Doorstop with the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and the Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government

Transcript
05 Jun 2018
Blackall, QLD
Prime Minister
Drought; Barnaby Joyce, Senate negotiations, State of Origin

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

Well look, it’s great to have the Prime Minister here for his third visit to Maranoa. It’s great we live in a country where a Prime Minister can come to a little town like Blackall and we’re on to Charleville on a listening tour.

This is about us building on what we’ve tried to put in place to support regional and rural Australia, particularly around drought. Since this Government has come in to power in 2013, we’ve put over $1 billion on the table, through farm household assistance, concessional loans, weeds and pests, and also drought community programs to make sure what we just saw before, a proud moment for this community, to build resilience, to attract tourists, and let people from outside our part of the world understand the unique lifestyle that we have and be able to diversify our economic base.

So these sort of projects really do hit the ground at a tactile level, really out here in the outback. So I’m proud to say that we’re part of a government that has already made big inroads, but is looking to do more in understanding how we can modify and how we can improve.

So PM, thank you for coming to Maranoa for the third time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks David.  It’s good to be back here and with John McVeigh from Toowoomba, the Member for Groom and the Minister for Regional Development.

We’ve had some great discussions here. Obviously the big challenge is the drought, for it having been a dry time for about seven years. So it’s even longer drought than we have been seeing in NSW. But there are dry times right up and down the east coast of Australia.

We’ve talked about farm household assistance, as David said. We’ve talked about the funding that’s gone in to support the dog fences here. We’ve heard from the Mayor about how before the fence was put in he had 7 per cent lambing rate and now it’s well over 80 per cent. So that’s a huge change that really justifies the investment in those dog fences.

We have had meetings with a number of the mayors here and it was good to see Bruce Scott – that’s the Barcoo Bruce Scott of course, the Mayor of Barcoo, and once again talk about the great work that’s being done by the RAPAD councils on telecommunications. We’ve had some good feedback on NBN and the satellite, and other telecom services.

Right around Western Queensland, you’re seeing some of the most resilient and enterprising and hardworking Australians anywhere to be found in our country. They are providing food and fibre that we need and they’re providing it in the face of a very variable and challenging climate. There is no doubt about that.

We are as the poet said, the land of droughts and flooding rains. And we’re seeing a very long drought here at the moment. So it’s our job to listen and to learn.

We’ve had some great feedback at the hospital. We had a good discussion there about the way in which nurses in a country hospital like this, have to have a much broader range of skills, have to be generalists.

And so that has implications for the amount of training they’ve got to do. We’ve got some very good feedback from them which I’ll be taking back to talk about with the Health Minister and of course the State Government as well.


So it’s good to be here, John – you’ve had a lot of good discussions about the many programs that you administer that have provided support, particularly to local governments in this area.

Do you want to have a talk about them?

MINISTER FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT, TERRITORIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT, THE HON. JOHN MCVEIGH MP:

Certainly Prime Minister. Thank you. And it is great to be here, particularly in Blackall with the Prime Minister and my good friend and colleague David. As David has said, these sorts of projects here at the Woolscour are exactly the sort of projects that help us as a federal government get behind local communities. And I think as the Prime Minister has said, that is no time more important, than in times of drought and other challenges throughout regional Australia.

If these communities aren’t prospering, the Toowoomba’s of this world where I come from aren’t prospering, let alone the Brisbane’s, the Sydney’s etcetera.

So as the Prime Minister has said this is very much the heart and soul of the nation, and to spend time - particularly as Local Government Minister – with the Mayors, going through our various programs, financial assistance, the feedback that we need from each regional area. Which sometimes Prime Minister is, I guess clouded a bit by our state colleagues, the feedback through the state government around the country doesn’t necessarily always come through clearly and as cleanly as it does directly from mayors, such that we’ve met with here and elsewhere in New South Wales and Queensland.

So great to be here and we’ve got a lot to consider as we all return to Canberra to work through, particularly drought assistance programs going forward.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good, alright so we’ve got some questions?

JOURNALIST:

Yep, Prime Minister after six years of drought do you think you need to hear much more about the suffering people are going through?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the answer is in our line of work you can never listen too much.

A lot of the measures that have been undertaken of which people have differing views about, for example dog fences. I was getting chatting to one of the old timers just in the shed there about, he wasn’t always a great fan of fences but you’ve seen enormous success from that. That’s recent money, fencing technology has improved enormously. So that’s a good example actually of innovation and technology at work.


It’s good to see the progress on telecommunications.

Basically, look in our line of work you’ve got to get out of the city, you’ve got to get out of Canberra and Sydney and Brisbane or even a big provincial regional city like Toowoomba. It’s important to get out here, meet people and hear from them firsthand. There is no substitute for that.

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES:

Can I just say that it’s also important to understand that the drought is at different stages across this nations. In this part yes we have had six, nearly seven, years of drought. So it’s important that we understand what’s worked well here, what can be improved on as we go into droughts in other parts of the country.

And it’s also important to understand the cupboard was bare when we came into power.

The Labor Party had nothing on the table for drought assistance for farmers and communities. So it’s important to understand that we get out, we listen and continue to see how this evolves. This is an evolving situation and to sit in Canberra and be advised by people in Canberra is not a healthy thing.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Queensland’s graziers are calling on the Federal Government to extend the farm household allowance. Are there any plans to do so?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve heard a lot about that, in fact I was actually just discussing that with Don from Ag Force just there a moment ago.  We’re not making too many announcements on this trip. The main thing is to listen and get all the feedback. So that’s the answer to your question there. We’ll have more to say on farm household assistance. You know what are the things people have said?

They’ve said that terminating it after three years is too soon given the longevity of the drought.

There’s also been a very common concern - this applies to state programs as well - both in Queensland and New South Wales, that the process of paperwork for applying for grants or concessional loans is too arduous. There’s too much paperwork. You’ve got to make it easier for people to get assistance and in the age of the internet and the smartphone there’s no reason why it can’t be very straightforward. So that’s another thing too that we’re taking back.

JOURNALIST:

So we’ve also heard from a lot of graziers during this trip that mental health plays a part in the drought, especially in these regions. What’s there federally for people out here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are a lot of services, both local and of course tele-health. In fact, we’re announcing additional funding for a program, remote and regional mental health service, run by virtual psychologists.
You’ve got to be prepared and ready to use technology as creatively as possible. We’re just meeting with some the mental health workers of the Royal Flying Doctor Service here at the hospital in Blackall.
You know, we put an additional $80 million into our funding for the RFDS over the next four years and much of that is going to enable further mental health services, through the RFDS, out into remote parts of Australia.

David do you want to add a little bit to that?

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES:

Yeah, look obviously the other big piece that we’ve undertaken here is to give the Medicare Rebate for tele-health, for mental health services.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah.

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES:

That’s an enormous step forward for people in remote areas. They must have one of their first four face-to-face consultations, so you build that trust and rapport with the professional. That’s a good thing. After that, they can stay in the comfort of their own home.

What we’re trying to do is break down the stigma of mental illness. No one should be afraid in this nation to put their hand out, to ask for that help.

It is not a problem to have a mental illness or to feel down. There is someone out there to help you and our Government is committed to make sure we go down on that track. The extra $2 million we put on the table today goes towards that, about letting people do that in the privacy of their own homes, to let them be able to feel the comfort of reaching for help whenever they need it.
That’s the most important thing and I would say to everybody if you feel as though you need help, reach out. To everyone else that feels okay, ask someone else: “Are you okay?”

PRIME MINISTER:

“Are you okay”.

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES:

That’s so important, especially out here in the bush. It’s days like this, where you bring your Prime Minister and the community comes together, it is a great social function, that we do get a sense of relief of those pressures that are built up.

So mental illness is something that worries me deeply and that’s one of the significant impacts of the drought. As we’ve seen in the southern parts of the country, where they’re going into some of the long-time of drought that we’ve experienced, I’m worried about that inching down into southern Australia as well. So that’s why we’re out here listening as well.

JOURNALIST:

I talked to Brian Egan this morning and he said that the Aussie Helpers virtual psychologists is now taking 50 texts a week from people. Do you think that this is too little too late?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it’s clearly becoming a very popular service and they’re clearly doing a good job. It’s a great example of innovative technology. So you can’t stop thinking and using your imagination to come up with new and better ways to deliver services. That’s the goal. You’ve always got to aim to do, every day you’ve got to try to work out how to do whatever you’re doing better than you were doing it yesterday.

JOURNALIST:

I just had a couple of other questions. What are your views on Barnaby Joyce running again for the National candidate for New England? Do you think he should step aside?

PRIME MINISTER:

Barnaby has been a great advocate for regional Australia, as David and John would agree and I look forward to him running again in New England.

JOURNALIST:

Would you say that he’s politically spent?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look Barnaby is a very effective advocate for regional Australia and I look forward to him continuing to play a role, a prominent role in Australian public life.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think Fraser Anning’s decision to join Katter’s Australia Party will make your Senate negotiations more difficult, seeing as Bob Katter can be a tricky person to negotiate with?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you’ve got a bundle of assumptions tied up in that Anita.

[Laughter]

Look, we just plug away, you know, doing everything we can to persuade the Senate to vote for our legislation.


We’ll keep talking to all of the crossbench, whatever party they may be in. We treat every Senator with respect and that’s why we’ve been able to succeed in getting so many very important economic reforms that have helped create record jobs growth in Australia. 415,000 jobs created last year, the largest in any calendar year in our nation’s history.


We’re getting our economic plan through and we do that with the Senate, recognising we don’t have a majority, by treating all the Senators with respect and in particular the crossbench, because often Labor and the Greens won’t vote with us. So we discuss everything with the crossbench and we look forward to talking to Senator Anning and of course all the other Senators.

JOURNALIST:

I just wanted to ask you, you’re here in Queensland for the Origin, who do you support? I think a lot of people out here would like to know.

PRIME MINISTER:

[Laughter]

Well, I’m from New South Wales, it’s pretty straightforward.

[Inaudible]

I know I’m surrounded. I know I’m surrounded.

JOURNALIST:

Following up on that, how does it feel to be in a sea of maroon then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah well, I’m very familiar with that phenomenon.

[Laughter]

Thank you.

[ENDS]