Doorstop with the Canberra Press Gallery, Parliament House

7 November 2019

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: We're all excited about our drought package obviously. This is another tranche, this is a very important piece of the next puzzle in addressing this drought but let me say there'll be some further announcements at lunchtime on top of what we've already announced overnight around the loans that are going to help in the here and now, helping farmers - up to two million dollars, no interest no repayments for two years and then interest only for three. This is about understanding we need to help these economies in the here and now in the sustainment of these rural properties as well as small businesses. For the first time we're saying to small businesses, you've had a rough cop on this as well, let's help you through this, and then the stimulus. The stimulus is about actually putting money out there to build infrastructure, legacy items that will not only build the jobs in the here and now but jobs that will be there in the future, diversifying the economic base - so a really important structure.

And this is an opportunity now for the states to compliment us. They can come over; we don't want to play politics with this. Their step now is to give rate relief and also payroll tax relief to these businesses and these farmers out there. This would be a huge step.

QUESTION: Minister, if the drought breaks it will take longer than two years for farmers to get back on their feet - so what happens then?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: We're not going to turn our back on it. It's going to take two or three average years at best to get a lot of these people up and going but there is money to be made, make no mistake. Commodity prices are very high because of the trade agreements we've put in place, it's just a matter of us getting a break and when we do get it we will make a quid, so we're going to stand shoulder to shoulder with our farmers. And that's why these loans - two years nothing to pay in interest or repayments for two years and then interest only - so this allows you time to rebuild your cash flow. And that's why it's so important that we understand the importance of cash flow and the time it takes for farmers to build that cash flow. Agricultural production just doesn't happen in 20 days, it takes sometimes over 12 months to get that cash flow in and that's why we've structured these loans accordingly.

QUESTION: Some of this money has been shuffled from other areas, so what projects has it been taken away from?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, well. So the Drought Community Program is one that we're just building on again and we're going to, we're going to be reaching out. We used a baseline of 122 councils that we start with, and we're going to contact each one of those councils to make sure that their weather conditions and their circumstances haven't changed. And if it has and they don't require the money then that will go in to the pot because we now understand that WA is coming into this drought in a big way and we need to make sure and understand now - the data shown we're going to have to support WA communities. So that's why there's some discretion there for me to get over to WA and start to look at what's happening on the ground and probably put some stimulus into WA as well. 

And then the Building Better Regions Fund is one that we've repurposed for these drought communities. It's about building long lasting infrastructure that'll leave a legacy of building new jobs. And so that's why this is about recovery as well, this is thinking about the future that when it does rain we can diversify the economic base of these communities as best we can and that's what we're trying to do through these programs. And then the Road to Recovery is actually bringing that forward. We're trying to emulate what happens in a flood, when a road gets washed out what happens is we have to get contractors in; get graders moving and actually have to rebuild roads quickly. And what that does is it brings stimulus, it brings people to town and brings people to do these things. And then lo and behold in a drought what we're going to have is an asset there for the community at the end of it. 

But we'll have a stimulus during the drought; having people running around, contractors going to the pub at night, buying a steak, stay at the local motel. We've seen that through floods. I've seen in my own communities where your communities are awash with contractors and they're spending a quid, and they're spending money in that town and lo and behold we'll have an asset at the end of it.

QUESTION: It's been said that these responses have come off the back of going out and speaking to farmers and finding out what it is that can really help them through the dire situations that they're facing. Is that, has this answered that call as far as the direct responses that are needed?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Definitely. Look, the Treasurer and I did a tour only two or three weeks ago and that was the real call to us is that these small towns need stimulation, they need economic stimulation and that's why we need it now. We need a cash injection in there now and that's why this is the direct method for us to get that money in as quickly as we can. The loans also complement that in helping the small businesses give them some reprieve.

So this was sitting at kitchen tables, and businesses board rooms, out in the bush listening to them and what they need and understanding it. And if it doesn't rain we're going to do more. We've got a track record; we've done umpteen drought tours, going back from Prime Minister Turnbull right through to Prime Minister Morrison and myself. Every time we've gone out we've listened, we've acted and if it doesn't rain, we'll act again.

QUESTION: Does the option to help farmers exit the land remain on the table?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Not from a Federal Government perspective. Our response is that we are trying to keep every farmer there; every person in that community there - that's our job. And in fact the data shows quite clearly that farm equity hasn't been higher; property prices have increased in five consecutive years. In fact last year it went up 10.7 per cent - that's because there's a future in agriculture. 

When it rains these people are going to make a quid and that's exciting, and we've just got to get them through. So what we're saying to the agricultural sector in these regional communities, we're standing shoulder to shoulder, we're going to get you through this because when we do, you're going to make a quid. We're not interested in getting you off the land, we want you there, we need you there and this is about supporting you.

QUESTION: The Nationals have obviously been pushing for more action in this area and really try to take it up that there was another step needed. Has this response met those demands?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well I think what you'll see at lunchtime today with some other added measures this is a sizeable package and one that's not contingent on any state coming to the party. We felt that if we had to rely on states coming to the party, one state mightn't do it and someone misses out. 

We're cutting a cheque today, we're getting on with the job and we're reaching out to the states and we're saying: now is your opportunity to grab our hand and do your bit. And your bit is to give rate relief for farmers and small businesses but also payroll tax. You could do that in a heartbeat and you could help this stimulus, you could piggyback off what we have done and make a significant difference to these people's lives. 

We can get you through this drought if you come shoulder to shoulder with us; work with these communities. There is a spirit of hope out there and all that has to happen now is the states to take our hand and that hope will continue.

Thanks guys.