Radio interview with Tom Elliott, 3AW Drive

16 October 2019

TOM ELLIOTT: Joining us on the line now, the Federal Drought Minister, David Littleproud. Minister good evening.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good evening, good to be with you.

TOM ELLIOTT: Well, these are just a few examples of how drought relief money is being spent. Are they appropriate? Is that the right way for Federal Government funds to be spent by councils that are affected by drought?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think those who are questioning this don’t understand what drought does to communities. It doesn’t just hurt farmers, and we’re putting money into farmers’ pockets, but it also hurts the communities, the small businesses, ah, keeping money flowing through those communities. And you talk about a couple of festivals that were itemised there. The Way Out Winton Festival, a town of 800 people, that brought between five and ten-thousand people to that community, that is new money that is flowing through that economy. That is helping those people stimulate their economy, keeping people employed, in fact employing more people. You talk about the fact of a virtual gym, well you’ve clearly articulated that someone on the other end that is being employed to undertake that. This is about making sure we not just stimulate farmers with money through Farm Household Allowance, we stimulate local economies, because when farmers don’t have money, they don’t spend it in town. And as someone who has lived, and can speak with some authority, because I’ve lived in a town of 800 people and in fact have owned a small business, and know that when farmers don’t spend, your small business starts to hurt. This is a way of stimulating the local economy when we build, whether they be toilets or doing up the local showgrounds you use local tradespeople and what they do is they go to the local hardware store and they buy the local cement and the timber, and that money flows through that local economy.

TOM ELLIOTT: Okay but, I heard Scott Morrison being lectured to by Alan Jones on 2GB yesterday in Sydney and Alan Jones was almost getting apoplectic, he was thumping the table he said, you know, we’re doing it tough, we need water, we need money to keep stock alive on farms and that sort of thing. And I guess most of us would say well, if that’s what you need in drought, you know, instead we’re seeing money spent on music festivals.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well with all due respect, this is why people from metropolitan Australia who think they know everything on drought don’t understand there are many parts to this. And this is where our drought strategy comes in. It’s in the here and now in keeping farmers, putting money in their pocket, up to $37,000 to help them pay for household expenses and about giving them concessional loans which can save them nearly $67,000 on the highest commercial rate, so they’ve got money in their pockets. It’s about community, making sure the community still survives through this. And it’s about the future so that’s where we’re building dams and a Future Drought Fund, so it’s a suite of measures that targets not just farmers, but the entire community. What you’ve also got to understand is when people say, ‘oh, we should be buying fodder’, there is an agreement that was unanimously supported by the state governments and the federal government that the responsibility of the state government is to look after animal welfare. Their responsibility is to look after freight and fodder. Our responsibility is to look after farmer welfare, that’s about making sure we look after them and their community and these communities, drought-stricken and economically depressed. And many of them, I can tell you my electorate in fact is three times the state of Victoria, is in drought and some of it eight years. We are seeing small businesses close, we are seeing families leave, so the stimulus about not only about trying to keep farmers going, but also those local businesses, is one that is responsible and is targeted. And what is disappoints me is the Labor party have come out and said we have been pork-barrelling. Well that’s disgraceful. Are you saying you’re a second-class citizen just because you so happen to live in a Coalition seat? That’s disgraceful, we should be above this. You got to understand this is a complex ….

TOM ELLIOTT: [talks over] Yeah, I get all that but I mean you can be dismissive of people in the city. Just remember that most of the tax dollars come from people who live in urban Australia, so people are entitled to ask questions about this sort of thing. For example, I mean, I read here the previous guidelines for the Drought Community Programme said that you could not use grants for staging events or exhibiting a display or for filming and somehow that guideline’s been dropped so that music festivals are now being funded. And I suppose the thing with a music festival is you stage it and it’s great for a short period of time but it doesn’t create any lasting impact on the community, it’s a once a year thing.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, with respect, bringing five to ten thousand people to a little community of 800 and now that festival is continuing, it does build economic stimulus, it broadens its economic base continually. So, with respect, I don’t agree with you there and the reality is, it’s not just economic, you have to understand, this is also about the emotional wellbeing of these people. This brings community together and we’re spending nearly $30 million extra on mental health programmes, targeted programmes at a local level. This is in addition and this is about bringing community together and it’s about bringing them in one place where they share their trials and tribulations and it’s actually about their wellbeing. 

TOM ELLIOTT: All right, thank you for your time. David Littleproud, Drought Minister.