Interview with Peter Stefanovic from Sky News

27 September 2019

PETER STEFANOVIC: Drought Minister David Littleproud is in Dalby for us this morning in the Western Downs. Minister, good morning to you. Thanks very much for joining us. So how do you determine who gets the money? Who gets more urgent priority?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Oh look, there's a range of programs, Peter, and with respect to the Drought Community Program, there are 13 new councils that will come on that and that's predicated off bureau of meteorology data that now puts them in the drought zone. Western Downs, where I am today, my own electorate, is one of those recipients. They've got a million dollars that will go to the community for them to build infrastructure, to procure local tradies, local materials from the local Mitre 10, to be a stimulus, to have a long lasting piece of infrastructure that the community can also use into the future.

We're going to continue to be agile but that's just one suite. We're also looking at FHA lifting the Farm Household Allowance income- off farm income from $80,000 to $100,000 so that's going to pick up more people that are eligible for the farm household allowance and mean that people can go off and get a job in towns if they need to. And also $3000 going into those farmers' pockets to help them with household goods, household expenses, electricity bills.

PETER STEFANOVIC: I do hate to be a killjoy here, Minister, but I mean looking at the numbers, when you see $100 million dollars and then it's divided by up to 13 councils, you know, it doesn't really, you know, account the scheme of things. So how much help do you really expect that to make?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well Peter, with respect, this adds to the $7 billion that we've committed. We've said that we're going to continue to be agile. This is another tranche of funding on top of the seven billion; two billion in the here and now that is out there hitting the ground and then this is another tranche. The Treasurer and I are going out touring New South Wales and Queensland next week to get- to listen and to learn exactly what we need to continue to do. 
So we're not going to stand still. This is another suite of measures and we'll continue to do it because the only panacea to this is rain and it's not just one rain event, it's going to take a couple of years for people to get back up on their feet. So with all due respect, we put the shoulder to the wheel; $7 billion and I just say to the states out there come with us. New South Wales has done a lot of heavy lifting. Other states could lift their fingers now and start doing a bit with us.

PETER STEFANOVIC: I do understand your point; I do take your point that there is a whole lot of funding, as you mentioned there, 7 billion, but I'm referring to this extra tranche here of just 100 million. My point is when you divide that up between 13 different councils, it doesn't come to much especially when one of the sections is that some farmers will get this $3000, those most in need. I understand it is of some help when farmers really need it but, you know, a lot of them are swimming in debt at the moment, so I'm wondering how much of a difference $3000 bucks is going to make. 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well it is supplementing and complementing the seven billion that we've put out there, Peter. We are looking through other measures, through Regional Investment Corporation. You can see the difference between the rate of Regional Investment Corporation and the highest commercial rate is around $67,000 difference in interest; that's a lot of money that we're putting back into farmers' pockets. There's also around the farm management deposit offsetting to save farmers a significant amount of money in terms of interest on that side of it. It's around the farm household allowance, it's around mental health, it's around also communities, small businesses are getting support as well. 
So these- a whole range of suite of measures and it's not a- you can't just have a cookie cutter approach with this because the drought's different to here in the Western Downs as it is in New South Wales as it is in Victoria. And that's why we're trying to be agile and we're targeting these approaches to community.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Yup. Okay. Well that's some immediate measures that you've identified there, Minister. What about long term measures? I mean realistically, when it comes to dams, there's been a lot of talk about that that you've been at the centre of it in the last couple of days, in the last couple of weeks. When will action be taken when it comes to dams? The Labor Party has been saying that no dam has been built since 2013; there's been a lot of talk, no action. How do you counter that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well let me make this clear, Peter. It has never ever been the responsibility of Federal Government since Federation to build a dam but we put $3.2 billion on the table for people to come and get it. Tasmania, the only state that have come and got it. In the last, since 2003 there has been 20 dams built, 16 of those have been in Tasmania. And I think now we're starting to see New South Wales, with their leadership, is putting their hand up, and they're going to partner with us. And I saw today that the Environment Minister is going to work with the New South Wales Government to speed up the process, the application process, so we get excavators and bulldozers moving. 
We've got a dam about to start in my own electorate in Stanthorpe at Emu Swamp. We're going to start digging a hole, but the Federal Government is not allowed to lift a shovel in this country unless the state government allows them because they own the resource. But we've said, well let's do- let's lead with you. Let's go with you and build this, $3.2 billion is there to take and proudly, I think New South Wales Government is showing that leadership and I think the rest of the country could have a good hard look at them.

PETE STEFANOVIC: How concerned- I mean, there are environmental concerns that do get in the way of these plans for dams, and then John Barilaro here in New South Wales has said that he doesn't care if a few frogs have to die. I mean, are you getting to that kind of point? Is the drought getting so desperate that more needs to be done when it comes to environmental concerns? 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, we can still tick the boxes on the environmental concerns that are out there. It's about putting the resources in to do it. Let me make this clear, dams are not a bad thing for the environment. If we did not have the water infrastructure, the dams we've got now, particularly up and down the Murray-Darling, you would probably see the Murray dry. The environmental outcomes have come from the fact that our forefathers built those dams meant that there has been environmental outcomes. So environmentalists need to have a look at the benefits of water infrastructure, particularly dams, and how they can also benefit the environment, as well as our social and economic wellbeing in regional and rural Australia. It's backing ourselves to the smart. We perpetrate our own misery in this country by saying why can't we do things rather than how can we. Got to back ourselves and go for it. And I'm glad to see New South Wales is going to have a red hot crack.

PETE STEFANOVIC: Alright, just a couple of quick issues to wrap up, Minister. Barnaby Joyce, I mean he's come under a bit of fire, as you mentioned last week, that he didn't produce any reports when it came to the drought. He's been very vocal on social media this week saying that he did. Are you satisfied that he did?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: He sure did. He sat in a Cabinet room with Major General Day and gave us a briefing on his findings. I mean, if this is the level of contribution the Australian Labor Party can bring to the drought, you know what, they should stay out of it. In fact, we won't be lectured by a crowd that voted against the Future Drought Fund in October last year. It took a change of leadership for them to then say, we're not going to politicise the misery of Australian farmers. They can take a running jump. They have no credibility on this. As far as I'm concerned Barnaby Joyce did a fantastic job sitting at kitchen tables listening to people and coming back and directly reporting to the Cabinet and to the Prime Minister. He should be congratulated. This is just petty politics people have had a gutful of. 

PETE STEFANOVIC: Hadn't you identified some concerns that he hadn't produced a report? 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: A formal report. Are we going to sit here about the titillation of whether he gave a report or whether he actually came and directly wrote to the Prime Minister? And sat at the cabinet table, I mean really, is that where the debate is? These people out here couldn't give a rats about that, Peter. As you quite clearly articulated earlier, they want money in their pockets, they need the support to keep them going. If that's the level of contribution the drought debate, well, good luck to you. Off you go. I'm not going to get into it.

PETE STEFANOVIC: All right. Just finally, Minister, the IPCC report that came out yesterday that paints a pretty unflattering picture about the environment when it comes to climate change at the moment. That was released with a fair bit of fanfare yesterday. Have you had a chance to have a look at that, and if so, what's your thoughts on it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, I haven't. In fact, I was out in west of Cunnamulla, so I didn't have a lot of telecommunications yesterday. But look, obviously we're taking proactive steps, pragmatic steps to get real outcomes: 33,000 gigawatt of renewable energy will hit the market very soon. We're also trying to tackle plastics. We're taking practical and real measures to make sure we're doing our fair share, and so we should, and the rest of the world needs to take our lead. I think there is concern and we've got to be concerned about it. And that's why we're getting on with the job rather than worrying about the philosophy and saying it's real, let's do something.

PETE STEFANOVIC: All right. Minister David Littleproud, really appreciate your time, thanks very much for joining us.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Great to be with you, mate.