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Transcript of Interview with Warwick Long: ABC Goulburn Murray: 25 July 2013: support for fruit industry; Rural Financial Counsellors; Productivity Commission; live animal exports



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T h e H o n J o e l F i t z g i b b o n M P

T R A N S C R I P T

M i n i s t e r f o r A g r i c u l t u r e , F i s h e r i e s a n d F o r e s t r y

Transcript of Interview ABC Goulburn Murray Thursday, 25 July 2013

E&OE

SUBJECT: support for fruit industry, Rural Financial Counsellors, Productivity Commission, live animal exports

WARWICK LONG: Welcome to the Goulburn Valley, I wish it was under better circumstances. What are you looking at today?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well I am here to get a first hand account of the problems here. There’s nothing like being on the ground, talking to growers and assessing the local situation. Of course the government wants to help in any way it that can, in cooperation of course with the Victoria Government. So I am here to make those assessments.

WARWICK LONG: Growers are crying out for assistance. First things first, you do actually have an announcement to make today, what is that?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well we are announcing, three additional rural financial counsellors for Victoria, including one here in the Goulburn Valley. That’s good news, but I don’t present it as a silver bullet for all the problems here. But it does give emotional and financial support in terms of advice for local growers. But again, I’m here mainly to get a first hand account situation on the ground, so I can do back to Canberra to determine if there’s anything we can do.

WARWICK LONG: How long will these financial counsellors be funded for?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well these, from my perspective are permanent positions. We don’t put them in to take them away. So people should consider that an ongoing

commitment. Again I think that’s not an initiative that’s going to fix all the problems here. But I do hope that it will give important support to local growers.

WARWICK LONG: Today, and for weeks now, fruit growers have been calling for $3 million dollars to help with spray and the removal of trees in the Goulburn Valley saying there is a biosecurity crisis and risk on the horizon when the fruit starts growing. Are you aware of that issue?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Yeah, I have had varying advice on whether that’s the right fix for the situation and again that’s why I am here to get to get the advice of the growers themselves. They are at the end of the day in my view, the experts so I’ll be talking through those issues with them today.

WARWICK LONG: Can you help them? Can the federal government help them with that particular issue?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That is absolutely a matter for the Victorian Government, of course, but I am determined as the new Minister to work cooperatively as I can with the government and with Peter Walsh and I am very happy to have that conversation with him. We have got to be careful not to let the Victorian Government sherk it’s responsibilities. It is there job first and foremost. But l’m happy to help if I can.

WARWICK LONG: Well Peter Walsh has so far has refused to fund this program, saying it would set a bad precedent. Could you say - pressure him to change his mind?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well I won’t pressure Peter Walsh, nor will I criticise him for his assessment, because he’s obviously relied upon some expert advice. I have had varying advice as well, but that’s why l’m here today to hear first hand from the growers and to get their perspective.

WARWICK LONG: You mention that is a Victorian Government responsibility, but does the Federal Government have the ability to step in if need be?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well the Federal Government certainly has significant powers in many ways, but money doesn’t grow on trees, excuse the pun. And we are very careful to allocate our funds where we have direct responsibilities. This is clearly a responsibility of the Victorian Government. But again I am happy to have that conversation.

JAN DEANE: There two commissions looking into the importation of tomatoes and fruit which affect this area quite significantly. What is your take so far on what the Productivity Commission and the Anti-dumping Commission work so far?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: In addition to the visit today, l’ve made an appointment with the Productivity Commission to discuss these issues and if you like, to reassure myself they are doing all they can to produce an outcome which would be acceptable to the locals here. And of course they’re doing so in the most timely way because time is of the essence here.

WARWICK LONG: Can you make them work faster?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well I might be able to make them work faster, but I mean this is technical work and it’s work that we have to keep within the rules of the WTO, so these things can only be done so quickly. I think my own objective is to better understand their methodology and make sure they’re doing it quickly as humanly possible.

WARWICK LONG: Because it does sound as if time is of the essence here. Would you agree with that?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well timeliness of course is very important here. That’s why l’ve made an appointment to see the Productivity Commission on Monday. So my plan is to hear what the people are saying on the ground here today and to go to the PC on Monday to further pursue those issues.

WARWICK LONG: How confident are you of a result that the fruit growers want in this region given that the Productivity Commission doesn’t have a big history of ruling in the petitioners favour and the Anti-Dumping Commission is pretty much operating under brand new rules?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, I know the Productivity Commission will apply the rules as they see them and do what they believe is right by the international rules and I have no doubt that if they find that using their methodology that there is dumping involved here, they will act and make recommendations. But they are effectively independent in all of this and their job is to determine whether technically, what’s happening technically, constitutes dumping.

Jan Deane: Are you treating it as a sort of a kind of industry wide fruit or food manufacturing issue or do you see it that there are particular problems for growers and SPC Ardmona here?

JOEL FITZGIBBON - Well I’m particularity interested in food manufacturing and of course it’s been a significant challenge largely because of the high Australian dollar which thankfully has now been heading southward for some time and I think will probably fall a little further. So this is just one part of the broader patchwork and my visit here will

certainly help me better understand some of the challenges facing the food manufacturing industry.

Jan Deane: But you don’t see it as a particular problem for this industry here - It’s an industry wide sort of food manufacturing issue, is what I’m getting at?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well food manufacturing is under stress in Australia, there’s no doubt about that. We have to constantly look at opportunities to value-add to our food. But I think the Australian dollar has been the predominate problem here, in a way that’s addressing itself, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t more work to do.

WARWICK LONG: And just on the ESCAS issue and the Pakistan issue report released yesterday. What is your first take on the investigation that was released by DAFF?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well I should just say that the incident in Pakistan distressed all of us, both the industry and the broader community and that is why I have devoted almost all of my time I have to say since becoming new Minister to reviewing the system and ensuring we have by far, the best system in the world and I’ll continue to do that over the course of the next couple weeks, and I said yesterday, I will be having more to say on in the not too distant future.

WARWICK LONG: Is DAFF appropriately independent enough to do this investigation into the ESCAS system and the failings of the Pakistan situation?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I think DAFF is sufficiently independent, and I have developed early on a very high regard for my department, but their role in all of this has been part of my review over the course of the next few weeks and again, I’ll have something more to say on that in the not too distance future.

WARWICK LONG: Animal welfare groups are really criticising the fact that they were responsible for this report.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well there were some in our broader community who are just intent on closing this industry down. I support this industry. It is very important to the Australian economy. It’s very important to those who rely upon the industry for their work and family income and there are many, many of them but I am determined as Minister to be able to say that we have the very best animal welfare system in the world. That’s my key goal.

WARWICK LONG: There are people who say the Government doesn’t really know why Bahrain rejected these sheep in the first place. Is there still some work to do there though?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No, I don’t believe so. I think there is a pretty good understanding of why Bahrain rejected that shipment. I don’t want to dwell on that. The report speaks for itself. I’m looking forward, and forward for me is making sure that I can build public confidence in the system. As I said, there are those who are intent on closing the industry down, but mainstream Australia I think, thinks that it’s important to strike a balance here. We can take the export income, take the jobs the industry provides, while at the same time meeting world class standards on animal welfare.

WARWICK LONG: This investigation was quite narrow. Is there scope for a wider investigation looking at failings of live export over some of the multiple circumstances that have occurred so far?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, in a sense, I am the wider investigation. As Minister, I am reviewing the entire process and determining for myself whether there is more we can do. The system will never be perfect. No system in this space ever can be but as I said, I am determined that by the time I finish my own personal review of the processes we’ll be able to say without any doubt at all that we have the best animal welfare system in the world.

WARWICK LONG: Minister thanks for your time.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That’s a pleasure.

Ends