Interview with Lucy Cooper, ABC Southern Queensland and Capricornia Rural Report

15 December 2021

LUCY COOPER: Well, yesterday, the Federal Government announced two new sets of funding totalling $65 million for horticulture, with 30 million dedicated to build national resilience to manage fruit fly, and 35 million allocated to purchase and- to fund the purchase and installation of protective netting. Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia, David Littleproud, says it targets two key issues for hort-growers in Australia.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: $35 million for netting, fruit fly netting, and for hort-netting is effectively an extension of the initial pilot project of $25 million that was put out about 18 months ago. We've been able to work through that and now got confidence of the fact that while we only had that for apples and pears, we're now extending that right across horticulture. And so $35 million will go right across the country. In terms of doing grants, up to $300,000 dollars per property owner that they can match, dollar for dollar, that they can put into netting, whether that be for pests or whether it be for weather. And in Queensland, there's ten point- $10.92 million set aside.

LUCY COOPER: So, it is extra funding. How successful was that initial allocation?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Oh, look, of just over the $2.1 million that has been committed, a million dollars has been spent already. All that has been on the Southern Downs to date. But that was because the initial pilot was only for apples and pears. And that was predicated off the bushfires that we wanted to try and accelerate that industry. Now, because of that success, we're saying we want to put it right across horticulture. So the horticulture industry is available to apply for this, not just apples and pears, and we're topping that money up so each state got a different allocation dependent on their horticultural production. And we're asking the states to administer this, and we're actually saying to the states, it'd be great if you actually kicked the tin too. We feel that we could do a third, a third, a third, where 30 per cent could come from the feds, 30 per cent from state, and 30 per cent from producers, and you could go even further. But that's a decision for states, but we're encouraging them to do that. But we'll be asking them to administer the program.

LUCY COOPER: Right. And kind of pairing with that, as that netting does help to keep pests out, there's also been money allocated for fruit fly as well, isn't there?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: There is. And, look, this is becoming a significant problem, particularly for our export markets. So we're looking at strengthening our borders. And while being a proud Queenslander, Queensland fruit flies are probably the only export out of this state we're not proud of. It is a native species, so we can't eradicate it here, but in other states, the Qfly and Med fly are causing significant issues for the hort industry and particularly for our exports. So we're looking at post-harvest facilities, a radiation facility down in South Australia, also bolstering, helping states at the border in terms of increasing their infrastructure and improving their infrastructure at the border to help them be able to detect more of the fruit that people may be trying to bring through. So this is on top of the $16.9 million we've already put out. And some of those programs have been around producing sterile fruit fly that we've released out into the environment. So we're looking at every way we can to reduce the impact of fruit fly, particularly for southern markets that are having significant impact on our exports.

LUCY COOPER: And speaking to growers in Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt, I've spoken to them and the issue for them is less so that protective cropping, and I'm hearing more so water security. What's the government looking to do to ensure better water security in the region? I mean, that Emu Swamp Dam project has been dragging along for quite some time with not a feasible outcome it looks like.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, and that's where we leave the states. The Federal Government kicks the tin and simply pays the bill. We expect the states to be able to build these dams. They, under the Constitution, own the management and operation of resources. We trust them to do that. Now, Emu Swamp Dam, the Federal Government's committed over $47 million of taxpayer's money to do that, out of the $3.5 billion we've got set aside. So simply, we expect the states to go and build these dams. We're working with the state government, and I understand, standing in for Barnaby Joyce at the moment, as Infrastructure Minister, I understand that the state minister will be sending through some requests for us to consider around Emu Swamp. But we're very, very keen to make sure we continue to grow and build agriculture through water and infrastructure. And that water infrastructure is imperative, where there's been 20 dams built in this country since 2003, 16 of those have been in Tasmania.
So the Eastern Seaboard hasn't really done the heavy lifting on this. And we're saying to those Eastern Seaboard states, you really need to get moving on this. It's not just for agriculture. There'll also be a 37 per cent reduction in storage capacity per person, per megalitre of water because states haven't built any dams while populations have increased. So that means your ability to turn tap on is going to be impinged very soon, by 2030, because no one has decided to dig a hole or plumb the state, apart from Tasmania. We've got $3.5 billion ready to spend on this, we just need the states to work with industry to get the project up and get- and to start burning some diesel and digging some holes.
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LUCY COOPER: David Littleproud, Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia.