Interview with Samantha Armytage, Channel Seven Sunrise

7 November 2019

SAM ARMYTAGE: The Federal Government is unveiling a drought-assistance package to not only help struggling farmers but also the local communities. Drought affected farmers and small businesses will have access to loans which are interest free for the first two years. An extra $178 million will be made available to regional economies through the Drought Communities Program, $200 million is being redirected to a special drought round of the Building Better Regions Fund and another $138 million for the Roads to Recovery Program. 

Joining me now is Drought Minister, David Littleproud. Minister, good morning. Welcome

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning.

SAM ARMYTAGE: Support so desperately needed in the bush, his has been going on for years this drought. This plan includes cheap government loans, are you concerned they'll just leave farmers in more debt when time come to pay those back? And what happens if they can't be paid back? It's going to take a long time to recover from this drought, even when it rains.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well thanks Sam. This is another stimulus that we're putting in but it's also about the sustainment of these communities and agriculture. The stimulus is in those big dollar amounts that we're putting into infrastructure projects.

But the loans themselves are about no repayments and no interest for the first two years. That allows time for farmers when they get rain to be able to repair their cash flows to get them up and going again and to give them time. Then after that it goes to interest only for three years and then the balance is paid off over the remainder of the loan. So this is about understanding that it takes time to rebuild those cash flows. Every loan is assessed on viability so we're not going to be putting people into debt that shouldn't be in it. 

This is about making sure that we can look in the here in now so it can be used for expenses like fodder, water carting, but it's also for the recovery, Sam. Importantly, we made a commitment before the election to have restocking and replanting loans of only $200,000 but we see $2 million will help people restock and replant in a more timely fashion and in a better way that gives them opportunity for more cash flow when it does rain.

SAM ARMYTAGE: Okay that sounds good. Now, regional centres are under pressure because migrant are being pushed out to the bush and a lot of the bushies are heading to the city to try and make some money. Now, tell us about these regional projects for roads, et cetera. How will they help there? You're trying to create some jobs in regional centres.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well definitely. Like other natural disasters like a flood what happens is we have to go back and rebuild roads and what happens is that brings in people to stimulate, to build those roads and so what we want to do is emulate that in a drought. This is a natural disaster and we have to treat it as a natural disaster and we're simply looking at other natural disasters, how we might expedite the recovery and the stimulus. 

So this is about getting graders on the road, water trucks out there, building new roads so we actually have something at the end of it as well but doing it in a shorter time frame than normal. So giving the councils, empowering the councils to go out and build these roads to get people moving, to use local contractors.

And even if they do bring people in, it is about them living in these communities. I've seen it when I used to live out in Charleville after the floods, they bought in, you couldn't get a beer at the pub or at the servo you couldn't get a feed because there was too many people in town. And that's what we want to do is bring new money, stimulate these economies and just give them some hope - this is what it's about. And we also understanding, that we're getting, ramping up our response in WA as well. The drought is spreading into WA and they are going to be eligible for a lot more of these programs than they have in the past because of the worsening conditions over there.

SAM ARMYTAGE:     Minister, this is all good and I think country people will welcome these initiatives today but what are we- I mean it will flood at some point, the drought will break eventually. What are we doing as a people, you as a Government, to help protect these communities against future droughts? We will go into drought again, this is a very dry country. What are we doing for the future?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Definitely, Sam. This isn't our first rodeo and it won't be our last. And in fact we're the first Government that has said we're not only going to look after the here and now, and look after the farmers to get them through but we're thinking to the next one and that's why we created the Future Drought Fund, so that we can say to them we're preparing for the next drought because the drought starts the first day after it rains - that's what you've got to prepare for. And so we've actually got our panel out there asking our farmers now how we should spend that $100 million a year in programs that will help continue to build resilience in these communities and with farmers into the future - $100 million a year in the good and the bad. As well as other measures, we give over $500 million a year in tax concessions through farm management deposits, allowing farmers to put $1.6 million worth of income into a deposit, take off their income tax, reduce their tax but bring it back in the bad years. So we've already got a lot of measures we've put in place as a Government, we're thinking to the future, we know that there is future droughts coming but it's going to rain. And we've got to be positive and I just say to people we're not a basket case when it rains, we're going to make a quid but you can help us now by also getting out there. Come out and have a look. Come out and spend a quid at the local café, stay a couple of nights, enjoy our lifestyle - we've got the best lifestyle in the world I'm sorry to tell you city people. This is a real opportunity for you to put to put your shoulders to the wheel with this and help those communities.

SAM ARMYTAGE: Buy, yep. Buy from the bush this Christmas and when it does rain we need to catch some of that rain and keep it out there so these towns don't run dry. David Littleproud, this is a great start. Thanks for your time today.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Anytime Sam, great to be with you.