Interview with Aaron Stevens, 4RO AM Rockhampton

5 May 2023

FRIDAY, 5 MAY 2023

SUBJECTS: Beef Australia 2024, budget, disaster communications

AARON STEVENS: And last night I was at the launch of Beef Australia 2024. Today is officially one year out from this massive event and they're promising it to be bigger and better than ever. There's a real talk of making it more of a festival style, including everybody. They don't want people to think, oh, well, I'm not involved in beef, so no need for me to go along. They're opening it up to everybody and they've got some great ideas, so really looking forward to this. But as we count down to Beef Australia 2024, I'm joined by Queensland Senator Murray Watt. Good morning.

MURRAY WATT: Good day, Aaron. Good to see you in person when I was up there yesterday.

AARON STEVENS: Yeah, absolutely great to have you drop into the studio when all the train, hectic train action was going on.

MURRAY WATT: There was. There was a bit going on yesterday morning in Rocky, wasn't there?

AARON STEVENS: Yes, there was, but the launch last night was terrific. And as I just said, this is about opening it up to as many people as possible.

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, exactly. I was really pleased to be in Rocky yesterday, Aaron, to help Beef Australia kick-off that official countdown. So, one year to go now from today. And I know you know very well how important this event is to Rocky and the whole region, but also importantly, to our beef industry, which is obviously a key pillar of central Queensland's economy. So, we're really pleased as a federal government, to be kicking in $6 million to help stage this event, which is more than federal governments have put in in the past. And one of the things that will allow is for this event to become even bigger and better than ever. As you say, there really is something for everyone at Beef Week. I've been to the last two and I must admit, the first time I went along, I wasn't really sure what to expect. But there's all sorts of things.

Obviously, show bulls happen, there's a lot of showing of animals and stuff like that, but there's also all this incredible technology that goes on in the beef industry these days that people don't know about. But also, most importantly for all of us, some absolutely fantastic food. And there's going to be a real emphasis on that this time with creating what they call 'Meat Street,' which will have all sorts of great food there. So, even if people just like eating a steak or eating a burger, there'll be something in it for them as well and we're really looking forward to being along in a year's time.

AARON STEVENS: It's an event that cements our place as the beef capital, doesn't it?

MURRAY WATT: Absolutely. I don't think there can be any doubt about that for Rockhampton and the Central Queensland region as a whole, because, of course, there's all those cattle producers that we have in the region. And I had an opportunity to meet with one yesterday on her stud, Wendy Cole, who's a bit of a legend in Central Queensland beef. So, there's the producers, but also, of course, all that meat processing that happens in Rocky as well. So, Rocky's got a lot to be proud of and this really puts - the event really puts Rocky on the world stage. I think that'll be one of the great things about next year's event, is that we can get those international visitors back that weren't able to come last time because of COVID. And literally, there are millions of dollars of trade deals that are done between local people at Beef Week and internationals who come and visit. So, that's a great thing for the local economy, too.

AARON STEVENS: Well, that was spoken about extensively last night, considering that the last Beef was the biggest ever and didn't have that worldwide contingent. So, who knows how big 2024 is going to get?

MURRAY WATT: That's exactly right. I remember speaking to the organisers in the lead-up to the last Beef Week festival and there was a bit of concern about what the impact of COVID would be and losing all those international people who traditionally have come. But as you say, it was huge. So, that's, again, I guess one of the reasons why we've agreed as a government to put in more money for this festival, because it actually needs to expand. It's really outgrown the current arrangements at the showgrounds and needs more money to have more stands for exhibitors and things like that. And that's what that extra money from government will help. So, we're very pleased to partner with Beef Australia to put it on.

AARON STEVENS: Well, can't wait. So, the countdown is on a year from today to Beef Australia 2024. Something that's a lot closer is budget night on Tuesday night and Murray people are looking for some relief.

MURRAY WATT: They certainly are, Aaron. I know, and even from the time I spend in Central Queensland and right around regional Queensland, people are doing it tough at the moment. Inflation is really wreaking havoc on people's grocery bills and the cost of living generally. So, it's a very high priority for us in the lead up to the budget to help deliver more cost-of-living relief. I'm hoping that people are starting to see the benefit of some of the things that we have done since taking office. Last year, we actually recalled the Federal Parliament to pass legislation to give people some energy price relief. Now, those bills have obviously continued to go up, but nowhere near as much as they would if we hadn't capped coal and gas prices and provided some relief financially to low-income earners there.

It was a bit disappointing that we didn't get the support of the LNP in passing that legislation, and we certainly hope that we can count on their support this time around when it comes to providing more cost-of-living relief. But there's also other things happening, cheaper medicines. We made some changes on the 1st of January this year that you might have noticed, you don't have to pay quite as much now for your prescriptions when you go in. It's down to a $30 payment, and obviously less for pensioners. We're in the process of changing things so that people can get two months' worth of medication rather than one month. And that's really about trying to reduce the cost of the co-payment that people have to have to pay. So, there are some things that we're doing, but we know that there's still a lot more to be done, and I'm very hopeful that we'll have more to say about that in the budget.

AARON STEVENS: Yeah, well, fair to say this is one of the most critical budgets in many years.

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, I think it is. I mean, the country is at a real interesting point. Inflation, as I say, is causing lots of problems for people in their household budgets. But also in putting together the Federal Budget. The cost of things is going up. And that's one of the challenges, I guess we've got in putting this budget together, is that we do want to give people some cost of living relief, but the worst thing we could do is just get the fire hose out and spray money around like we've seen in the past, and that would just add to inflation. So, that wouldn't help people either.

But what we're trying to do, as I say, is put in place a budget that addresses some of those immediate challenges around cost of living relief. Keep doing the work to tidy up the budget mess that we inherited, but also continue to invest in health and aged care and things like that. You might have seen recently; we've closed the expressions of interest to build a new urgent care clinic in Rockhampton because we know that local hospitals are under pressure in their emergency departments. And that's a keyway that we can keep rebuilding Medicare, which has been really run into the ground over the last ten years as well. So, getting that balance right between delivering the infrastructure, the health services, the cost of living relief that we need, without really jacking up inflation again, that's what we're trying to achieve.

AARON STEVENS: Murray under your banner of emergency management, one thing we do know is there's going to be money put towards new comms systems.

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, I was really pleased to be able to announce this earlier this week, Aaron, and I think it will make a real difference in places like Central Queensland and especially regional Australia. What we've announced this week is two big investments in improving the communications technology that people have access to in disasters. At the moment, you might remember if there's an emergency situation, very often you might get a text message from your council or your state government. But what we've found is that sometimes that method can be very slow in getting those messages out. And I've certainly met a lot of people who complain that they just don't get the warning that they need of emergencies. So, what we're doing is creating what's called a new national messaging service, which uses totally different technology to SMSes and what it's done overseas, where they use it, is really instantly provide those messages to a very wide number of people. And I think in regional Australia, one of the real benefits is that it won't matter what phone carrier you have, because sometimes at the moment, if you've got an Optus phone but you're in a Telstra area, you won't necessarily get those messages under the current system and that'll change under what we're doing. So, it's all about saving lives and every minute counts in an emergency and getting that information fast is really important.

AARON STEVENS: Yeah, it is good news, especially for an area like Central Queensland, where we do have a number of natural disasters that can hit it anytime. Really appreciate your time this morning and the countdowns on to Beef. We can't wait.

MURRAY WATT: Absolutely, Aaron. Looking forward to it. Good on you, mate.

AARON STEVENS: Queensland Senator Murray Watt joining us this morning. Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Emergency Management. Good news with that new alert system.