Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Acting Prime Minister discusses drought; and water.



Download PDFDownload PDF

 

National Party of Australia  |  Liberal Party of Australia

Press Conferences APC19/2002 24 September 2002

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON JOHN ANDERSON MP ACTING PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL SERVICES

ALAN JONES PROGRAM, 2GB 24 SEPTEMBER 2002

JONES

We do have on the line a man wearing many hats. He's the Deputy Prime Minister, he's the Acting Prime Minister, he's the National Party Leader but more importantly, I think, in this context, he's a farmer. John Anderson, good morning.

ANDERSON

Good morning, Alan.

JONES

Tough times?

ANDERSON

Yeah, the cruellest drought of all really because it interrupts the strongest farm recovery I can ever remember. There are some areas now, thankfully, that have had a bit of rain but gee, it's terrible in a lot of areas. I was out in the Western Division with John Cobb last week. Forty per cent of New South Wales but there's only 1500 farm units out there because they're so big. We went to one Rural Lands Protection Board in which there were only 58 farms and yet that Protection Board is probably an area the size of a European country.

JONES

What about morale? I mean I feel that farmers - and you know this because your family were farmers, it's been in your family all your life - they can cop it and

they cop it and they cop it but there comes a point when they just wonder when ever there's going to be recovery from all of this. I feel that sense of morale, low morale, exists now?

ANDERSON

Well the depressing thing about it in a way is that before this drought set in you could feel morale lifting. You could feel it not just amongst the farmers, you could feel it in the country towns as the sap started to flow through the tree again, you know, as the money started to flow and this has interrupted it.

JONES

And many farmers of course did have a good season last year but then re-invested that into the property so they're cash-strapped, aren't they?

ANDERSON

Well, what they told me out in the Western Division, a lot of people are in a situation where they've actually destocked so at the moment their overdraft's not looking too bad but what they're really worried about is how the hell they get back into the game and purchase stock which is their sort of capital for generating income when it does break. But there are no two farmers in the same boat. Some have destocked, some have tried to hang on. They're now finding it's not only expensive but getting incredibly hard to get fodder.

One thing that has happened that I'm very gratified about is that I think in many ways the best sort of drought preparation people can have is a financial haystack off the farm. We set up about 4 years ago, after we got into Government, oh bit longer than that now, farm management deposits. About 24,000 farmers - which is getting for to a quarter of Australia's farmers - have been able, with a bit of extra cash, salt some money away and I'm told, we haven't got the official figures yet, there's a bit over a billion in them officially. I'm told there was a real surge of investment as the drought set in. People started to see the opportunity to put something away so a substantial number have been able to take advantage of that but as you say, you know, I think a lot of people, particularly wool growers where it was dreadful right through the '90s, you've got to admire their pluck. I was with a group of them out at Broken Hill, or south of Broken Hill last week, I don't know how they kept their sense of humour up.

JONES

That's it. That's it.

ANDERSON

But they were still joking.

JONES

You're dead right. And of course, native animals - and this is the other problem, isn't it your scourge - desperate for food are causing havoc in rural towns? There's a story today which says that kangaroos have been seen in the main streets of Gunnedah. I was making the point, John, that a few weeks back I was in the Scone area and the people that I was with as we drove from one part up towards (inaudible) we stopped and removed 15 kangaroos off the road which had been killed. I mean there is virtually an invasion of these things, isn't there?

ANDERSON

Unbelievable. Now let's see if I can take the politics out of something that the State Government and the Commonwealth need to look at very closely. We have the problem with the fires last year in Sydney and part of it was attributed to the multiplication of National Parks and the fact that they weren't being perhaps managed quite as well as they might.

JONES

Yep. Yep. Yep.

ANDERSON

Now out in the Western Division of NSW farmer after farmer, or grazier or pastoralist, according to how they see themselves, told me that one of the great problems this time is that there's been a whole lot of new National Parks created out there and the kangaroo culling programme hasn't been effective. They've stripped the parks, denuded them, starved themselves. In one case threatened a very rare colony of yellow-tailed wallabies, and then as the parks have been denuded they've moved out in their tens of thousands. I have never seen roos like it, your (inaudible) story is right, and they've massively exacerbated the drought. I just think, you know, the NSW Government - and there is a role for the Commonwealth to play here, I've spoken to the Federal Minister about it - need to have a very close look at this kangaroo culling program. I hear the Greens calling for a banning of culling again. I think that is a nonsense because it can be very cruel to the very native species you're talking about protecting if you let them starve themselves out and that's what they're doing and they've brought the drought on several months ahead of when it would otherwise have really got serious for a lot of people in NSW.

JONES

Absolutely. Now let me hit between the eyes, the thing you and I have talked about often and the Prime Minister as well. We have to reach a point, don't we, where we're going to have to water Australia? We don't have a problem with water, we've got a problem getting water from where it is to where we need it. Is there a scope, for example $50 billion goes into superannuation, why couldn't we issue some infrastructure bonds, water bonds so that we could invest that money in proposals and programs which could in fact water these areas so that once and for all we could drought-proof our country?

ANDERSON

Well there's some interesting proposals coming to us now on water infrastructure. Initially, the two points I'd make: firstly you've got to have the investment security which you and I have spoken about as well so people can invest in these things and know it's not going to be stripped away; secondly, there's a lot of areas where the water is already at that could be further developed. Take Kununurra and the next stage of the Ord, there's huge amounts of water up there.

JONES

Definitely.

ANDERSON

But the first thing we've got to do (inaudible)--JONES

Or just the Clarence River here?

ANDERSON

But you've got to unlock the area up there from native title disputes and then you could grow a lot more wealth right there where the water is. Then you've got along the Murray here, there's a heck of a lot that could be done just to stop water waste which would put a lot more back into the farm system and into the river for the eco-system so I think there is a lot that can be done.

JONES

See, in the 1950s - you're too young to remember this and I'd like to think that I was as well - but I am told that in the '50s or '40s & early '50s when the Coalition of course was unassailable under Menzies, people used to say in the bush 'I can feel an election coming on because everyone would say I'm going to build an airstrip' and as you know, in rural NSW there's airstrips everywhere and this was the sort of, the way in which they were able to secure the rural vote. We actually need to replace that mentality with building dams, don't we? We've got a stack of water in flood times. We need underground dams so that we can actually house that water for use in times of need?

ANDERSON

Well there's certainly a lot of things that could be done and should be done. So we get the investment security right, you've got people like Dick Pratt with a very visionary proposal for the southern part of NSW, northern Victoria.

JONES

Yep.

ANDERSON

I reckon that's one of the first we should seriously be looking at.

JONES

It'd be a good project for the National Party to lead the nation on, wouldn't it?

ANDERSON

Ah, well, yes (laughs).

JONES

(Iaughs) Good to talk to you.

ANDERSON

Okay.

JONES

Thank you for your time. John Anderson. A meteorologist said earlier this week this could be the worst drought since 1902 which was the driest year on record across the nation.

ENDS

 

For any questions or comments about this website, please email publicaffairs@dotars.gov.au Department of Transport and Regional Services