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Transcript of doorstop interview: Bungendore, NSW: 25 October 2018: drought assistance; more reliable and affordable power; ASIC; climate change

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The Hon. Scott Morrison MP Prime Minister





SUBJECTS: Drought assistance; More reliable and affordable power; ASIC; Climate change

THE HON GARY NAIRN AO: Welcome to Mulloon Creek Natural Farms and the campus of the Mulloon Institute. I really wish it had been Tony Coote standing here today to welcome you. Tony and his wife, also Toni, established the Mulloon Institute back in 2011 following work that was done on Mulloon Creek and demonstrating and proving how landscape repair and rehydration results in a much better agricultural outcome. And Tony was certainly aware that we’d planned on a visit from the Prime Minister and the Agricultural Minister but unfortunately we lost him just over two months ago. So I’m effectively standing in his place but he is, for media purposes and things, he bequeathed these farms, these working farms, it was about 6,000 acres all up. We produce over 80,000 eggs a week, organic free-range biodynamic eggs and also we have several hundred head of cattle and pigs. So it’s a working farm and we wanted - he wanted - to see going on forever the demonstration of landscape rehydration and how it assists agriculture into the future. So it’s a great pleasure to have you here, Prime Minister, and good to catch up again.

PRIME MINISTER: Good to see you Gary. It’s great to have Peter Edwards here too… Peter Andrews, sorry, here who has been the real leader and visionary behind the science behind what we’re seeing achieved here. And Tony… you look out on this field, his field of vision, and it’s a great inspiration to be here and to learn of his great philanthropy and passion for country, a passion for the environment, and for the future of rural and regional Australia.

Tomorrow, people will come from all around the country for the Drought Summit. And the Drought Summit is about relief, absolutely. Making sure we’re out there supporting those who are doing it extremely tough. But it’s also importantly about recovery and it’s also about resilience into the future. This is about doing what we need to do straight away and it’s about doing what we need to do long-term

and to have the long-term vision and plan, like Tony did, like Peter has always had, to ensure that we’ve got the right practices and we’ve got the right infrastructure and the right support going right around Australia. And so the Summit tomorrow will be an important further step in how we’re achieving those goals. Achieving the relief, achieving the recovery, and achieving the long-term resilience by working together. By being innovative in the way Peter has with his practices here and ensuring that those and many other things can be done around the country to maintain and preserve the way of life for rural and regional Australians all around the country, which I know is so important.

Now as you know we’ve had a number of initiatives, some $1.8 billion that has been going into support around the drought and to achieve those objectives. That includes most recently that support we’re putting into the shires and local council areas all around drought affected areas. A million dollars going in to support those towns. And what I’m announcing today is $15 million that is going into rural and regional renewal through the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, for small grant programs that are going into drought communities. And that is to work on programs that are happening on the ground which is bolstering resilience of the people as well as supporting the resilience of the land on which they live on. This is further support that is all about providing that hope, providing that encouragement, that we back Australians affected by this drought and we’re backing them in practical ways. Not just to keep their local economies going or their communities going, but to invest in ensuring they can maintain the way of life that they love so much. And these small grant programs are all about those types of activities that help communities help themselves and there are so many of these charitable works that are happening and others are more practical in terms of what they’re doing on the land. So I’m going to ask Michael McCormack to talk a bit more about that fund and what it’s doing, but we’re backing our farmers, we’re backing our rural and regional communities by practical investments which provides and backs in the hope that they’ve always demonstrated for the future. Thanks Michael.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, THE HON MICHAEL MCCORMACK: Yeah thanks Scott, and it’s good to be here at the Institute and I know it’s very close to my heart as well because Richard Allsopp, a family member of the family of the Coote family here, is a person from Wagga Wagga. And I know how near and dear this place is to him, but more importantly what they do here, Gary and I know this place is very special to him and I know the regeneration that is going on here, this needs to be replicated right around our nation. A nation that looks after its soil, looks after itself. And it’s the important work which you’re doing here is a model for everyone, so well done and congratulations.

I’m really looking forward to Emma Thomas starting on Monday. She’ll be based in Forbes, she’s going to be the program manager for the Drought Communities Program, those small grants that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison was just talking about. The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal is a very, very important player in this drought recovery and relief effort. That organisation is going to distribute those grants, large and small, to not-for-profits who can apply from tomorrow. All they need to do is go to, that website, and see how they can be a player in this resilience, this recovery, these assistance efforts. Whether it’s putting on a social gathering, whether it’s putting on a drought forum, whether it’s getting community people in a drought-stricken area together, maybe even for a dance or a social outing. They’re the sorts of small grants that will be available, they’re the sorts of efforts that we want to see made possible through this grants program. Some of these drought communities are doing it really tough and people are looking to one another for help and support and they can apply through this website to make themselves available for some of this funding. $15 million can go a little way, it can go a long way towards bringing communities together. And that’s all part of the efforts that the Australian Government is going to help these drought-stricken communities. Because when you get communities talking together, socialising together, being together, that’s one of the big things that’s going

to help them through this drought. It’s a debilitating drought, we all know that. The Government is shoulder to shoulder, side by side with our communities, with our farmers, with our small businesses right throughout these areas. And you know, it’s going to be tough but let me assure you, there is nobody tougher than rural Australians. They’ve been through it before, they know what it’s like, they’re going to band together and they’re going to band together with this tackling the tough times together campaign. So I’d like to ask David Littleproud now, the Minister for Agriculture who is working so hard with these rural communities, to play his part on behalf of the Government. And he knows full well about the drought effort as well because he’s been in a drought community for the last seven years. So David, if you could say a few words.

MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, THE HON DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP: Well thanks DPM, PM, and Peter. It’s great to be out here. In fact, many of the principles that Peter Andrews has put in place has actually put in my own family farm. We’ve taken up the principles that Peter has taught for so long and it just goes to show that this Federal Government has made an investment, or is about to make an investment, of $1.1 billion in Landcare programs and it’s not just drought programs and putting money into farmers pockets. It’s investing in the environment as well. Because we invest in the environment, we build the environment, we’re more prepared, we’re more resilient as well to get our farmers through droughts and be able to secure ourselves out of it. So it’s important we make those investments.

But this afternoon I’m also going back with the Treasurer and we’re having a summit with the banks which builds on the first drought roundtable I had three months ago, to make sure that our financial institutions come on this journey with us. And I have to congratulate them, I bought them on that journey in getting them to offset farm management deposits against term debt, which is effectively saving our farming families tens of thousands of dollars a year. That’s an important investment that the banks have made. Some of them took more effort than others to come on that journey but they’ve all come there, and we need to continue to work with them to make sure that we endeavour to work collaboratively to ensure farmers are able to have the whole suite of measures to get them through. And that’ll feed into the Drought Summit tomorrow, which is important about looking at our drought policy to make sure it’s fit for future. We’ve done a great job in terms of having a bipartisan approach since 1992 in terms of drought policy. But we should always look to make sure we see if it’s fit for future of the preparedness and the resilience of our agricultural sector to ensure we’re ready for the next drought and ready to come out of this one. So it’s important we are looking at that and I’m sure there will be some announcements the Prime Minister will make out of that and we continue to work through that and work with our state colleagues. Because it’s not just our Governments that’s on the hook on this, the state governments need to ensure they live up to their part of the responsibility on the agreement we have one drought and they continue to do that in a collaborative way between the states and there is coordination. We’ve seen some practical and common sense approaches around particularly transport. That’s all people really want out of government is just one thing - common sense. And that’s what we’re starting to deliver with road transport, making sure we can get feed from one state to the other without them having to pull up and take a few bales off and then start again and go through another state. This is just nonsense and we’ve been able to fix that and we’re looking to make more common sense approaches to make sure farmers have practical answers to be able to deal with this drought.

PRIME MINISTER: Well thanks a lot David, happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, farmers have repeatedly complained that accessing the drought assistance scheme can be… the paperwork can be too onerous and not even worthwhile. They’ve called for a one-

stop portal to try and access state and federal grants together. Is that something you’d consider, and are you concerned with the take-up of these schemes?

PRIME MINISTER: Well yes and yes is the short answer to both questions. These are the areas we’ve been working with rural communities on, whether it’s on the farm household assistance application form. We’ve reduced the time on that by about a third, making that more practical. We’ve got some other measures we’ll be looking to announce over the next few days which are just dealing with some of these practical issues of people being able to access the support. There is a lot of support out there, both at the Commonwealth level and at the state level. But making that more seamless, easy to connect up with, this is something Major General Day has been raising with us over the last eight weeks and he has only been going those last eight weeks but we have got a lot done in those eight weeks and tomorrow will be a further demonstration of that with the additional initiatives. But one of the key focuses is has been on how you better connect people with their need to the assistance that is on offer.

JOURNALIST: The Summit has been criticised by some as just merely being a talk fest. Are we expecting to see some concrete action by the end of it?


JOURNALIST: In what way?

PRIME MINSITER: Well I will announce actions when we are at the summit. I mean, today we announced $15 million to better support drought communities right across the country. Look, these things always have their critics. In the Canberra bubble they will have the criticism of these sorts of things but people are out there in drought communities know that putting an extra million dollars in their shires, each and every one, to actually support their local economies, $1.8 billion dollars in assistance going into rural and regional communities, actually investing in what happens on the farm and in the towns as well. These are all very practical things and there will be more practical things that is drawn from the work that Major General Day has been doing, that Barnaby has been doing, that David has been doing, that Michael has been doing and working with states and territories. David said they also have a key responsibility under the agreement and we will looking at the agreement between states and territories and the Commonwealth tomorrow as well, looking forward to COAG later in the year to look at how that can be more practical. So getting people together to focus on doing things I think is always a good thing to do and that's what we will doing tomorrow.

JOURNALIST: Have farmers been registering their farm worker shortages as yet?

PRIME MINSITER: I haven't had an update on that today but I do encourage them to do so.

JOURNALIST: Some crossbench MPs have raised concerns about elements of your energy plan...

PRIME MINSITER: We’re just going to stay on drought for one second, if there’s any other questions on drought?

JOURNALIST: Yeah I’ve got one for drought. So you said that yes, it is being held down here in Canberra and it has been highlighted that it’s not being held in say a more drought-stricken area like the north. Why is it being held down in Canberra?

PRIME MINSITER: Practicality and convenience for all the attendees and the infrastructure is here to support this sort of an event. Drought communities are pretty focused on what they are focused on at the moment and the show was set up here in Canberra to be able to host an event like this. That's what the nation's capital is for, that you can actually draw people together at relatively short order to have the officials and others who support these events and you can get them on and get them focused on the action. What we are encouraging people to do is to get out into drought affected communities, particularly whether it is on tourism or anything else, but you know this is a working summit, this is our nation's working capital and that is where we will bringing the nation together to focus on this issue.

THE HON GARY NAIRN AO: We are experiencing drought as well. We have had seven months of the driest period on record since records started in the late 1800s, so the last seven months is the driest seven month we have had, so... It might look good here because of the work we have done over the last ten years. That is why it is in better shape, but it is dry.

JOURNALIST: Just on energy, the crossbenchers don’t support parts of your plan. The underwriting proposal, the divestment powers. Does that jeopardise your promise to reduce power bills?

PRIME MINSITER: They are the things that often get raised by the Opposition, get raised by the critics. What I am focused on is ensuring that we get the big energy companies into line. I mean what we have learnt today is Labor won't take a big stick to the electricity companies but they will take the stick to the value of your own home with what they plan to do with negative gearing and capital gains tax. So they are lining up with the big energy companies, refusing to support the action that we are going to take, which will get those big energy companies into line, and get power prices down, but they are happy to take the stick to the value of your own home by their reckless tax policies.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, ASIC wants more powers to force financial services companies who break the law to have to compensate their customers. Is that something you’d consider?

PRIME MINISTER: We are waiting for the Royal Commission's final report before we consider further actions that will flow from that. Just this week, just this week, we are introducing legislation to increase the penalties and powers available to ASIC to act across a whole range of misconduct in the financial sector so our Government hasn't been short on giving ASIC more power, more resources, greater penalties to hold those to account who are ripping Australians off and that's exactly what we are doing also with the big energy companies. We are 100 per cent committed to standing up to big energy companies and making sure that they do the right thing by customers. What we've learned is the Labor Party are not interested in doing that and I remember that happen when we were standing for small business and they wouldn’t support small business tax cuts. I remember it was also the Labor Party that wouldn’t support the change to competition laws that led to a level playing field for small businesses when it came to the effects test which meant that small businesses got a fairer go. Labor oppose that too. Labor is not the friend of small business. They are not the friend of homeowners and they are not the friend of Australians and businesses who want to have lower electricity prices.

JOURNALIST: Do you acknowledge concerns of health professionals who have urged the Government to act on recommendations from the IPCC report? Do you acknowledge that refusing to phase out coal by 2050 that it could be a global health problem?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the IPCC doesn't make recommendations to the Australian Government, it makes observations about where those issues are globally and we have been looking at that report carefully as

the Environment Minister has said. Australia has met its Kyoto One target, we will smash our Kyoto Two targets and we will meet our targets out to 2030 in a canter. So Australia will pull its weight when it comes to the issues of emissions reduction. Our Government is committed to that, we will delivering on that. But what we will also do, what we will also do, is we will get electricity prices down and we won't allow those other issues to force pensioners, families, small businesses to pay higher electricity prices which is what the Labor Party are proposing. They are proposing higher electricity prices, undermining the value of your own home and refusing, point blank refusing, to take a big stick to the electricity companies, which we will. They would rather take the big stick to the value of the most important asset Australians have, which is their own home. But on that we have to leave it there because we have to get back into town. Thanks a lot. It has been great to be here.


Contacts: Press Office, (02) 6277 7744 The Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Sydney