Media Conference at Ballandean Estate Wines, Stanthorpe

4 October 2019

JAMES LISTER: James Lister, the State Member for Southern Downs and today, we're at Cottonvale on the Granite Belt in my electorate. I'm here with Dino Rizzato. This is his property. He's a apple producer here on the Granite Belt. And we also have our federal Member for Maranoa and our Drought and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud and our Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

It's really great to have the Treasurer here in my electorate because this drought means the farmers, the small businesses, the workers, the families are doing it tough. And having the Treasurer here is a chance for him to see on the ground the effects socially and economically that this drought is having so the Government can continue to improve its drought support and make sure that every dollar has maximum impacts on the people who are suffering under this drought.

I might hand over to David now.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, thanks, James. And to Dino, thanks for having us mate and to see the heartache behind us and that is replicated across this region and across this nation. As the Treasurer today and yesterday has quite clearly articulated, your Government has not forgotten and nor has the Australian people.

So today, sitting in this dam, it has just resonated to me that the announcement that we are making today and bringing forward $13.2 million. And now, for the first time, extending that to permanent plantings for horticulture, on on-farm water infrastructure programs for farmers to come and desilt dams like this. We will give up to 25 per cent of that in a rebate back, up to $25,000. This is for the first time in the nation's history of drought policy that we've extended this to horticulture. This is making sure that you know that the Federal Government understands the unique nature of horticulture but also the opportunity for us to build the resilience for future droughts by getting in and cleaning these dams because it will rain. And when it does rain, we'll be able to store more water and we'll get through the next drought even better.

So what I would say to our friends in the State Government, here in Queensland alone, for livestock producers, they have a long and proud history of matching the Federal Government on these rebates. For 25 per cent that we are proposing, they, for livestock producers, are doing just that. And in fact, sometimes more. But they are treating horticulturalists in Queensland as second-class citizens because the State Government has refused to match us. And I just say to our state friends: this is beyond politics. Please. I am pleading with you. This man's livelihood, his family, his community, is at risk. This has to happen. You have to match us. You have to come with us on this. We have the Treasurer of this nation prepared to put the shoulder to wheel and build on the $7 billion we put out there to look at other measures. We ask you to come with us, whether it be this, whether it be rate relief for this man and his family, and for the small businesses that support him, or the payroll tax, to think about how we can partner to make sure we get these communities through it. This is not just about economics. This is about the human toll of this drought on these people and on these communities.

So, today is a great day to be able to help in terms of horticultural and understanding this program as a vital program about drought resilience, preparedness and making sure that we're ready to take the advantage of when it does rain. But I just say the states: it's got to happen. You've got to come with us and the Treasurer is quite clearly showed the emotion that we saw in Inverell. Those ladies from the CWA that had 60 notes on these chairs that were personal stories about the impacts of their family on this drought has had on them. And this is beyond anything we've seen and it's important that we work together. So, I just say to the states: please, take our hand. Match us today. Help Dino, help his family, help this community to get these on-farm water infrastructure programs for horticulture because once he loses his permanent planting, he's lost that income. It's gone. He's lost the jobs that go with it. So, this is a real opportunity for us to show leadership, not politics.

Dino, did you want to say anything about the program, mate?

DINO RIZZATO: Yes. I think that would be fantastic help. Any help that we can get with subsidies like that would be very welcome. So, thanks. That'd be great.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Treasurer, did you want to-

JOSH FRYDENBERG: Thanks, David. Well firstly, Dino, thank you for inviting us onto your property. You're a great Australian success story. Been on the land since the early 1950s, now, a third generation farming family producing apples for the tables across Queensland and in the process, employing more than 100 people including seasonal workers. That's a great Australian success story. But as you said, you've never seen such a devastating drought. And to bring home the impact it's having on Dino's business, one needs to understand that he's trucking in a hundred loads of water a week at a cost of $40,000 to keep these plants alive, and the paddocks which would have normally had cattle roaming through it are now empty. And to hear about that additional cost and burden on your business, including pulling 10,000 apple trees out of the ground just to ensure the sustainability of the broader of the broader investment with sufficient water. That brings it home as to the real impact that the drought is having on just one farmer in this district.

David and James, thank you too for having us into your electorates and David, for that announcement that you've just made and your continued advocacy on behalf of all those affected by drought across the country.

Our message to those drought-affected communities is that Australians across our great country hear your pain and can see your pain and they feel your pain because this is the worst drought in living memory. And we need to ensure that these communities are supported through these really tough times, when their backs are up against the wall, because the drought will break and it's just a question of time and then they'll be back on their feet as they were. But it's also about ensuring that we have the water infrastructure to successfully provide the drought resilience for these communities into the future because when the drought breaks, rest assured down the track, whenever that is, there'll be another drought and they need to be prepared for that.
 
So, just before we came out to Dino's property, we were seeing the sight of the Emu Swamp Dam. Now, the dam is an $84 million project and the Commonwealth Government is providing the lion's share of that funding - $47 million; the state just under 20 million dollars and the growers around $24 million. What is really now holding up this dam being built are state approvals. So the message to the Palaszczuk Government is get on with the job of providing these approvals because there are 250 jobs that will be therefore created, straight away, in construction but even more important than that are the 700 ongoing jobs, direct and indirect, that will be supported. We were told by the people who want to build this dam -and they can get it up and running in two years - they say that when this dam is up and running, those agricultural communities who are currently producing probably less than 50 per cent of what they otherwise would in a normal season would have had resilience against the drought and would have been able to conduct business as usual. That's what a dam does. That's what the right water infrastructure does.

So that's our message to the Queensland Government. We want to partner with you. We're prepared to fund these new water infrastructure projects. We backed the communities. But please get on with the approvals and stop dragging your feet.

QUESTION:  Treasurer, what does it say that the competition regulator is concerned about political cover for an inquiry into the banks - an independent regulator looking for political cover on a new inquiry?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: Look, if you're referring to the ACCC, obviously, that is a request that's before me and I'll give it due consideration. But we've just had a royal commission and there were 76 recommendations out of that and the Government is taking action on all 76 recommendations. Some of those recommendations affected the regulators and industry association and the like. But also, obviously, they affect the Government and we're getting on with the job of implementing those recommendations and we put out a very comprehensive timetable of action. But what my focus is on right now with the banks is to ensure that they keep lending; lending to businesses like Dino; lending to businesses in the streets, of you know, Inverell where we were; where we heard businesses were being closed. Just to make sure that there is the free flow of credit in our community. And that's why I also had a message for the regulators about getting the balance right when it comes to responsible lending obligations.

So right now, I'm not focused on new inquiries, I'm focused on implementing the recommendations of the most comprehensive inquiry namely the Royal Commission that we just had.

QUESTION:  Just on the Royal Commission, CommInsure is set to be charged today, there’ll be further charges stemming from the Royal Commissioner. Do you welcome that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: Well obviously, these are independent regulators who have collated the evidence and that will play out before the courts but it does underline how serious the allegations have been against some of those in the financial services sector. This is not to damn everyone in the financial services sector of course not; this is a very important part of our economy. Indeed, more than 400,000 Australians are employed in the financial services sector and represents about 10 per cent of GDP. So it's absolutely critical to the lifeblood of our economy. But where there is appropriate behaviour indeed, where there is criminal misconduct then they need to face - those people who have perpetrated that misconduct need to face the full force of the law.

QUESTION: Treasurer, with scenes like this and hearing yesterday from farmers that this drought is the GFC of the bush, has this trip been a wakeup call for you on the states [inaudible]?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: Well whether it's in Stanthorpe, or Warwick, or Inverell or elsewhere, we’ve heard very painful stories from people in the community about the impact of this drought.

The purpose of this trip was to listen to these stories but also to show that the government cares and that the Australian people care and that has been the response that we've heard from the people that we've met that I do really appreciate our presence.

Now, we're rolling out a whole series of initiatives under David's leadership which includes obviously income support and we've extended the Farm Household Allowance to around $37,000 for a family; we'll reduce the paperwork involved. We're provided money to local government organisations which we've been told has had a real impact, we're providing money to charities, we're giving more rural financial counsellors and we're providing mental health support of course and we're continuing to invest in significant water infrastructure like Emu Swamp dam.

So we will continue to take further action and provide further support in the period ahead. But today, we've just heard that $13 million are being brought forward so that I can have a real impact in helping these communities today.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Can I just say, I don't accept the notion that this is a wakeup call. I think seven billion dollars is a fair indication that we have been on this journey for some time and we will continue. This drought is like going up a set of steps as it ramps up we're going to have to go up another step and we're going to have to follow this and evolve. We have said from the beginning that we will be agile with this drought and this is why we are here today it is to learn and listen from people like Dino and all the way back to Inverell. We'll continue to listen and make sure as we need to take that next step, we will. But let me say also I reject the premise that it's just the Federal Government's responsibility.

There is an intergovernmental agreement where responsibilities are shared between state and federal and that's why I plead with those state governments. New South Wales have done a lot of heavy lifting but unfortunately, Queensland hasn't really lifted a finger and I just say to them: look at this man and look at him in the eye and say: have you done enough? That's what we've had the courage to come out and do. To look him in the eye and say: yeah, we need to do more and we're going to go back. And Josh and I are going to sit down we got to work with the Prime Minister who has had the commitment and the courage three days after being sworn in to go out to Quilpie and sit at someone's kitchen table and eyeball them. That's leadership; that takes courage and we're not going to take our foot off the accelerator.

QUESTION:  Minister Littleproud, on leadership and you talked about the intergovernmental agreement. Are there enough set in stone trigger points that for state governments to deliver the sorts of funding which you've been critical of them for not delivering so far. Is that an oversight that the federal government should have shown leadership and set in stone in the previous six years? Some trigger points to say when the drought gets to this point, payroll tax is one example, should payroll tax exemptions could kick in? You know, can you do more there or is that a failure?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well we've had an agreement on drought policy since 1992 and that has been bipartisan whether it be state and federal. Now, we brought together a drought summit. We can't force the states to match one another; that's the challenge. That's where I think the NFF and us are on the same page; we've got to understand there are some nuances between states in terms of the effects of drought. But in terms of effects of community, I think there are a number of similarities like payroll tax, like rates, that the states could step up on and really put the shoulder to the wheel and have a significant impact in getting these communities through the drought.

So we need to continue to work to get the states to agree to that but as someone that has had to negotiate the Murray-Darling Basin plan; let me tell you, it's like herding cats. They have their own constitutional protections and rightly so our forefathers put that in place. And that's why we continue to try and lead with the NFF to bring them to the table to make sure that there is consistency as best we can between the states and that the outcomes are targeted where they should be at an individual state level.

QUESTION: Treasurer, what message are you taking back to Canberra and to the Prime Minister from farmers about the link between the drought and warming climate in Australia?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: Well we accept the science around climate change. We accept that it is part of what is happening here today. And we've had droughts in the past in the nation are very severe ones; we're all aware of the Federation drought the one during the Second World War and most recently before this drought the millennium drought and indeed in this area they got a very bad one in 1965 as well.

So droughts are not new but the severity of this drought is the worst in living memory. And we do accept that the climate is changing; man is contributing to that and the science has told us that. And so therefore, the links between what we're seeing today and climate change are there. But when it comes to tackling climate change, we are part of a global effort and we have adopted a commitment under Paris to a 26 to 28 per cent reduction in our emissions by 2030 and what they were in 2005. And we will meet and beat that target just as we have done with previous targets. So we are part of a global effort. We're taking actions on a number of fronts and we have a plan and that plan is delivering lower emissions particularly as we've seen in the electricity sector.

JAMES LISTER: I want to say something about state government. Look, I've heard it said that the State Government needs to be doing more I agree with that. We've got Dino Rizzato here. This is his dam. He obviously is short of water now. He has tree crops here that can't just be let go without water for the duration of a drought. He needs to keep them alive and Dino has had to knock down 10,000 trees. Is that right, Dino?

DINO RIZZATO: Yeah, that's correct.

JAMES LISTER: Ten thousand apple trees for want of water. Now, Dino's spending over $40,000 a week in and carting water up here to the Granite Belt to keep these trees alive. Now, I've had discussions with the Minister for Agriculture in Queensland Minister Furner and I've made it clear to him that we expect the State Government to provide support for the freight and carriage of water to farmers like Dino so that we can keep their trees alive; we can keep the jobs to keep the productivity here.

You've heard today that the Federal Government is making a great show of support for our rural communities here. We've heard the excellent announcement $13 million dollars for this de-silting of dams. There's income support to support the small businesses. We need the State Governments to stick to their agreements which they are responsible for freight and carriage subsidies and to look after farmers like Dino who need the water of their property.

QUESTION:  I've got a question for the Treasurer or Littleproud or whoever wants to jump in. We had Anthony Albanese here just a few days ago and he was commenting on the drought package at hundred million announced last week and said it's come too little, too late. What's your response to that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well look, if that's the level of contribution they want to bring to the drought debate good luck to them, they’ve become irrelevant. The reality is that is in addition - in addition to the seven billion dollars that we have committed to this drought.

The reality is we have been on this course for some time and we are not going to get off it until we can see that we've got communities and we've got farmers through it. If they want to contribute and one kudos I will give to Anthony Albanese is that under his leadership, they change their stance on the future fund for the drought. They voted against this in October. So Labor shouldn't be throwing too many barbs. Their only contribution is they want to look at the paperwork. Good luck to them. They can go and do that, we're going to talk to real people, we're going to make real outcomes that give real opportunity and real hope to farmers. And that's what I say, you can get on with us or you can sit there and caught up in the paperwork. Good luck to you.

QUESTION:  And in light of what you were saying about Emu Swamp Dam before, Anthony Albanese also commented that the Federal Government needs to be building more dams. What do you think about that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: Pick up the phone Annastacia Palaszczuk!

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: The first thing he should do is pick up the phone to Annastacia Palaszczuk. We are just seeing Rookwood Weir - they want to reduce it by 20,000 megalitres. They are saying to the people of Rockhampton, your water supply, your future in terms of agricultural production does not matter. In fact, Cross River Rail means more important. In fact, bonuses to public servants in Brisbane are more important than your economy and your water security.

Now, if they want to play fair dinkum, that's all it takes. A quick phone call, and in fact, while he's on the phone, he could just say to Annastacia, you might just want to tick off Emu Swamp, so that these guys can get a D8 and an excavator moving out there in a couple of weeks. That's how serious this is. We are literally weeks away, if they would have pulled their finger out, that's all they have to do. Pull their finger out and have a red hot crack with us. That's all we're saying to the state government, and Albo can do exactly that by helping us say to Annastacia, do it.

QUESTION: Treasurer, in terms of listening to food and fibre producers in the last few days, a consistent message has been around the particular and complicated challenges that arise ranking business back up when the drought breaks. Is that the message that you'll take back to Canberra? What are your thoughts on that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: That's a reality. And the fact is, when this drought breaks and the rains do come, that will be a great relief to the communities here. But it's also going to create some practical challenges as well, and it will take some time before these farms and these paddocks are back to business as usual. They'll have to be restocked. They'll have to be replanted. And there's a lot of other activities that need to take place. So this is going to be quite a long transition, from when this drought breaks to when these communities get fully back on their feet.

QUESTION: Treasurer, the Government's rejected calls to release the drought coordinator, Major General Stephen Day's report on the basis that it's a Cabinet document. I'm just wondering, have you read it?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: Look, I have not read his final report, David can speak to that. But what we do know is that both Barnaby Joyce and General Day have been providing updates regularly to the Prime Minister as part of that cabinet process.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Obviously, we received Major General Day's strategy paper, and that'll be going to Cabinet. But out of respect to the peak agricultural body in this nation - the NFF - they also are working on a strategy paper that they asked for consideration of cabinet. So we have held off our full response until such time as NFF have formulated one, and asked for that to also be considered. And I think that's appropriate, that the peak agricultural body representing farmers and their state bodies, their strategy paper should be respected as well. I haven't seen the NFF's paper in full, and I don't know how far they are off, but they have advised me that I'll have it by the end of the month.

But this doesn't stop the here and now in supporting these people here today. This is about the future, and for the first time in our nation's history, we have a centrepiece that will support future drought policy. We have a $5 billion future fund that will pay a $100 million dividend in the good and bad years. So we have the foundation stones. We will continue to work through that with the NFF and other bodies, but we have to be respectful of those key stakeholders as well. Major General Day's report is comprehensive, but I suggest to so will the NFF's.

JOSH FRYDENBERG: It's coming through the cabinet.

QUESTION:  Stories have emerged from Victorian schools about children directing anti-Semitic comments to their classmates. Do you have any concerns about a rise in anti-Semitism that's creeping into our schools?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: Deep concerns. In fact, these reports just indicate a growing trend across the community of a 60 per cent rise in anti-Semitic incidents. Now in Victoria, we saw swastikas dobbed not just across political material - including my own - in the election, but also on material promoting a play about Anne Frank, of all people. I mean, that is just sickening to say the least. Now, the reports today about young children as young as five are being attacked and abused because of their Jewishness is completely unacceptable in our civilised society.

Now, I know the Prime Minister has spoken out strongly against the rise in anti-Semitism, and I know that Daniel Andrews would be equally horrified by these cases. So my message to Daniel Andrews - and I've also contacted Dan Tehan as the Education Minister at the Federal level - but my message is we need to work together to better educate people about the lessons of history. How bad that period of the world story was, the Holocaust where millions of people lost their lives, including over 1.5 million innocent children. And everyone should know that story, it should be in our curriculums, it should be taught so that we cannot repeat any of these mistakes of the past.

QUESTION: What do you think is driving it?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: What do I think is driving it? I think it's a degree of intolerance and ignorance. If you ask me, I think people, if they understood and comprehended the atrocities of the Holocaust, then they would be as insulted as anybody, including me, about these recent attacks. Let's not forget, Australian servicemen and women fought in an effort against Nazi tyranny. They fought against everything that the swastika represented and the totalitarianism of Adolf Hitler. So to hear and to see swastikas on signs in Melbourne, higher incidence of anti-Semitism, and our kids as young as five in our schools being abused. That's not on. That's un-Australian, and that needs to be tackled by, not just the political leadership, it needs to be tackled by the education authorities, who have the primary responsibility for looking after our kids and educating about the ways of the world, and how to be better citizens, and to be open minded, and to be tolerant, and not ignorant.

QUESTION: David would you like to say something?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, no, look, Josh, that was so articulate, no need to add to that.

UNNAMED SPEAKER: Final question.

QUESTION:  Just on the drought, Minister Littleproud said it's a matter of steps, you used that analogy. Has what you've seen in the last three days made the case that it's time for another step?

JOSH FRYDENBERG: Certainly we're focused on what more we can do, and the Prime Minister and I have been in contact on a daily basis while I've been on this drought visit with David and Barnaby. And I'm communicating back to him what I've been hearing and seeing, but at the same time, he, as David says, was on the ground as quick as anyone after he was elected to ensure that the communities were hearing from the Prime Minister about their importance, and also that the government was there for support. So we will do more. We're working on some options, but what we do know is there is money there already that is making its way into these communities, and we will stand by them at this most difficult of times.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thank you. Thanks a lot.