Interview with Cassandra Hough, ABC SA Country Hour

15 July 2020

CASSANDRA HOUGH: The Minister for Agriculture Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud says it's necessary to support the long-term recovery of the island, following the bushfires.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: This is the first of the local economic recovery plans of the $450 million that the Commonwealth has committed to. So, in terms of the long term recovery, we wanted to make sure it was a local recovery, not a Canberra-led, and the locals, the local government, and state governments have led and already committed $33 million to this project. We've come up with another $9.9 million, and the State Government another five to make sure that it can start this year. And this'll secure the water supply for the residents of KI but also help with respect to agriculture, grazing, making sure that there's a constant water supply for stock that were decimated during the bushfire season this year. So, this is about building back better, and this is one that the community said they wanted. We've listened. We've listened to the State Government, and I've got to say, the South Australians are the first ones. This is the first down payment of that 450 million, so such has been the coordination, collaboration between the local government on KI and the State Government in coming to us and putting this project up that we were able to approve it and be the first one approved of that 450 million, and there'll be more to come.

CASSANDRA HOUGH: This means now that that project is fully funded and going to go ahead, by the sounds of things.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It will. In fact, it'll start nearly immediately. It'll take about 18 months to two years to complete, but it'll have around a $200 million impact on the local economy over the next 10 to 15 years. But give around two megalitres per day, that's what the desal plant can provide. So overall, it'll be around 500 jobs for KI that this will provide in the construction, which will give it a boost, and obviously we're trying to get as many tourists back there as we possibly can to get those, that economy up and going, along with all those that have been hurt, not just by bushfires but now COVID-19.

CASSANDRA HOUGH: There are a few desalination plants around the country that are effectively white elephants that aren't being used. The one in South Australia is at the moment, but there's one in Southern Queensland, where you're from, that is still sitting there not being used. How will you ensure that this doesn't follow on from those desalination plants that aren't being used?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, those desal plants that you talk about actually feed into mainland Australia. This is an isolated island. It needs a secure water supply, and in fact, as I understand it, the South Australian Government's been working with the local government around taking water over to the island to make sure that they have adequate supply. So it is a little bit different to what state governments have done before with desal plants, because it does work on an isolated island rather than the mainland, where there's other sources of supply. So that's why the local council and the local community saw this as a very important project in securing the economy that's there. There's 140,000 visitors a year that go there on top of the agricultural sector and those residents that live there, so not being able to provide secure water supply actually puts that at jeopardy, and this'll build back better and make sure that the water infrastructure that was there that gave them the water supply they had there in terms of pumps is also brought up to speed and built back better to withstand disasters into the future.

CASSANDRA HOUGH: And while you're in South Australia, you're certainly doling out some cash, because there's $16.7 million in grant funding over five years going to the South Australian Disaster Risk Reduction Grants Program. What will be funded through this?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, and this is in partnership again with the South Australian Government. There's a key report that came out around reducing the risk of natural disasters into the future that is estimated to cost us around $59 billion to the economy by 2050. So, what we're trying to do is undertake this principle of building back better. So this'll allow the South Australian Government to undertake programs and infrastructure builds that'll actually improve and build up better to a standard that withstand not just disasters that they've experienced in the past, but new and increased disasters. And a lot of that will be help and the support after the Commission of Inquiry into the bushfires here in South Australia that's been handed down by Mick Keelty only in the last couple of weeks and in fact, I spoke with the Premier yesterday, making sure that we supported them as well, as our Royal Commission will come out at the end of the month but this is a down payment on that. And every state has undertaken to look to projects that will help the community prepare better for whether that be bushfires, floods, not so much down here than cyclones, but any natural disaster that may come their way that we can help. Because if we spend the money upfront, we're going to save that into the future, so that when we get to 2050, that not only will we be saving homes and businesses, but we'll be saving even more lives. And that's about making a down payment now that'll give a dividend further down the track.

CASSANDRA HOUGH: And I should say that the Commonwealth's putting in 8.35 million. It's being matched by the South Australian Government on that. With regards to infrastructure, the Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme is one of the most popular drought initiatives that the Government made the Federal Government reimbursed farmers 25 per cent of their cost to improve their on-farm water infrastructure. But that scheme has now been exhausted. I know that farmers have been petitioning for the Water Minister Keith Pitt to continue this. But would this disaster resilience program be somewhere that could also fund this project that has been very popular?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I know the Water Minister Keith Pitt's actually looking at this program, and in fact, I had conversation with Tim Whetstone, your Agriculture Minister here, only in the last couple of days as well. It is a very popular program, and in fact, only South Australia and Queensland are ones that give some matching funding to this to primary producers. So, we're trying to get commitments from the other states that they might do the same as what South Australia and Queensland are doing in matching some of this funding, because then the dollars go further. If there's a three-way tie between farmers, state, and Federal Government, then this builds a resilience for drought. And while we'd classify drought as a natural disaster, we have a different suite of measures targeted at drought, and this program is being looked at and is seen as one of the most successful ones, and will probably be, if Mr Pitt puts something forward, there prob, could be a further funding announcement on this. But I understand that he's working with state counterparts around the country to make sure that it goes further and we get some commitments from other state governments as well as what we've seen from South Australia and Queensland.

CASSANDRA HOUGH: Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud speaking there.