, everyone has had to get involved in this effort. So it’s a great thing, it’s common sense and it’s these common sense outcomes I think that people who are out there fighting the drought now and just battling with the drought will really appreciate it.
So on behalf of the farmers in Australia, we want to thank the Government, we want to thank everyone who has had anything to do with this, because it’s a really common sense outcome.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Fiona, thank you.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, at what point do you declare a natural disaster and would you bring the Army in at some stage?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, in many respects we have.
PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FARMERS FEDERATION: Here it is!
PRIME MINISTER: You bring the skills to the task you need to bring to the task. That’s what we’re going to keep doing. In some respects it’s different to other national disasters that occur very quickly, when you look at cyclones, you look at floods, things like that. This happens over a much longer period of time, but what’s important is you do the work. What’s important is that you do the work, you make the response. What’s important is you give the support and the help. That’s what’s happening.
JOURNALIST: Carting water and that kind of thing? Are you talking about -
PRIME MINISTER: All of these things are what the Government is looking at and working on. I’ll tell you one thing I want to do though. We’ve got Jeremy here; what I’m not going to do is put people whose job it is to truck things around, out of work. I’m not going to use the Army to put the truck drivers out of work. We’ve got great truck drivers and the trucking association have done a great job here working closely with us.
So this is a massive national effort. There’s a civilian effort, there’s a corporate effort, there’s a community effort. There are kids playing clarinets in main streets raising money down in Albury. And of course there is the military who can support us with their expertise and their assets and their resources, as needed. But the real job we have to do which Major General Day is leading as part of our taskforce is to coordinate all that. There are direct things that we can control, like the Farm Household Allowance form, which takes too long to fill out. I know how much Major General Day is on that, absolutely on that. We hope to make some further announcements about that and getting that down. Or it’s using our other resources, whether in the military or otherwise, to bring relief where we need to.
We’re going to do it in a smart way, we’re going to do it in a planned way and we’re going to do it in a coordinated way.
JOURNALIST: The summit next month, how important is that and what do you think can be achieved during that?
PRIME MINISTER: The summit is important I think to actually get everybody on the same page. I mean everybody is doing a lot of things and I think the states are doing some very good things and getting together with the drought coordinators in those states and just linking up all of our effort.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR ROADS AND TRANSPORT: Harmonising.
PRIME MINISTER: Harmonising, that’s very important. We’re looking at the intergovernmental agreement on the drought and looking at how that’s working and to see if there are any improvements there. There’s states like Tasmania and Western Australia, for example, who aren’t caught in the middle of this. But at the same time, they have a role to play. Drought is not unheard of in those places either. So in the middle of dealing with this very significant crisis, we’re looking at how the system can work better for the future. Because as Michael keeps saying and as Barnaby keeps saying, we’ve got to look to long-term resilience. Yes, it’s about the relief now. Yes, it’s about the comeback and the build back. But then it’s about the long-term resilience. The summit will provide an opportunity to coordinate across all of those issues. Where there are other straightforward, simple common sense things we can agree to and get on with, well, let’s identify and get on with them.
JOURNALIST: There was a group of farmers up in Parliament last week calling for action on climate change. What’s your position on climate change and how it’s affecting the drought?
PRIME MINISTER: My position is that we’ve got our commitments and we’re implementing them. Our Government made commitments in this area and our Government is going to keep those commitments. So nothing has changed on that front. What we’ll continue to do are the practical things needed to provide relief from the drought, to provide support for recovery from the drought and then resilience into the future.
JOURNALIST: Are you considering a plan to push international students out into regional institutions like Armidale or Ballarat, or other regional areas?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve made no secret of the fact that what we’re doing is we’re going to better manage population growth in this country. We now have a population minister in our Government and that’s a I think positive step forward. Because we’re managing population impacts all around the country. We’re here talking about drought, but anyone who knows anything about drought knows that the average rainfall in Australia is about the most useless statistic you can think of.
I’m sure that means a lot to Vern here on his property, the average rainfall in Australia, which is impacted by the rainfall up in Darwin. It has no impact on his property here. Now average population growth is about as useful a statistic. I mean, population growth in some areas like when we were up in western Queensland, they want more population. Up in the north, they want more population, in Adelaide they want more population. I can tell you, in the outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, they don’t. So it’s about how you manage population and there are plenty of levers for how you do that. Our Government is working very strongly on those issues.
JOURNALIST: But are you actually considering the push to send these students?
PRIME MINISTER: All I said yesterday was there were levers that you can pull and the Government is going to be managing population growth.
JOURNALIST: And if that lever is available to you, will you consider pulling it?
PRIME MINISTER: I think I’ve answered the question three times, but you want to have a go on a fourth?
JOURNALIST: Newstart allowance, ACOSS came out this week and said Newstart allowance is too low. They had Deloitte Economics checking it and said it hasn’t changed in 24 years. Are you considering?
PRIME MINISTER: The Newstart allowance is an allowance that provides temporary support for people while they’re out of work. Our Government has got record jobs growth, the best thing I can do for people who aren’t in work, is get them into work. Our Government has had an achievement of jobs growth like none before it. Literally none before it have had our success of getting Australia into jobs and in particular getting young Australians into jobs.
Last financial year, we got over 100,000 young people into work. The youth unemployment rate now is down to just over 11 per cent. It’s lower than it was when we came to government in 2013 and we’re getting young people into jobs, off welfare and into work. Under our Government, welfare dependency of the working age population is now at its’ lowest level in more than 25 years. The best form of welfare is a job and that’s what our Government is delivering.
JOURNALIST: But if you’re on welfare and you don’t have a job, 275 bucks?
PRIME MINISTER: I’m going to get them into a job, that’s what I’m doing.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister thank you for today. This is great not just for farmers but for the trucking industry. Is this the start of some potential to rethink how we regulate across borders with industries like transport?
PRIME MINISTER: Look Scotty is going to be looking at that with Michael and the team.
Right now, we’re focused on what needs to be done with these regs to deal with what’s happening with the drought. It’s a bit like yesterday, when I was talking about strawberries. People wanted to apply what we were talking about with strawberries, to a whole bunch of other issues. Look on that issue, I’m just focused on making sure no idiot goes into a supermarket this weekend and does something ridiculous. Today, those laws on strawberries will come into the Parliament, this morning. We’ve booked the hall in the Parliament for the day, we’ve paid the rent on it. That means no one goes home until those Bills are passed. I think that will send a very clear message.
So whether we deal with specific problems right here and now, just like we are today with the 2.83 here on the hay truck, but the extent to which we can continue to reduce unnecessary regulation and the burdens on our industries, I mean, Jeremy here runs his own business. He’s a small businessman. It’s a family business, his father has been in what is it, 50 years almost?
JEREMY TAYLOR: 47 years.
PRIME MINISTER: 47 years, just to be precise. Family businesses are who we support and we don’t want to see them faced with unnecessary, burdensome regulation. 6,000 permits will not be required because of the common sense decision we’ve been able to make here today. That’s red tape, that’s paperwork the trucking industry can do without. I think that’s a further, good by-product of what we’ve announced here today.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you confident that no Liberal or Coalition MPs would abstain or cross the floor on a vote against Peter Dutton regarding Section 44, particularly after this Senate report?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes and I don’t know why they would. Okay, thanks.