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Transcript of press conference: Wyuna, near Emerald, Queensland: 10 September 2008



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The Hon. Tony Burke MP Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Press conference with Tony and PM

10 September 2008

Press conference at Wyuna, near Emerald, Queensland.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke Peter Kenny from the Drought Taskforce Member for Flynn, Chris Trevor

Kevin Rudd: The purpose of today is to get a briefing from Peter about where his panel has got to in his discussions right across Australia with other members of his panel, on the social impacts of the drought. Can I say this is the first time that government nationally, I think Peter will back this up, has sought to engage individual farmers, their families and communities and what’s happening to them personally and their family circumstances as a result, not just a one, two or three year drought, but a seven, eight, nine and ten year drought.

And I think, and Peter will speak for himself here, in a minute, that the impact has been truly devastating. The cumulative of impact on people’s psychological well being, cumulative impact on the way in which people feel about themselves, and the difficulties that they face and their ability to cope. There is a very human story, and one of the reasons why we’ve specifically engaged this panel, is to get that human story told as much as that economic story and as much as the climate science story, because together, the various elements of that make up a long term credible response to drought policy for the future.

Just having discussions now with Peter about how we go forward and the language he suggested and which I am attracted to, is that a nation we now begin—to now need to begin—to plan for dryness, plan for dryness. In the past we’ve had an assumption that you’d have dry seasons every now and then, now we’ve got to assume, that frankly, for most of the country, that’s the norm, and on a long term basis. Therefore, how do plan long term for dryness? That’s the key challenge.

I might turn now to Peter, then to Tony and then happy to take your questions.

Peter Kenny: Wherever we went, there was tremendous distress, within the community. It was the first time, I believe that as the Prime Minister has just said, the first time that our communities, have been able to have the chance to stand up in public and actually tell one an other, tell their neighbours and even in some days, tell their wives for the first time, just how stressed they where.

Dryness is the word that we use—try to take the fear out of drought. It has a real stigma about it that word, and we believe that if proper planning was put in place, people would become much more self reliant, and that’s the way for the future. We are a dry nation, and we have to live with it. It’s up to government itself, as to how this policy will be developed in the future, but for our part, we must be progressive, we must be innovative and try to get a policy there that will service, for the next 20 years.

I believe we need a fresh start altogether, but to get to where a fresh start is, will be a difficult situation, because wherever we went, people made it quite clear that the support government gave at the moment, financial support, was absolutely essential, for them to exist.

We went further than just our people, we also looked at rural communities, and some of these rural communities are under a deep distress, as far as being able to cope for the future. We went to places like Bourke, where there is, you know, three hotels that closed down, the IGA has closed down, they had three clubs there, and they now got one. They have an aboriginal population without work, and so this whole town is under huge stress because it depended on the irrigation assistance.

We went to Griffith, and the same problems there, where irrigations stopped over night and these

people aren’t use to drought. For most of the time, for most of the years, they’ve had ample water there for irrigation. They don’t know what they’re going to do. They’re small places and I’m talking about hundreds of farmers who are now left in a situation where their future looks pretty grim.

So I guess as we go forward, we have to be people of hope, and that was the message that I left at every meeting that we had, and there where twenty five of them throughout Australia in the last six weeks. We’ve got to be people of hope, we must remember though, that climate change is here, whether we believe it or not, we have to plan and take notice of what the experts are telling us and make sure that we’re not left in the lurch as we have been in the past.

Tony Burke: Peter’s given us a taste of what we’ll get more of in a finer report, not too many weeks away, but he’s talked to myself and the PM about the impact of over lapping support services.

Not enough coordination at a federal level and a state level, and not enough focus on preparation, so that the government role tends to come in right at the point where people have hit the wall of crisis, rather than looking at, with climate change and the challenges that people now face, how can preparation make sure that we encourage people to get in early, to deal, to deal with what the harsh continent tends to bring us in even harsher times.

And so, all of that can say, well, doesn’t that provide room for pessimism, and the answer is no! The pessimism would only be valid if we had a government that was prepared to continue to neglect, if we had a government that wasn’t going to say, lets take the decisions and work our way through, bringing drought policy up to date, with what the climates now bringing us.