How Insurance Works

The Drought | Q&A

(APPLAUSE) Good evening and welcome
to this Q&A drought special. I’m Hamish Macdonald. We’ve had an overwhelming response
to this special, with questions coming in from right across our
drought-affected regions tonight. We’ve spent $8 billion on dams. We had fresh, beautiful water. We’ve been in severe drought
for two years now. Now, we will try to get to as many
questions as possible tonight, and here in the studio we also have students,
farmers and teachers who’ve travelled
many hundreds of kilometres tonight to have their say. Answering the questions from you, the Australia Institute’s
senior water researcher Maryanne Slattery, the Minister for Water Resources,
Drought and Natural Disaster, David Littleproud, Kate McBride,
the 21-year-old grazier from Menindee who put the spotlight on thousands
of fish deaths in the Darling River. Also the president of
the National Farmers’ Federation, Fiona Simson, and the Shadow Minister
for Agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon. Would you please welcome all of them
to this very important conversation. Well, Q&A is live
in eastern Australia on ABC TV and iview
and, of course, on NewsRadio as well. Our first question tonight
comes from Drew Bowie. Hi. My question’s for Kate McBride. You and your family have worked hard to highlight the damage
done to our rivers through mismanagement and the effects
of the cotton industry. Do you feel that the government’s
response has been adequate? Kate, the combination of that
and the drought – are you satisfied
with what the government is doing? Absolutely not. And something that we need
to make very clear tonight is the fact that
our water issues are, I guess, a little bit
caused by drought, but the main issues are not that, and I’ll touch on that
a little bit later on the program. But we do not feel like
we’ve been heard enough. You know, there is people
leaving the land out our way, millions of fish dying, and yet it was only
after videos went viral – that we put up – that we had anyone come out
and visit us, and I think
that’s really disappointing. Why do people feel like
they’re not being heard? Because we’ve been inundated
with the questions over the weekend – still, people trying
to get their voices heard. It’s amazing to see
that everyday Australians are now talking about it, and that’s something that’s been
really heart-warming out our way, but I think it’s… The issues haven’t been addressed. Like, even when we do get water
back in the system, the same thing’s
going to happen again, and we’re really conscious of that. We had a dry river back in 2016. We got water back,
and then, two years down the track, we’re in the same position. So, the actual causes
of what’s going on haven’t been addressed, and that’s what people
are really angry about. Alright, we are going to come
to the government tonight for a response, but there are
plenty of farmers here, plenty of whom want
to have a say this evening. So, our next question
comes from Marie Knight. I’m a farmer from
just south of Coonabarabran, and I’ve been running
a drought relief program called Lamb Jumpers,
so I’m living this drought. Australian farmers
are the best in the world. Our products are clean,
safe, sustainable. Our agricultural industry –
one of our greatest assets. So, can we stop playing politics and actually get some physical help
from the government onto farms and help farmers? What is it that you want on the farm?
What do you actually need? You’ve got the minister here tonight.
What are you asking for? David, Joel,
come out and help me feed. You know, the average age
of farmers is 66, and we’re working
14, 16 hours a day to try… It’s physically exhausting. We are physically, mentally, emotionally
and financially exhausted. We’re going into four years of this.
We’ve never seen… My family’s been there
for 160 years. We know it’s never been this bad. We’re…we’re losing the game. We need help, and we need help
that goes into the future. Are you considering
one of these exit packages? No. We’re just feeding stock. We don’t have time to do that. We just have to keep animals alive. David Littleproud,
how do you respond? Well, look, as somebody that’s
lived this in my electorate for… ..year eight, we’re going into, even before I became
the Member for Maranoa, I, as a candidate,
went and did a feed run with a lady called Kate
up near Aramac. And she talked about how her husband
was working away in Chinchilla, and she hadn’t seen him
for six months, but that was the adversity
they were faced up to. But they still believed
in agriculture. And the reality is
we are working together and we’re trying
to work with the opposition and states as best we can. This is above politics. And let me make it clear –
our response has escalated. Treating drought is like
going up a set of stairs – as it escalates,
you take another step up. And eight years ago,
I’ve got to say, in a bipartisan way,
the Labor Party had a mechanism that has now become
the Farm Household Allowance, which is putting money
into farmers’ pockets. That was there
under the Labor Party, and I thank them for that,
but we built on that. Our first pillar was around that –
putting money in their pockets, giving loans
where tens of thousands of dollars go back into farmers’ pockets. And then the second stage
and the second pillar is around the community because this drought
goes beyond the farm gate. It goes into the local economies. We’ve got to stimulate those in a way that gives them
a crack at it as well, and that’s why we put money
into the shires – $1 million – and also through
building dog fencing, getting also water infrastructure
on farm. And then it is about the future. I think you articulate it
quite well. We’re the first government
that has said, “Let’s not just try and look after
the here and the now.” The next drought starts
the first day after we get rain, and we have to prepare for that. And the future fund
that we’ve put in place to make sure we give a dividend, to give you the tools
from the research and development, but also the water infrastructure. We announced a couple of dams
down in New South Wales, and we’ll partner with any state. And this is above politics. We can work together,
and work with the NFF, and we’ve respectfully
listened to them, and we’ll continue
to look what they’ve put and add to our drought strategy. And that’s what we’ve said
from the start. We’ve continued to evolve
as the drought’s evolved, and that’s what
we’ll continue to do. The Prime Minister said that. Even Farm Household Assistance – those that come off it
after four years, they will continue to stay on it,
under the supplementary payments, until this drought is over. But we respect the review and
we respect the work the NFF’s done, and we’re here to work
collaboratively with everybody. Joel Fitzgibbon,
do you think your side of politics is guilty of playing politics
with this? Well, Marie, I’m not a farmer, but I spend a lot of time
with farmers, and I spent the October long weekend
on a dairy farm, and I found the experience
very confronting. So, I can’t fully appreciate
the extent of your pain, but I hope, or like to think,
I understand it. This is a very, very serious drought and it requires
a very, very serious response. Now, bipartisanship is important,
and I’ve reached out on many occasions,
as David has indicated, but there’s a really fine line
between… ..being too compliant or too… ..too much agreement
with the government and our role as an opposition to… But you’ve not even agreed
on how long the Farm Household Allowance
should extend for. OK, let me finish. But holding
the government to account… Our role is to hold
the government to account. So, we’ve extended
the bipartisan hand, but when the government
has it wrong, it’s my job to call it out. And, sadly, David, I think that your government
has it terribly wrong. There is no overarching,
strategic plan for this drought. All the announcements
have been ad hoc and piecemeal, one at a time –
an announcement here, an announcement there. We need a battle plan
for the nation. And we need a scenarios document which tells us what we should do
if this drought – God forbid – lasts for another year or worse –
two years or three years. And each scenario should have
a battle plan attached to it, so that we can, well in advance,
know what needs to be done. And you’re right, Hamish – sadly, the government’s
taking farmers off the Farm Household Allowance
while this drought is ongoing, and I think
that’s a very bad decision and very disappointing. Fiona Simson, you must see the way that politicians
are fighting this out. I mean, it’s hard to deny
that this has become political. Well, I mean… And that’s the worst scenario
for communities and landholders and anybody suffering drought,
to be honest. I mean… So, does it anger you? I think people just get
really frustrated. I mean, they see the outcomes, they see the needs
out there in the communities, and the last thing they want
is political machinations getting in the way
of some really good outcomes. But that’s exactly what’s happening,
isn’t it? Well, it is and it isn’t. I mean, I think, at the moment,
what we need… We do need
to get everybody in the room, and the NFF’s proposed that. Some of the things that
we’ve proposed for future droughts actually come into play now, and that is that we have
state governments in the room, we have federal governments
in the room, we have people who represent farmers
and communities in the room, so that we can actually focus
on the outcomes, Hamish, rather than, you know,
this mudslinging that happens in parliament sometimes
when people get distracted by what side of the House
they sit on rather than the outcomes. Don’t you need to ask
why this is happening so many years into the drought? Absolutely. And, look, this government
is the first government that’s actually even contemplated
having a policy that… ..where we’re looking at
future droughts instead of just playing catch-up
and looking and being reactive, and so, you know… And I congratulate the government for what
they’ve put out there so far, but we need more. And as David said, we do have
to keep looking at the… ..and responding, but we do need
to have another plan in place too because we can’t keep going into
the next drought like we’ve dealt with this drought, and that’s one of
the critical things. I mean, Marie’s right.
I live down the road from her. The need is absolutely critical
out there at the moment, but we have no plan. We don’t really know… We’re in unchartered waters and because the farming industry
is so diverse and communities are so diverse and
the needs are so diverse, then… ..and we haven’t got the data
about what’s worked in the past, we haven’t got the assessments and
the rigour around those decisions, then it’s really, really hard. Maryanne Slattery, can I bring you in
for some expertise? I mean, your focus is water research, but do you think politics
has failed to grasp the enormity of the challenge
facing Australia right now? I think that the politics is… Both sides of politics,
major sides of politics, are really invested in making sure that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
continues in its current form, and aren’t willing
to actually have a look at what’s gone wrong with that plan, and have a conversation about,
you know, what has worked and what hasn’t worked
and what do we need to change? And I think that, in this conversation
about a drought policy, what I don’t see is… The water reforms have been
a structural adjustment by stealth. We are seeing… You know, we’ve had $13 billion come into
the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. That’s attracted a lot of,
you know, big agribusiness. It’s attracted a lot of, you know,
people, investment from overseas. We’re seeing a lot of money that’s
being shifted to big agribusiness at the expense of family farms. We’re seeing the creation
of industrialised monocultures in our irrigated sections
in…in the south. That’s going to be nuts, and that’s pushing all of
the family farmers out. So, is that…is that making it…? I have to interrupt there,
though, Hamish, ’cause there’s some really big
sweeping statements in there and they’re just not true.
What’s not true? Well, for example, pushing
all the family farmers out. I mean, well over 95% of farmers
in Australia are still family farms. There are big water speculators,
though, in business right now that are making huge profits
from water. Well, again, we just have to be
careful about using the data to make sure we understand
who’s in there, who’s out. We’ve got the ACCC looking
at the market at the moment. The water market in Australia
is new… But what’s she just said
that’s wrong? Well, so, I think
there’s a premise there that the drought is mostly about
the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and there’s plenty of communities
that have run out of water – communities like Tenterfield,
like Guyra, like far, Far North Queensland,
like South Australia. There’s plenty of places where
the plan is not even in action. It’s outside the Basin. And, you know, I think that we have
to talk about drought firstly, and then we talk about all
the peripheral policies and things that happen with it. But there’s no doubt
that there is drought, widespread drought, across wide
parts of Australia at the moment. And, you know,
it’s really arguable that…that, you know, every time
we talk about drought, then to talk about
the Murray-Darling Basin Plan as well,
it doesn’t necessarily comply. Kate, is water a peripheral policy when it comes
to dealing with drought? Look, I think water has
got to be an integral part of when we’re having
this drought conversation, but, in all honesty, I’ve spent
the last week going around and speaking to people and saying,
“What are your thoughts on drought? “What can we do to fix this?
What are the issues with it?” And even with that,
I’ve had people come up to me and say that they feel like drought
packages are focused on big people, big corporate people,
and that there’s this idea that you “get big or get out”
sort of thing. And that’s the genuine feeling
that I’ve heard speaking to people from the last week. And so, even with drought,
not even, like, you know, talking about water,
but it’s the same… I belie… I agree with you,
it’s the same case. But even with drought there’s
a feeling from people saying, you know, “If you’re not big enough,
then get out.” And it’s the same with
Barnaby Joyce coming… (APPLAUSE) I’m going to come back
to the Minister, but I want to take
another question from our audience about the impact this is having
on broader regional communities. John Southon is the principal
of Trundle Central School in drought-ravaged
central New South Wales. Last Friday,
the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr McCormack,
visited Trundle Central School. During a question and answer
session, a Year 3 boy from
a long-term farming family asked, “Is there anybody outside Trundle
that really cares about us?” Children often are brutally honest
and reflect the views of adults. In my community, I certainly believe
this young man reflects the views of hundreds of disillusioned people in regards to the speed
and targeting of the response to help people, especially children. My question is, why is this nation still so appalling unprepared
for drought? Before I turn to the panel, can you tell us a bit more
about the impact this is having on Trundle, and your community? Well, my kids are living
a crisis situation every day. Like, I’ve…I’ve got kids that are
going…going out to their farms, and they don’t…they don’t know
what Dad’s going to do tomorrow, they don’t know whether
they’re going to be there next week, they don’t know whether somebody
is going to foreclose on their farm. I’ve got kids that
are generational farmers that are saying to me… They’re going,
“Southo, it’s too tough. “I don’t want to go
on this farm anymore,” OK? And then I’ve got people telling me
that they’re doing all this stuff to help my community
and my kids out, and I’ve got to say, mate, I haven’t seen
what you’re telling me that’s happening out there. I haven’t seen the grassroots stuff
to come and grab my kids and pull them up and say, “It’s OK.
We’re going to get through this.” Who’s saying that to us? Is that what you want to hear
from the Minister tonight? I want people…I want people
in government out there on the farms patting these kids on the back,
patting farmers’ kids on the back and saying, “It’s OK. “You are genuinely good Australians
that are helping us in our economy, “that are helping us
in our culture.” That’s… That’s what I want. That’s what I want from…
from you guys. David Littleproud? Well, they aren’t alone.
Let me make it clear. We are standing
shoulder to shoulder. And as I’ve said, my electorate
has been in this for eight years, and I’ve seen the pain
and distress on those communities and those children. And we’ve made sure,
particularly around mental health, that it’s not just targeted
at Mum and Dad, it’s also to the kids. I had a principal in
my own electorate tell me that one of their senior students,
quite gifted, was away from school for a couple
of weeks helping on the land, on their property, because they simply needed
the extra set of hands. That, we’ve got to stop, and we’ve got to tell them
that it’s OK, we’re going to be there
to support them. Our mechanism in going towards
making a difference to those…those farmers
and communities is, as it always is in this country,
we have a safety net – a safety net for those
who use your own resources and then we get to the point,
and that’s where… It’s not correct to say people are being kicked off
the Farm Household Allowance. No-one will be. And even the Prime Minister
has made that clear. In fact, there’ll be
more people going on it because we’ve made it easier for those to earn
off-farm income to get on it, to give you a little bit
of an extra helping hand. That’s just one of the mechanisms. And this is the hard thing – drought is different
to other natural disasters, ’cause you can rebuild a bridge or
a house and you can see it happen. Droughts deplete landscapes
and bank balances, and it starts at the farm gate and then it spreads
through the economies. And so, as it continues to worsen,
you’ve got to…’ve got to continue
to take that next step and try and target
into those communities and try and make it…
make a difference by stimulating it. And that’s what we’ve tried to do, and that’s the best way to try and
ensure the communities get through as well as those on the land,
and there is a future. Make no mistake, we are seeing… ..we have seen
the fifth consecutive year of median land prices, dollars per hectare of land,
agricultural land, go up. In fact, last year, in 2018,
it went up 10.7%. So, there is a future
in agriculture. The story of agriculture is
just add rain. And we can’t beat ourselves up, because we have…we have
been through this before and let me tell you,
we’ll be through it again. But that’s why we’ve got… Fiona has
quite clearly articulated, we’ve tried to say, “Let’s not
just try and get you through, “but make sure you’re prepared
even better for the next one.” Kate?
Can I ask you a question? Yeah. When the utes are
driving through puddles, are you blokes going to
leave us…leave us alone? Is that going to be it? Or is it going to be
the two or three, four years it’s going to take
to get these communities back… ..back on track, that the government
is going to be there helping us? You’re so right. One rain event will not break this,
I can tell you. I used to be an ag banker.
I can tell you. It’s going to take at least
three or four just average years to get us back up on our feet. And one of things
we’ve said from the start… We get castigated for going out
and sitting and kicking the dust and trying to talk to people. You know what? I say to everybody – Joel,
the whole lot of us – get out there and listen
and…and learn. You know what? If you had all the answers,
you wouldn’t be out there. But we’re going out
and we’re listening to them and that’s why we continue
to change our tact every time with a different…
a different package to make sure it’s targeted to you,
to those that are most vulnerable. That’s what… I need to bring in
Joel Fitzgibbon here. Yeah, look, I don’t want
to have a blue with David on national television
about drought, that’s for sure, but that is just patently
incorrect, David. 600 farming families have already been taken off
Farm Household Allowance because they’ve been on it too long, and by the department’s
own admission, another 500 families will be taken off Farm Household Allowance
by Christmas. And I think that’s a callous act
while this drought is ongoing. But can I just quickly say…?
Before we move on, we just need to let the Minister
respond to that. No, the number is wrong. It’s actually 600 and there’s
another 1,100 that will come off. But they will still get
a supplementary payment. We’re not taking the money out of their pocket.
No, one. A one-off, Minister. No, no.
A one-off payment. Joel, with due respect,
you heard it, it’s in Hansard. The Prime Minister made it clear
that no-one… will come off
these payments. We will continue to make
the supplementary payments up until June next year,
and in May…in May next year, we’ll have to make another decision
if it hasn’t rained. The Prime Minister
said that in Hansard. You were sitting over, heckling,
but you heard it, mate. You heard it first.
That is a misrepresentation, David. And you know full well
the Prime Minister has been very clear on that…
That is a misrepresentation, and you know it is.
No, it’s not, Joel. Shocking misrepresentation.
And, in fact, I’m prepared… I’m prepared to make it
quite clear, right here tonight, that this government
will not be taking those off those supplementary payments. The Prime Minister has made it clear
in parliament. He’s in Hansard. He can’t run away from it.
This government… Hamish, just think through
the rationale or the logic of this. They get a weekly
or fortnightly payment. The Prime Minister is going
to take them off the payment and then he’s going to give them
six months of payment in advance as a cash payment on the way out. It’s very easy for
the Prime Minister to say, “Oh, don’t worry. “Maybe next year we’ll think about
another cash payment.” What is the logic or rationale
behind that approach? It makes no sense whatsoever. Let me bring Kate McBride
back in here. What do you make of this? Because we started the night
talking about whether politicians had turned this into
a political stoush instead of solving the problem. What’s your reaction to
the exchange you’ve just seen? I think we can see it right here. I mean, the question was about
“What’s the future for the kids?” And that’s exactly
my question as well. Like, as a young farmer –
I’m 21 years old – where’s my future in all this? I spoke to people just this week saying that there were people
in their communities taking kids out of boarding school
’cause they can’t afford it anymore. That’s destroying their future. But then also they get
dragged back to a property where they can’t even see
a future themselves. Like, what are we doing
for these kids? Like, you know… They’re not going to be allowed
to be in the cities. They come home,
there’s nothing for them there. I just… I don’t understand.
For kids, what are we doing? How are we helping these kids? FIONA: People need hope and options, and I think that’s
what you’re talking about. It can’t be one single thing, and I think people tend to focus
on one single thing as if it will actually
solve the drought. And the only thing that will
solve the drought is rain. But in the meantime,
we do have to have all sorts of different measures
out there to support communities, to support landholders,
to support the kids and make them realise
that they are feeling supported, that people do value who they are,
people do value what they do, and that…and that
we’re going to make sure that we can see them through. And also we need to focus on,
at the end of the day, recovery, and making sure
that when this is over – and we know it’s going to be over – we need to make sure that
there’s support there then as well. So, we have to get people through. That’s absolutely our primary focus. And then, hopefully then,
we can focus on recovery as well. There’s a whole suite of things
we need to do. Marie Knight, you asked the question
about whether it’s time to stop the political games. Are you seeing that? Most farming families aren’t on
the Household Allowance. It’s such a tiny part
of the problem. And it’s far from the solution,
yet that’s what we’re hearing about. I…
DAVID: Hamish… Let’s take another question now. This question is a video question from Grant Howard
in Kuttabul, in Queensland. Hello. My name is Grant Howard. And I’m a landholder and a
coalminer in central Queensland. Given that the state governments are
implementing emergency management adaption plans for climate change,
when will the government acknowledge that the current spate
of natural disasters are linked to
anthropogenic climate change, and address the root cause
by stopping new thermal coal mines? David…
(APPLAUSE) David Littleproud, you’ve had
a range of different answers on the question of climate change
and its impact on the drought. What is your view? Obviously, man has made
a contribution to it. I don’t doubt that. And, obviously, we’ve got to do
something about that, and we have. We’ve made international commitments
and we’ll continue to do that. Was it a mistake, can I ask,
to say you weren’t sure? Well, I was in the middle
of a Sky interview that was interrupted by divisions and didn’t get to clearly
articulate it. It wasn’t the clearest answer
I wanted to give. But I’ve been on a pretty
clear record from the start. In fact, I’ll give you
a perfect example, Hamish, is my first
ministerial council meetings of all agricultural ministers,
and we created a program where we get a coordinated approach
towards climate adaptation. And in fact, only last Friday
it was ticked off and agreed to so that all the states
and the Commonwealth are working together collaboratively,
we’re not overarching, we’re not overreaching
into each other’s business but we’re actually working together
to make sure that our response to this
is one of a coordinated approach between state
and federal governments. And also, it goes beyond just that, and beyond our reduction
of emissions. It goes to the stewardship
of our land. And one of the things that
most proud I am of being Ag Minister was to create a stewardship…
biodiversity stewardship program to reward farmers for
the stewardship of their land, not only for carbon abatement, but the improvement
of their biodiversity. Does it make it difficult, though,
to address those challenges when you have members of
your own party that are sceptical about the impact that humans have
on climate change? No. Because I think our record
has been quite clear. We’ve been quite consistent, even with respect
to reductions of emissions. We’re saying that we can continue to invest in making sure
we get the balance right. You can invest
in cleaner coal technology… (LIGHT LAUGHTER) ..but you can also continue
to complement that. You can also complement that
with renewables. And, in fact, my own electorate,
I have a shire in my own electorate that wants to be
the renewable capital. We’ve got a wind farm
that’s about to be completed, we’ve got significant
solar projects going on, so there is commitments. You back yourselves with the smarts
of the 21st century to make sure we meet our international
commitments and we do it sensibly so that people can afford
to turn the lights on and, more importantly,
our farmers turn the pumps on. Let me bring in Maryanne Slattery
in here. We’ve already heard attempts to sort of separate the issue
of water from drought. Do you think you can deal with
drought separately to climate change or do you think water, drought,
climate, all need to be brought together
into one policy suite to actually have any impact here? Well, given that drought by
definition is the absence of water, I find it very difficult to see how
we could be talking about drought without talking about water. You know, when we talk about,
you know, people not having feed, dryland farmers not having feed, they rely on irrigated…
on irrigated fodder in those years, or shipping in
fodder from somewhere else where it’s not in drought. So I think that when
we’re in drought, our water policy and how we’re using our water
becomes very acute. And the question is, at the moment,
in the southern Basin, we’ve put in a heap of water
down towards almonds that are foreign owned,
that aren’t even in full production and we’re doing that at the expense
of growing fodder, growing rice, and keeping
our dairy stock alive. You know, our dairy industry
is about to collapse. We’re selling our dairy cows that have probably got 100 years’
worth of genetics into China. They’re taking the young cows
and we’re getting an ageing herd. You know, we’re selling off our
genetic stock of beef and of sheep. So it’s much more about…
much more about, you know, how to help people. Do we want to have these
genetic stocks there to survive? Do we want to have a dairy industry
and a rice industry? And I think we should be asking
those questions. (APPLAUSE) Joel Fitzgibbon, this was a question
about climate change and new coalmines. You seem to have a position on this
that is quite different to other members of your party. You come from an electorate
where there’s a lot of mining. How do you respond to that question? Well, first of all, Hamish,
it is true that the foundation for the development of any
truly national drought policy has to be an acceptance
that the climate is changing and we’re all making a contribution. And in the Coalition there are too
many sceptics or, indeed, deniers… But you want Labor to lower
its carbon reduction target. Let me finish. David talked about
what they are doing, but carbon emissions
have been going up year on year, every year for the last five years. And you can’t avoid that, David.
That is just a fact. What I said, Hamish, is that
we can’t afford to allow Scott Morrison’s government to allow them to rise
for another three years. So I posed the question, what could the Labor Party do
from opposition? Because, unfortunately,
we don’t get to run the government. What could we do over the next
three years to force Scott Morrison into turning that around
and to begin pushing emissions down over the course of the last…
next three years? I don’t want to sit back
for three years… Can we just be straight with
the audience, though, tonight… ..and talk about what we’ll do
in 2030 when he’s allowing them to rise
for another three years. Let’s be straight, though,
about what you want your party to do. You want them to reduce
the emissions targets. I want my party to force
Scott Morrison into acting over the course of the next
three years, and I posed the question,
what would Scott Morrison do if tomorrow we just said, “OK, let’s just go for 28%
this time around”? And if we were able to get
to 28% by 2030 without costing jobs,
without hurting the economy, that would be a great foundation
upon which to argue for something more ambitious. But the alternative is to just
sit back, have a target, feel good about ourselves, but allow
Scott Morrison to allow emissions to rise every year
for the next three years. I think that would be
irresponsible of us. Do you think that’s quite
a confused political position? No, not at all, because
they’re going up every year. I want to get them going down
every year. We can’t afford to wait
three more years. We’ve had six…
So, you would do that by lowering your party’s
emissions reduction targets? I’m saying that all the focus
would be on Scott Morrison if we just got out of the way
and said, “OK, let’s focus on your target
for the next three years.” And if we could achieve that
turnaround, and indeed get to… know, towards 28%
over that period of time, it would be a great foundation
to say to people, “See that? That wasn’t that hard. “We didn’t lose any jobs,
the economy is still strong. “How about we do something
more ambitious on the next round?” OK. We’ve had the dairy industry
raised a moment ago. So the next question is a video from Natalie Akers
from Tallygaroopna, in Victoria. Northern Victoria produces
80% of the milk in the Basin. But we are at a tipping point. The MDBA’s own analysis shows that northern Victoria
has lost 5,000 jobs. That’s 2,000 more jobs
than any other state. The Commonwealth has obtained
25% of water that was once available to farmers. Quite simply, the Basin Plan
is creating a man-made drought. How can Minister Littleproud claim the Basin Plan’s created
more certainty for dairy? I do want to come to you, Minister, but, Maryanne Slattery,
does that check out? Does that assertion that she makes
check out? Um, certainly, the dairy
industry is on its knees and it’s got very little time left. But can you really argue that the Basin Plan has created
man-made drought? I think that the water reforms – that includes the water market
as well as the Basin Plan – have made things worse. I think that governments have
exacerbated this drought. Is there any evidence of that,
though? Yeah. We’ve had increased
extractions in the northern Basin with the increase
of flood plain harvesting, through unregulated,
unmeasured flood plain harvesting. We’ve got new structures that have
been subsidised by the Commonwealth. But there hasn’t been flood plain
harvesting for several years now. Can I finish, please?
Yeah, sure. We had… We’ve got changes to the
Barwon-Darling water sharing plan which allow…take all of the water in the river at low flows. The government drained
Menindee Lakes in 2016-17, and has never been able
to give an explanation of why they drained the lakes when there was flooding
in South Australia. We’ve got a construction of big,
new dams in the Murrumbidgee which capture…are designed
to capture flows that naturally would come out
of the Murrumbidgee and support and underwrite
the reliability of water licences in the Murray. And last year we saw the flooding
of the Barmah-Millewa Forest for operational reasons to push water down for almonds
at the end of the system that otherwise could have been used to grow fodder for dairy and cows
last year. David Littleproud,
that’s quite a list. Yeah, it’s a long list. But let me make this clear, particularly going back
to the premise of the question. Before I became Water Minister
18 months ago, all that was happening was
a lot of yelling and screaming. And I can tell you that we weren’t
going to lock in to that plan. We could have ended up
with a lot worse plan, for producers in particular. What the plan does is says that you take 20%
of the consumptive pool of funds and put it into the environment. We have completed 80% of that plan. The last 20% can be done
without going near a farmer. If the states decide
to do the constraints projects, the last piece to invest in the infrastructure
and the smarts of today, then we will not need to go
near a farmer. We can complete this plan and we can
get the hell out of their life. And I have seen personally
in my own electorate the devastation to these people, not just the farmers,
but the local community. When you talk about drought, it’s also what’s happened
to those small businesses. Many of which I have seen,
that was their superannuation. And when the buybacks came,
it decimated those towns. And someone who’d worked
for 40 years in the business, and that was their superannuation,
was gone because no-one else lived there. That…that is something
I could not do. And what we can do
is not go near buybacks again. Those things destroy
these communities. And what I get… I’m as popular
as the pox in places, but I cannot look people
in the eye… (LAUGHTER)
I cannot look people in the eye and say, “I’m going to leave you
a legacy that’s worse “than what’s there now,”
because, I can tell you, I know the people that have
been hurt in my own electorate and I can’t look them in the eye and say I haven’t done
the right thing by them and their children
and the next generation. It is painful, but we can do this
without going near a farmer again and we can make sure
that we continue to work with our states and the MDBA
to get this right in the operational management of it. There’s rules there that they follow
but they can always do better, and that’s why we invest
also with them in science to give them the tools
to be able to understand… If I may, Minister,
you look quite emotional. Well, these people, I mean… Before I came into politics,
I was a banker out in St George. These are people I know personally. But are they telling you
you’re making mistakes? No. Because we are hearing it
all over the place. It’s strange
that you’re not hearing it. Because you know what? Those people, they want government
out of their lives. And they see for the first time
since this thing started, before I was even in politics, they see for the first time they can
have government out of their lives and they can get on
and do what they do best, which is grow food and fibre. Can you say that to the people
of Menindee, though? I mean, you look at the people
in the Lower Darling but also from, like,
down below Bourke, but we’ve got a 1,400km stretch
right now of river that is bone dry. We are having the lowest-ever
inflows into Menindee Lakes. And that’s not
just because of drought, because we’ve seen report
after report point the finger at mismanagement and overextraction. And so, how can you say to
those people, and myself included, that live along there, “We’re not
going to put any more water “back in the river from buybacks. “You guys just have to sit
at the end of the river and die.” That’s what you’re telling us
right now. (APPLAUSE) And I can tell you the same
emotional story in Queensland where you can walk across
those rivers at the moment, those riverbeds, and you won’t even
get mud on your boots. There is a supply issue,
a significant supply issue. And when you talk about that event that happened in Menindee, and that horrific fish death event, make no mistake, the reality was the water managers
had to make a decision whether they used that water, because it is the least efficient because of this thing
called evaporation. And it evaporates quickly. So they had to make a decision…
(LAUGHTER) It’s a natural lake system.
Evaporation occurs. So what they had to do is, do they
leave that water to evaporate or do they get environmental
outcome out of it? And do you know what environmental
outcome they got out of it? The biggest spawning event of
Murray cod in our nation’s history from that water that was let go. That doesn’t…that does not, for any way, make up for
the fish death that happened. But let me tell you, and let me say,
fish deaths aren’t new. I grew up on the Condamine River. I’ve seen…
Of that scale, they are. No, no. We’ve seen over 600 of them in the last 30 years
in New South Wales. And I’ve got to say…
Millions? Why did it…? It went overseas. Like, this was…
Like, it went worldwide. We have people from… Like, just last week, I had
more people come out from Germany. This isn’t normal.
That is the biggest issue. We’ve got government trying
to normalise what is going on, that the Darling should go dry
and that fish should die. That should not happen. And yet, at the same time,
when all that was occurring, I went up to Queensland
and I saw huge amounts of cotton. Huge amount.
That’s not right. It is right! I’ve got footage of it. (APPLAUSE)
So, let me make it clear… The environment and communities have
to come before things like that. That needs to be the way it’s done. And let me make it clear,
the MDBA is just… They don’t own the water. They are just the water managers and send it down
on behalf of state governments who have arrangements between them
that have gone back generations with irrigators
and also the environment. And, basically, the MDBA sits down
every year and says, “This is the pool
of water we’ve got, “this is what your allocation gets
out of your entitlement.” And, in fact, the Commonwealth Water
Holder is treated the same way as an irrigator,
the same way with the states. The states have set arrangements
between South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales
in particular. And a lot of the management
of the river system comes from the responsibility
of delivering that water, because, since Federation, we haven’t been able
to have the states agree. And that’s been one
of the biggest challenges. Hamish, can I come in there?
‘Cause I think it’s important. I mean, the questioner
was asking about, you know, losing 20% of their entitlement. That is what’s actually happened through a lot of these communities
because over the… ..since 2012, we’ve actually
given back 2,000 gigalitres… ..over 2,000 gigalitres – that’s four Sydney Harbours –
every year. If the rain is there,
that’s gone back to the environment. That’s water that’s been removed
from agriculture and is now…the environment
is actually benefiting. Now, we don’t see that water.
Are you saying that’s a mistake? No, no, it’s not at all. But that is why we’re seeing
some of the hurt in some of these communities. That is why we’re seeing
so much stress and angst, because it’s actually removing water
from one industry, from agriculture, from growing food and fibre, and it’s actually contributing it
to the environment. But what’s actually compounding it is, because there’s no actual water
coming into the system, then, in actual fact, you just can’t
see the water anywhere. And that’s the hardest thing
to actually…to see. Do you believe
that the way Australia is managing the water that it does have is working currently? I think we’re actually work…
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan to me is a plan to actually
talk together, to bring science into the debate, to bring data and facts
into the debate, to do much better… Come on, that was
a pretty straightforward question. What’s the answer? Is it working? It’s working much better
than every man for himself and everybody for themselves, which is what we have had
since Federation. So, since Federation, states
have been doing their own thing… OK, we’ve heard that point. ..the people have been doing
their own thing. Sure.
So, the plan, though, Hamish, is actually the first time, and it’s going to take
some time to sort out. Now, in the meantime,
what’s happened is because it’s involved
massive restructures, I mean, we have to do better. Of course we can do better.
We must do better. But we’re not going to do better unless we commit
to staying in the room, talking to each other,
feeding in the data as we get it, making better decisions, being transparent about those
and looking at what’s important. Let me bring Maryanne Slattery in.
Be patient? Give it time? No. The Basin Plan is a train wreck. We are not going to be…
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) We’re not going to get better
while we keep sitting here and pitching the environment
against irrigators, and allowing these really big… ..really big problems
in implementation to continue without being honest about them. I’m sorry, Minister, that
your explanation of what happened at Menindee Lakes is just not true. There was only
about 10% of the water that was released
from Menindee Lakes that went to environmental flows. There was water released and so… You know, the Minister’s correct
in saying you’ve got this interjurisdictional,
you know, complexity. And Murray-Darling Basin Authority
is responsible for making releases in the lakes
under certain conditions, but very importantly,
under a certain set of rules. They made those releases
from Menindee Lakes when South Australia was in flood. That is well outside the rules. There is no precedent
for them to be making releases when South Australia
was in flood at the time, and they have never explained that. You’ve never explained that, Niall Blair
has never explained that. And, you know, that has caused
a shortage of water last year that could have been used, could have freed up water
from the New South Wales Murray and they could have grown fodder. So the exacerbation
of everyone’s woes in the Basin because there isn’t enough feed has been directly contributed to by the release of…you know,
it was 1,800 gigalitres of water from Menindee at the end of 2016
and ’17 and no-one has owned up
as to why that happened. Minister? (APPLAUSE) Well, as Maryanne knows full well,
there’s legal proceedings on a couple of those matters
that she touches. So I’ve got to… I can’t go in… But she just said that something
you said wasn’t correct. (AUDIENCE MURMURS)
No, no, well… I’m sorry, I represent
the Australian taxpayer. And obviously I’ve got to protect… As a member of the executive, I can’t frivolously go
and talk about matters that are before the court. I don’t think anyone
would expect that nor anyone that represents
a company to do that. Obviously, with respect to Menindee,
the incident there, we engaged Professor Vertessy to come in and to give his expert
advice about what we should do. There are a suite of measures. More than $80 million-plus
package that we put in place. That is securing
some of the A-class licences that the New South Wales government
has put in place. That’s around giving better signs,
$20 million to make sure that we equip
our water managers with the science –
the best science – to understand the environment,
the changing environment. And then also around using
satellite technology and remote river sensors
to ensure those flows go to where they should be. And that’s what
we’ll continue to do, make that investment as we need to and be agile enough to do it
as and when we need to. Our next question tonight is a video from Badger Bates in Wilcannia,
in New South Wales. Hello, my name is Badger Bates. I was reared up on the Barka, or the Darling River,
that’s behind me. In the old Barka,
when it was in its glory, we got fish, yabbies, turtles,
shrimp, you name it. We got it out of the river
and it fed us. And also I’d like to add,
we had fresh beautiful water. It might have been muddy,
but it was beautiful. And now the question is
to David Littleproud, when are you going to put water and give us guarantee
that the Barka will flow again? Minister Littleproud. Well, the first thing is,
it has to rain. We have a serious supply issue. I’m sorry, I can’t make it rain, and the only thing that will get
the water running into those rivers is stuff from the sky. That is a serious, serious issue
that we’ve got. And until we fix the supply, there are going to be
constraints on that. I’m sorry, I can’t lie to you.
When…when… Will you ensure though,
when it does, like, rain, that that water is embargoed
by the states, so that water can actually
get down to places like Wilcannia. I mean, I know Badger,
I’ve been out to Wilcannia, I know the people out there. The male life expectancy
of that town is 37. How are we not fixing those issues? Well, and that’s exactly
why we work with the states, who are developing and finalising
their resource plans around the rules to fit within
to make sure that the appropriate
flows go to the environment. And they manage that with MDBA,
and we make sure that that’s done. And, in fact, there’s been
some trials done in New South Wales and a number of catchments
around that to get the environmental flows and that’s why we couple that
with the technology, the satellites
and remote river sensing to make sure it gets
to where it should. And obviously
there’s also an issue there that there was a flow from
the Warrego, as you well attest to. We have given
the New South Wales government considerable financial resources
to fix that. And I’ve written to the Environment
Minister in New South Wales to make sure he does fix that. Because if – heaven forbid –
we do get a rainfall, we want that water to flow
and we want to do it properly. And so, I have got engaged
with the states to make sure they come with me. I… In a lot of this, all I’ve got is a chequebook
to entice them, and I’ve got one,
and I’m trying to get them to do it, and particularly
that embankment there, which is… You know, I’ve flown over it
not long ago. I mean, it’s disappointing that that should have been done
a long time ago. Let’s be honest.
We can’t gild the lily. That should have been done
a long time ago. They should have just
got on with the job. Now, I get there were
some cultural issues, but, really, it’s about going out and engaging with those people,
and understanding. The money is there
for it to be done. I’m not even asking them
to put their hand in their pocket. I’m saying, “Let’s just do it
because that was the contract “that we signed,
and it should be respected.” Kate McBride, you’ve been out there
in those communities. How much are they suffering? Our townships are dying.
Like, they have… And it’s not just recently, as well.
I’m… My nearest town’s Menindee. In my lifetime,
that has halved in population. We used to have great big
grape vines, and you used to drive in
and, like, either side… You know, one company, I believe,
did a million boxes of Menindee Seedless. Everyone knew
what Menindee Seedless grapes were. They’re not there anymore. The whole township is dying, and
that’s not just ’cause of drought. It’s because of water issues because the water just isn’t
getting down to where it used to get to. And all our irrigators are gone.
There’s no more fresh fruit. And, you know, what’s that doing
to the rest of the town? We have to go another 200km
to go and get any fruit. On a human level, what’s that like? It’s heartbreaking. Like, that’s where I was born
and brought up. Like, it’s my home,
and now, there’s nothing there. Like, you know, you can’t… You can hardly go into the shops
to get the things you need. It’s gone.
Our towns have been destroyed. And this was being destroyed
well before this drought hit, and that’s what’s really
heartbreaking to see is that this is so much
to do with water management, and we’re not allowing
those townships… And we always speak about, “Oh,
you know, we can’t hurt “the townships up the top,”
and everything like that. But what about the people
at the bottom of the river? ‘Cause we are giving them
absolutely nothing right now. I want to find out a little bit about how this is impacting
Indigenous communities, as well, in those areas. Bruce Shillingsworth is
in the audience tonight. Bruce, I know you’ve been travelling
to those areas, as well. Can you describe the impact? Look, we’ve just come back from the big
Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroboree on the rivers – Walgett,
Bre, Bourke, Wilcannia, Menindee. And look, it took a group of…
There was a convoy of 300 people. And on the rivers,
we had about 1,000 in the Corroboree each night. Those Indigenous people
that come on that journey spoke to a lot of our elders
in those communities, and they wanted to hear from the voices of those
communities, those voiceless… They’ve been voiceless
over the last couple of years. Look, the impact
of the water mismanagement, and the corruption
and the corporate greed and capitalism in this country
has killed our rivers. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) It’s killed…
Can I just…? They have killed our communities. Look, we’ve been out
in those communities. Now, the health has deteriorated
in our communities. Our old people are now dying. Our young people are
at a higher rate of mental health… Suicides, dialysis. People that are on dialysis can’t
get water to flush their machines, so they’ve got to move on, now,
migrate to bigger towns, bigger rural towns and cities. So, a lot of the First Nation people
are leaving their tribal… ..their lands that they’ve been…
you know, that they’ve lived on for thousands of thousands of years. How do we bring back
the 50-year-old cods? How do we bring back
the freshwater mussels? How do we bring back
the aquatic life, the ecosystem and the animals that relied on the river
and the water? They’re now completely dead.
They’re extinct. This has happened
over the last 100 years. Australia needs to wake up. I’m listening tonight,
we’re listening to… There’s two things that I can hear. It’s water and profit. Why are we selling water
to make profit? That’s what I’m hearing. And here, my people on the river,
that relied on those animals for their food source
for thousands of years, are now dying. This is the second wave of genocide. It’s happening in my community. So, I’m going to speak
on my community, and I want to raise a voice for those that have been
voiceless… ..over the last 230 years. That’s what’s frustrating me, and that’s what’s frustrating
our community. Why are our people dying young? Why are our people suffering?
Because of the greed. The taking of our water. Where is our rights to water? First Nation rights to water? We have a right to fresh water. Put the water back in the river. Not just for us… ..but for the environment. Thank you very much,
Bruce Shillingsworth. (APPLAUSE) You’re watching Q&A
across Australia. Our next question tonight
is from Ben Horne. Yes, thank you. First of all, one comment
following Bruce’s comment. Fiona, I’ve heard you speak tonight
a lot about the water, and the area in Guyra which is dry,
and everywhere else. And I’ve heard you,
Minister Littleproud, talk about getting really emotional about being in the northern part
of the Basin, where it’s dry. What I haven’t heard…
And we didn’t see you in Tocumwal, where there was about 4,000 people
that are hurting, who were standing
next to the Murray River, which is flowing over its banks,
which has water, and the people down there, like
in West Corurgan, can’t access it, and are being told they can’t access
this water going past them. How is that acceptable to you? And how, in this country,
can we sit here, and you,
as people in the government, and representatives
through national farmers sit there, and actually sit back
and let this happen without having some sort of say, or standing up and actually
doing something about it? Fiona Simson? Yeah, look, I think the one thing
that would be worse than not having any water is actually watching it flow past
your back gate. So, look, absolutely,
I can feel your pain, not literally, but I can… I totally think it would be
the worst thing in the world, so my heart goes out to you
and your community. I think it would be
extraordinarily difficult. However… However, Hamish, look,
I think these are the things that we have to make sure
we can address. The agreement that we have
at the moment to work together, to work together
across the whole Basin, so that’s the north, the south –
the whole parts of the Basin. It’s incredibly different
all up and down the Basin, we have to understand, and the plan is about making sure it’s not a set-and-forget
type of instrument. It’s about making sure
that we can understand the impacts, bring in the data
and the science, and what’s happening there
on the ground. And, you know…and understand
things like the effect that the environmental waterings
are having. Have… What about the impact
on the communities? What about the impact on the food
and fibre-growing industry? What impact is that having?
And how can we do it better? And unless we have the agreement
to all stay at the table, working together on this, then we go back to, I think,
you know, the last 100 years, which has been water wars,
and where are we at? We’re at where we are now. So, we absolutely…
We have a system in place now that we have to keep tweaking
and fixing. We have agreements about, you know, the importance
of…of water for agriculture, water for communities,
about impacts. We’re actually measuring, now,
some of the impacts on the communities. And we have to feed that in
and give people confidence that it’s not going to be like this
in the future, that we actually have
a better way. Ben’s original question was
about confidence in that system. Yeah. And I’d like to take that question,
please. Thank you, Hamish.
So, my question is, it’s my understanding,
when you become a politician – this is particularly addressed
to Minister Littleproud – you need to disclose
all sorts of things, such as citizenship
and financial interests. So, why is it that politicians
do not need to disclose if they, or any related entities,
such as in-laws, control or own water entitlements
or licences? Minister?
(APPLAUSE) Sadly, Bruce, I’m not married
any longer. My marriage broke down
some time ago. My in-laws – my father-in-law
and mother-in-law – were dryland wheat
and sheep growers. They were not irrigators. And sadly, we get a lot of people
that hide behind the curtain of Twitter and Facebook, get on a keyboard and say
a lot of things that aren’t right. Quite hurtful. You know what? Have the courage to come forward
and put your name to it. I’ve put in place
an inspector general that will bring integrity. If you’re so confident,
go and ring Mick Keelty and raise any allegations
you have with him. I find it quite distasteful that you would raise something
that has no foundation, that’s predicated by someone that’s too weak to come out
from behind Twitter, and tear away at my family,
that sadly, has had a break-up. But look, if that floats your boat,
mate, good luck to you. KATE: The ques…
Can I ask you about the issue, rather than the personal component,
which I’m not entirely clear on? But should…should people
in politics have to declare an interest
in this sort of thing? Totally. Totally. No problems…
So, why don’t they? Well, what’s in question, what he’s
trying to raise from behind Twitter is that someone has tried to say that my ex-wife’s
second cousin once removed, who is now facing charges
over the misuse of a Queensland state
government program, somehow has a link to me. It was created
before I was in parliament, and before I was Water Minister. So, you want to dance,
let’s put it out on the table. Let’s go and… Let’s go
hand in hand to Mick Keelty. But you know what? Let’s be mature. I want to lead the nation. I’m going to make sure
that we get this right. But if we want to get into
this petty, grubby situation, good luck to you. I think we should say that, Ben,
you’re a lawyer involved in a class action
at the moment. I think it’s best if you leave
the personal bit out of this, but it is a reasonable question,
isn’t it? Why shouldn’t politicians declare? And they should,
and I have nothing to declare, but with all due respect, my ex-wife’s
second cousin once removed… I don’t know how many of your partner’s second cousins
once removed you talk to… I’ve never met them. (CHUCKLES)
(LAUGHTER) There is your answer, Ben,
with all due respect. Alright. Let’s move on, now,
to our next question tonight, and it comes from Laura McFarland. What is being done to aid farmers
in keeping their property? The National Farmers’ Federation
and Barnaby Joyce should not be saying
that it is time for farmers to make tough decisions. It is time for the government to stand behind the people
that are struggling, and stop making empty promises
and playing the blame game. Why not declare a national disaster to release more funding
and extra resources for help? Can I put that to you,
Joel Fitzgibbon? Yeah, well, thanks for the question. I thought it was a really
unfortunate time for Barnaby Joyce to be suggesting that people just be forced
off the land, to be paid to exit. Now, there will be farmers
that, even in better times, will be marginal at best
for various reasons, many of them outside their control. But you can’t start saying
people aren’t viable because they’re still hanging on in the seventh or eighth year
of drought. Now, there might be a time
in the future when we talk about assisting people
to leave the land if they don’t have
a long-term future but in the middle of the drought
is absolutely the wrong time. And it’s another example
of the ad hoc approach the government has to this drought. We… Again, we don’t have
an overarching national plan. Back on bipartisanship… This is a question, though,
about declaring a natural disaster. Would you, in government,
do that right now? Well, we certainly are
in a national emergency but I think the government is going
to have to spend more money than it would spend if it invoked
the natural disaster funding. So it’s a moot point, really,
how you derive the money. The fact is that we are potentially,
God forbid, facing a calamity here. I think a lot of people
are underestimating how serious this drought is. And there will be some
tough decisions needed to be made, a lot more money to be spent, and this is why Anthony Albanese
and I have reached out
to the Prime Minister and said, “Look, let’s form some sort
of drought cabinet, “whatever you want to call it,
an advisory body,” so the major parties and indeed other representatives
of the parliament are sitting together and reaching
a consensus on these things. If you’ve thought so much about this,
what’s the figure? How much does the government
need to spend? Well, unfortunately
the Prime Minister was claiming for many months
that he was spending $7 billion. And that was proven to be untrue
during Senate estimates last week. At very best, if I want to be
generous, he might be spending… This is a question about you.
What’s the figure that you… Well, Hamish, I’m in opposition and sadly will be
for another three years almost. But what we’re saying is… Anthony Albanese stood
at the bush summit in Dubbo and wrote a blank cheque. He looked down out to the audience,
including the Prime Minister, and said, “Scott Morrison,
the Opposition will back you. “Whatever you want to spend,
we will back you.” A blank cheque from an opposition
leader. That’s pretty rare. I don’t know
what his shadow treasurer thought about it at the time. But we have supported every measure
the government has put forward over the past six years. The problem is,
there’s been no strategic… I know what you’re going to say,
Minister, and you are wrong. There has been no…
(LAUGHTER) If you could just clue
all the rest of us in… ..overarching strategic plan. As I said, no scenarios about
what it looks like in the future. No responses to… And I’m sorry, I know
you didn’t mean it offensively, Madam President,
I like to call her… I hope not.
But this is… We had a process for developing
our national drought plan in 2012. COAG had a plan. For the first time, we dispensed with all the old exceptional
circumstances arrangements because they were full
of moral hazard, inefficiencies, they were expensive, and there was
no proof that they were working. So the States and the Commonwealth, with support of the
National Farmers’ Federation said, “Let’s start again.” Six foundational points to develop
a truly national drought plan. What happened?
Tony Abbott was elected. He and Barnaby Joyce abolished
the COAG committee that had been charged
with progressing that new plan. And all we’ve had since
is these piecemeal ad hoc decisions, almost on a weekly basis lately
because… The Prime Minister just
thinks it’s going to rain one day and he kicks it down the road. I think what’s tended to happen
is it’s rained. Every time we’ve decided that we’re
going to have a national approach and a national drought strategy,
it’s rained. But I think the premise
of the question… Going back to the question. The question is, is that
the communities need support now. There’s a whole range
of different things that need to happen out there and that’s why
when we’ve proposed a package for the government to consider, we put forward things
that were going affect all sorts of different people, no matter what they do
in the community. So we’ve talked about, for example,
local government rate relief. We think that people…
that there are a lot of people that aren’t accessing much support
at the moment. So we want to make sure anything
that government puts out there is actually going to help
the most number of people that we possibly can. We have suggested…
as part of that, we have suggested
local government rate relief, we’ve suggested how they could
maybe keep employees on farm because we know that
if people leave farms, they’re unlikely to come back. They’re part
of the Rural Fire Service the rural fire brigade, they’re part
of the school committees. We need to keep people on the farms
and in the communities. So, we’ve put forward some
suggestions around that as well. ICPA – back to our friend at Trundle
here – how can we keep people… And I think Kate raised… You know, how can people keep
sending their kids away to school if they live a long way away
from school. We think they need some help
to do that. And we also do think that the sad… Our main aim is to try
and keep people on farms and to keep them sustainable and make sure that they’re there
for the future but we also think that we need to
have, as part of the conversation, the fact that some people
have had enough and they should not be stigmatised
for thinking that they need to leave the land. They don’t want to do it again.
They just have had enough. And so for that reason,
we have proposed that the government consider
offering exit packages. And we think that
that is an option when you’re in drought… Do you think people are going to
sign up? Have you heard from… Well, we know that in the last time
it was offered, under John Howard, about 138 people
took up that option. But this time,
how many have you heard from that are actually willing to? There’s plenty of commentary
on social media at the moment. We all know that means not much. People who have messaged me
and said… So there are people who, even though
the property market is strong, and, you know, that people think you
should be able to sell your farm, for all sorts of different reasons, some people are feeling like
they have no options, Hamish. And that is a horrible,
horrible way to feel. If you feel like you’ve got no hope
and no options and the only thing you want to do
is to move out, then… And I think
it isn’t a huge amount of people. I think it’s a relatively
small amount of people. But by the same token, you shouldn’t
be stigmatising people who feel like that and if they… You know, it’s about giving people
hope and options. KATE: Do you think they’d want
to move out, though? ‘Cause the feeling that I’ve got
from so many people is that, “We feel so abandoned by government,
we have no hope, “we cannot stay any longer
and this might be the only option.” No-one… I tried to find someone
this week saying, “Would you leave the land?
Do you want to?” Not a single person.
We do farming because we love it. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.
We live there. It’s our life. You know, you wake up, and
you go to bed after night time. Totally agree. Totally agree.
People don’t want to go. No, no, totally agree,
but it depends on your age and your stage and where you’re at
and what’s happening. So, there are plenty of people… So, this drought has come hot
on the heels of the last drought. And I don’t think
it is a lot of people. I honestly don’t think
it’s a lot of people. But I also think people, you know,
you want to try and relieve… So, the exit package is distracting
from the real issues then? I think it’s just part
of a whole suite of different things that we should be looking at if we’re being honest about
what’s happening out there. It’s not… You know, we know
that one size doesn’t fit all. We know that not one thing
is going to help everybody. But in actual fact,
I think we believe, you know, we have a plan
for a $100-billion industry by 2030. There’s a lot of things
envisaged in that. Clearly, we think that
we’re sustainable and strong but we also think that this drought is absolutely, hopefully,
a one in a lifetime and it’s having impacts on people
in so many different ways. And at the moment,
we need to support people but put a whole range
of different things on the table. Well, that leads us very nicely
to our last question tonight. It’s from Simon Toscan. I’m 17 years old and my family
are farmers from Darlington Point. In the next few months, I have to
make some very important decisions that will impact my life. Is the government able
to let us know if they have any options and plans
that will help future-proof farming and provide viable and exciting
career options for young farmers? David Littleproud.
Well, definitely. And look,
can I encourage you to go home, get into agriculture
any way you can? But let me say, one of the things
that we will be bringing out in the very near future
is AgriStarter Loans through
the Regional Investment Corporation. And we’ve asked
our Regional Investment Corporation to partner with banks because one of the biggest
inhibiters of getting young people on the farm gate is capital. And how do we work
with traditional banks, to partner with them,
to use the $2 billion we’ve got sitting in
the Regional Investment Corporation to use to get young people into
agriculture at the farm gate level? That’s going to be a product
that we’re trying to make sure that it has buy-in
from the commercial entity so that we can partner, not compete, and then transition
into the commercial world. But also we need to think
about the new jobs of agriculture and not everyone can afford
to go back. And one of the things that I did
as Agriculture Minister was around research and development. We should have a centre
of excellence here in this country on research and development. We are ranked number 20
in the world. US and the Netherlands
are sixth and fourth in the world and we’ve got more researchers. So how do we get better bang
for buck and get into the new jobs
of ag tech, into science and innovation, to give our farmers the tools
they need to be able to adapt
to a changing climate? They’re the new jobs, not just the traditional
pick-and-shovel jobs but the new exciting technology jobs
as well that will complement them, that gives a career pathway. And not just in the cities. What we wanted to do
was make sure these R&D centres were put across regional Australia. So we actually went and did
the research and development in regional Australia and then that makes it easier
for the extension work for farmers to see it and touch and feel it. So, the future is bright.
This is the thing… Let me just go back to Simon
and ask him whether you’ve excited him
sufficiently to head back to north-west of Wagga? Oh, yeah, I guess, but… (LAUGHTER) Kate, what would you say to him? Is there a bright promising future
on the land? There are a lot of good things
about ag, and I think… You know, for me, like,
I’m a fifth-generation farmer, it’s in my blood,
I could never leave. But right now, I don’t see a future. With where we are,
water management the way it is, I just don’t see a future and I think the only thing
that would let me see a future is if we got a federal
royal commission and got to the bottom
of what’s gone wrong. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
That is the only thing. In terms of water management?
Absolutely. In terms of water,
get a federal royal commission, look into the
Murray-Darling Basin Plan. What’s gone wrong,
what we can do better, and how we’re all going
to move forward. ‘Cause that affects so many farmers. It affects all people
along the Darling River, also our dairy farmers
along the Murray as well. We need to get to the bottom
of what’s gone wrong and give people a future. Well, we’ve thrashed out
a lot of issues tonight. Not all of them, I’m sure.
That’s all we have time for tonight. Would you please thank our panel – Maryanne Slattery, David Littleproud, Kate McBride, Fiona Simson,
and Joel Fitzgibbon. (APPLAUSE) You can continue the discussion
on Facebook and Twitter. I’m sure you will. Next week, in collaboration
with the Wheeler Centre, an all-female panel. Fran Kelly will be in control, alongside the Egyptian-American
author Mona Eltahawy, Indigenous writer and activist
Nayuka Gorrie, the anti-ageism author
Ashton Applewhite, and Jess Hill,
whose forensic investigation of male violence
is challenging old assumptions. Thanks to all of you
that contributed questions to tonight’s drought special. I’m sorry that we didn’t get
to all of you but we’re so grateful to you
for contributing and to the many of you
in the audience in the studio tonight
for driving such enormous distances. Please give yourselves
a round of applause. That’s it from me
and the team here at Q&A tonight. Have a very good night. Captions by Red Bee Media Copyright Australian
Broadcasting Corporation

Reader Comments

  1. Adapting to man induced climate change is going to be EXTREMELY expensive… along with mitigating and the suffering caused..

  2. Littleproud.. “just add rain” 🤦🏻‍♂️
    Politicians should be able to go toe to toe with scientists.. this guy is a banker and he just hopes it sorts itself out. 2% of farmers are irrigators.

  3. You can tell by the expressions on the politician's faces you can tell their publicists and media advisors properly prepared them to get attacked. Like water off a duck back. Time to dump the Nationals and try the SFF. All political parties now support more and more corporations, not the citizens. Remember in 2008/9 with the GFC. All the large corporations got financial packages (taxpayer money) as they were too big to fail. Yet the citizens didn't get any money close to what corporations got. So Kate hits the nail on the head. It's not about democracy or capitalism anymore but corporations. In capitalism, the ideology expects people to fail in order to grow better and allow others to take the place. Not corporations. Its profit and the government is there to help them not the citizenry.

  4. For anyone interested in balance Scott Morrison did a special drought interview with Paul Murray last night. Its free in podcast form.

  5. Why is no one saying the obvious; water resources have been over allocated and used inefficiently (why are we growing water hungry crops like rice and cotton????). The system seem incapable of restraining the greed and self interest of some agri-businesses, with the state governments just as culpable due their pursuit of entitlement at the expense of each other.

  6. I've notice that there are few sensible comments during normal working hours. It seems most people are welfare recipients, or doing a disservice to their employers. Apologies to shift workers.

  7. Let's be honest: our politicians (across all parties) are totally unqualified for their positions as MPs, let alone their various portfolios. Most of them have no real life experience in the real world – the world we common folk inhabit (outside of the bubble of Canberra), and Mr Littleprick admitting he was a banker before coming into politics! Christ, they're either ex-bankers or ex-lawyers. All so out of touch. Now listen up folks, WE pay the salaries of those useless politicians through our taxes and therein, they are effectively on welfare. We demand so much from our current welfare recipients, why don't we demand the same of our parasitic politicians? I'd like to see them provide us with a daily account of what they are doing for the people of this country. They get away with too much, doing too far too little to provide real policies that benefit the public, rather than their corporate masters – where there you go, Mr Littleprick working with his corporate banking mates to get them further involved toward making more profits out of our poor farmers via this nonsense the Agri Starter Loan scheme? Why doesn't the government fund this through a publicly owned bank, rather than through the profit driven private banks? Gotta look after their corporate mates of course. Screw the people.

  8. “…as far as the climate scientists know there is no link between climate change and drought.” – Professor Andy Pitman, Director of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes

  9. Water resources across the world are in dire straights, 70% of the worlds fresh water is used for agriculture and irrigation. If you think a few politicians can fix droughts with a new policy and changing some hydrology flows, you're kidding yourself.

  10. They want to destroy agriculture in Australia. All part of the UN agenda. Do your own research and you'll find out the truth! Utter disgrace!

  11. You have three levels of governments, big agricultural business managing a river system on one of the driest continents in the world during one of the biggest & longest droughts on record. Somethings gotta give!! I feel for the small family owned farms who have been working the land for generations…..

  12. Joel Fitzgibbon, the oppositions role in a national crisis is NOT to hold the government to account, it's to work cooperatively with them to support the people affected. Your lack of understanding (and I'm being generous here) is just one reason the population of Australia is losing confidence in our democracy very quickly. But of course the Labor party's close ties to communist China, through corruption and inappropriate influence means that the Labor party will not cooperate with the Liberals and Nat's, because that is not in China's interest. What is in China's interest is a collapse in our agricultural sector to provide a cheap way for them to take further control of Australia and to own more food producing operations which can send food back to China. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the Libs are any better, they too are under the influence of Chinese money. I've just used your false statement about working cooperatively to bring the hypocrisy and corruption we have in Australian politics. It is quite clear to the Australian population that now the Liberals and Labor have succeeded in destroying Australian manufacturing under the Lima Agreement, they are now committed to destroying Australian agriculture. Can you tell me Joel, once this has occurred what do you see the future of Australia looking like. I mean it's obvious there will be lots of Chinese owned mines stripping our resources, but please elaborate on this basic fact and describe how you see our community?

  13. Over the last 100 years we cut down too many trees in this region; and it will take 200 years to grow them back if we started today.

    The govt had no long term plan, and still don't; just quick fixes.

  14. The Cotton was dry land cotton grown off thunderstorm rain – not irrigated cotton. It only grew where the thunderstorms dropped enough rain. Many crops that were planted failed from drought.

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