Media conference, Stanthorpe Queensland

17 September 2019

MINISTER DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Great to be here in Stanthorpe with Senator McGrath today to firstly inspect the damage from the fires of a week ago.

What we saw on the ground was just horrific- and just met with a couple who had just celebrated fifty years in Australia after emigrating from France – and on the day, fifty years ago, they lost their home. It shows the cruelty of these fires, but the bravery of our men and women that fought for these people. 

They put their lives on the line for their fellow Australians. They are true heroes. Local heroes here, who, many of which are volunteers. We should be so proud of the fact that we’ve got Australians that are going to put themselves on the line for us. 

So, can I say, we’re not out of the woods yet particularly here in Stanthorpe today. And there is still a severe fire warning out. And I just ask residents to make sure that if those brave Australians come and knock on your door, please listen to them. They are doing it for you. Keep them safe. We sadly had one firefighter from New South Wales who was injured. He is thankfully recovering and that was despite his own property being under threat. So these people need to be respected and listened to. 

But what we have seen here has been horrific, but a community that has put its arms around one another. And as Australians that’s something we should be profoundly proud of. The state government and the federal government are working collaboratively together. 

On the weekend we extended the Category B support payments to freight subsidies and also low interest loans for freight and for rebuilding and that complements the, already payments we put on the ground around putting money in people’s pockets as well as some support payments for the rebuilding of infrastructure and household goods. We’ll continue to work with the state government as they make further application for further funding. We’ll work collaboratively with them and I thank the Queensland state government for their support as they work through this. 

We’ll continue to make sure that this community that has copped it, copped it in the neck for a fair while now where there’s been drought and we’ve had no water in the dams and now a fire needs to rebuild. 

We recommit our purpose and our commitment to that Emu Swamp Dam – a 42 million dollar investment. And this is a situation, as we saw today, communities around this country are running out of water because of a lack of planning. There has only been 20 dams built since 2003. 16 of them have been in Tasmania. It is time for the eastern states to do their job. They have done three-fifths of bugger all. It is time for them to start planning and start building. There is no reason to stop. Now is the time to do it, when it’s dry, to start digging the holes. They need to get on with the job because we are seeing water storage is deplete- and in fact, storage per person, reducing by up to 30 per cent by 2030. So unless something is done, we’ve got some real problems. So states have, since Federation, owned resources. They’ve enjoyed the resources and the ownership and the responsibility – it’s time for them to live up to it. So I just say to the states: get on with it. We’ve put 1.3 billion in cash and 2 billion in loans and the only ones that have come near us are the Tassies. So, time for them to get hold of their responsibility. The federal government has done the leading through the National Water Grid and I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister for his leadership, because no one else was doing it. 

But we’re also here today because of the drought and the impacts that it’s having. One of the centrepieces that we put around the drought is a Future Fund. A fund that will grow to 5 billion dollars and pay a dividend every year, in the good and the bad, of a hundred million dollars a year. There has to be governance around it. We have to make sure that this doesn’t become a slush fund where politicians can fight about its validity and, in essence, we lose it. This is for the bush. This is for the drought, for the future generations to come, a hundred million dollars. 

I’m announcing today the panel that will be responsible to go out and consult with the community to make sure – this is their money – and how they want to spend it and see it spent in the community. Five eminent Australians that I can announce today will be led by Mr Brent Finlay, former president of the NFF, but above all – a farmer. Somebody that understands what it’s like on the ground and what it’s like to experience a drought. There’ll also be other eminent Australians with scientific background and economic backgrounds that will bring together- and they’ll meet- in fact, next week. And the consultation, the 42 days of legislated consultation, will start within the next month or two. This is important that we get that money out on the first of July next year.

It’s important to understand this complements the already 2 billion dollars the federal government has put out in drought support. We are not saying we are finished yet. We will continue to monitor this situation. We’ll be agile and we’ll consider further measures as we move forward, but this is an important legacy piece for the drought policies framework in this country for generations to come. 

So, Brent, thank you for your leadership, and I’d ask you say a few words.

BRENT FINLAY: Thank you, Minister. The Committee and I- we certainly look forward to working closely with you and also the Department of Agriculture. 

Part of our role is to give you very clear, sharp advice around the fund and also around the programs that will come with that fund. We’re looking forward to it. As you said- meeting next week, getting our feet under the table and working through it with the Department, but also going to the public consultation phase. The 42 days are very important to hear what Australia thinks about this fund and the programs that this fund should support.

MINISTER: So the other panel members are Dr Wendy Craik who’s an eminent climatologist, Dr Kate Andrews, Dr Elizabeth Peterson, and Mrs Caroline Welsh. They come from all walks of life and from WA to Victoria, New South Wales, and a proud Queenslander, and obviously from the ACT – so a wide-ranging skillset. And that’s what this is about, it’s about getting to understand this $100 million is to be used for climate adaptation. It’s to be used for extension work that the states have left years ago, for the uptake of technology, to give the resilience to our agricultural sector that’s been lost. So this $100 million will go into the leadership of communities, into some infrastructure that’ll help communities become more resilient for future droughts.

This is in the good and bad years, so this money will continue on. It’ll be reviewed in ten years, the $100 million. So we have $100 million set in stone for ten years to come to the bush. To help us build for future droughts. That will not stop us from continuing to spend in other mechanisms as we are now, the 2 million dollars- 2 billion dollars that we’ve put on the table to date.

JOURNALIST: Is that money going to be made available quickly to support towns like Stanthorpe who are suffering through a pretty horrible drought?

MINISTER: It’ll be made available on the first of July. Obviously there needs to be good governance put around this. If we don’t put the right governance around this then it will be politically attacked. We don’t want that. We want this to continue on in a bipartisan approach for governments into perpetuity. It’s important to get this right. The plan that this panel will bring back to me will, in fact, sit on the Parliament table and is a disallowable instrument. In fact, the Parliament itself can disagree with the panel, but they are independent of myself and the government. We expect them to come back with a plan that strikes to the heart of resilience, and building the resilience, in communities in the agricultural sector. That’s what they’ve been charged with. They’re the ones with the skillset.  It is then my job to make sure the Australian Parliament respects that and we deliver it.