Interview with Andrew Collins, ABC WA Regional Drive

1 July 2020

ANDREW COLLINS: David Littleproud is the Federal Agriculture Minister, he's come out swinging in regard to WA questioning the merits of this $100 million first tranche of the Federal Drought Fund, saying amongst other things, if that providing money to struggling farmers was a horse race, the West Australian Government were stuck at the barrier.

Minister Littleproud, good afternoon to you.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good afternoon, good to be with you.

ANDREW COLLINS: Now, why weren't these tangible projects, as illustrated by Minister MacTiernan funded?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Because they're state government responsibilities. They were water projects. Since federation, our forefathers gave the constitutional responsibility, ownership and management of water resources to the states. What they're trying to do is be tricky and sneaky as they have with drought, everything else with agriculture in WA, and simply try to cost shift onto the Federal Government. No jurisdiction has been given any money directly out of the Future Fund. It wasn't designed for that and WA know that. They're trying to hoodwink everybody about some sort of plan that they put up about things that they should be doing anyway. If they were dead set serious about developing agriculture and building resilience for drought in WA, they would have done those projects because that's their responsibility and they know that. And when we talk about the other programs…


DAVID LITTLEPROUD: …let me tell you that one of those programs, the one around business- helping people do business cases is in fact one that they themselves have put very strongly out of- a review out of their drought policy themselves. So this is just politics and it's sad that WA continues to do this. Alannah MacTiernan has nothing to offer for WA farmers so she continues to play politics in this sad, pathetic way.

ANDREW COLLINS: Now it's not just Alannah MacTiernan that's been critical of the announcement of this first $100 million, the primary producers themselves are also critical. Here's a couple. This is Michael Percy from [indistinct] station in the Pilbara.

MICHAEL PERCY: You know we're- in this game we're sort of used to the ups and downs in these sort of seasons. And things in general, we're used to having to deal with it and yeah, you know we've never seen much to be all that helpful in drought relief from government. It's sort of more about how you manage it yourself.

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ANDREW COLLINS: And this is Jorgen Jensen from [indistinct] station near Mount Magnet. He reckons it's skewed towards the east coast.


JORGEN JENSEN: It appears to me that if you're into writing business plans, especially if you're east coast based you'd probably make a lot of money out of this but whether it's going to make any difference on the ground, some of the areas of Australia that have been severely affected by drought in the last seven or eight years, I'd be surprised.

I'm a big [indistinct] of the [indistinct] conservation arrangement works that we've done with Col Stanton and Hugh Pringle here. I'd like to see a lot more of that. I'd like to see a lot more investigation into small scale irrigated ag in the southern [indistinct]. Things like that which actually will make a large difference when- I mean obviously these droughts are going to happen again and again, its common knowledge. Anything that's going to make a difference long-term.

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ANDREW COLLINS: Now the Federal Minister of Agriculture, David Littleproud these are people your plan is aiming to help. How do you react to those assessments?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well the first question you should ask them when you interview them is did you put a submission in, because invariably what this plan is being advised by is producers themselves. This isn't my plan. This was legislated, that an expert panel went out and consulted legislatively for 42 days. We get this a fair bit in Australia where we go out and do something, there's a consultation period, no one puts anything in, or a few do and then they get the result that they weren't expecting because they sat on their hands.

So with all due respect, a number of the people, in fact I just saw your 7 o’clock news here over here on the east, one of the producers from South Australia quite vocal about the plan, but didn't put a submission in themselves. And this was a plan derived by farmers and industry themselves. So with all due respect, I didn't devise the makeup of this money, farmers did. Now if they're now saying they didn't get what they want, I'm sorry. Sometimes you've got to take responsibility and stand up when the opportunity arises. This has been legislated that farmers should agree to this, that's what we've done. And in fact a lot of the work, in fact when you talk about business plans let me just tell you this, there has been university studies around Australia that indicate more than 50 per cent of farmers don't have business plans and they don't have the financial literacy they should. Now when they are a burden on the Australian taxpayer asking for handouts, I have to make sure that I can give them the resilience and the tools to be able to prepare for droughts and get through droughts. And when you talk about money, let me tell you the Federal Government has already put over $56 million directly into Western Australia. Where the Western Australian Government has done three fifths of bugger all compared to the other states. And I get farmers might want something individualised to themselves but this is a national program. When you want it individualised that's what your state government does. That is what federalism is about. That's what the competitive nature of federalism is about. And that's why WA farmers feel neglected as though they're not getting anything because the things they want are things that WA Government aren't delivering for them.

ANDREW COLLINS: Okay. Thanks for coming on.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me mate, anytime.

ANDREW COLLINS: Federal Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud.