Interview with Arlie Felton-Taylor on ABC Queensland Country Hour

12 June 2020

ARLIE FELTON-TAYLOR:    Meanwhile, the Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt says he advised state governments last month that the Commonwealth would not provide any more funds to continue the scheme. He says if the states have exhausted the funds, that's their fault.


KEITH PITT:    Well the facts on this issue are very straightforward. The Commonwealth committed $50 million, we have provided $50 million dollars. What is now abundantly clear is that there are a number of states which have been quite simply incompetent in their administration of the program.

ARLIE FELTON-TAYLOR:    Originally, this funding was meant to last until July next year, wasn't it?

KEITH PITT:    So the scheme was put forward for a $50 million contribution. There were requests from state governments to try and ensure that they were covering what they were allowing to be provided. We have covered those requests to the budgeted amount to the Commonwealth. I mean this has effectively the kids that you gave the pocket money to on Sunday coming and saying they spent it all on Monday and in fact they've now got a bill on the credit card and you need to cover that as well. There was a very clear limit, there were administrative processes in place in terms of bilateral agreements with the states, the Commonwealth has done exactly what it said it would do.

ARLIE FELTON-TAYLOR:    Do you really think it's that? Or is it the fact that this drought has gone on for much longer than anyone expected and affected a much bigger area than ever seen before in this lifetime?

KEITH PITT:    Well, this scheme is about a rebate for a work on farms in drought affected areas - it is an important scheme, there is no doubt about that. But it is a budgeted amount from the Commonwealth. Some states like New South Wales didn't co-contribute at all. I'll give Queensland their due, they partially co-contributed. South Australia was supportive through the fund as well. But they were administered by the states, by the state ministers and it is up to them. I mean if they can't count, that is not the fault of the Commonwealth.

ARLIE FELTON-TAYLOR:    So you're saying the money has run out? They've used it all. The states are saying that the federal government has abandoned the scheme - that you've walked away and won't continue to invest in it. Which is it?

KEITH PITT:    Well it was very straightforward. Anyone can look up the budget papers, the Commonwealth committed $50 million, we have delivered $50 million exactly as we said we would. Now, there is another budget for the federal government in October. As everyone in this country knows the corona pandemic has been very dramatic, a terrible outbreak - it's been very, very difficult right across the country and even more so for drought affected areas. But the fact that the states cannot administer these programs is not the Commonwealth's fault. We can't continually cover for their mismanagement.

ARLIE FELTON-TAYLOR:    Why do you think state governments think that you've walked away from it?

KEITH PITT:    Well as I've said, we cannot continually cover for mismanagement by state governments - particularly the Queensland Labor Government. I mean, their issues are very well documented and very well known in terms of their mismanagement when it comes to economic issues and I think this is no different.

ARLIE FELTON-TAYLOR:    So why don't the federal government just administer these funds then if you have no faith in state governments?

KEITH PITT:    Well these issues are always dealt with by the states. This is no different to an issue, for example, where we fund health systems and hospitals, education through the states - that's how the Constitution works. So the Commonwealth has put up $50 million for the fund, $50 million has been expended and it is not the Commonwealth's fault. Quite simply, state governments have mal-administered this program and they've allowed far more claims than there was money available.

[End of excerpt]

ARLIE FELTON-TAYLOR:    That's Keith Pitt, the Federal Water Minister.