Doorstop in Gracemere, Queensland

31 October 2022

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
GRACEMERE
MONDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2022 

SUBJECTS: Federal Government October Budget; $6M for Beef 2024 Expo; international trade; investments in biosecurity; Rockhampton Ring Road project; workforce shortages; methane supplement development

SIMON IRWIN, CEO BEEF AUSTRALIA: Well ladies and gentlemen, thanks very much for coming along today. It’s my very great pleasure to welcome back to Rockhampton, back to the Gracemere CQLX Livestock Selling Centre, Minister for Agriculture and friend of Beef Australia, Senator Murray Watt. 
It’s great to have the Minister back here. It was in January this year that the Minister and the Prime Minister promised their support for the Beef 2024 Expo which, of course, is Australia’s leading window to the world of our entire beef industry. Last year with COVID, the Beef Expo here in Rockhampton was arguably one of the largest public gatherings over a week in the southern hemisphere. In fact, we believe more people came to Beef last year than actually went to the Olympics in Tokyo. And so it is with the very generous investment that the Federal Government makes in Beef that will enable us to do even more to attract international visitors to Rockhampton, to Beef Australia, to promote trade and that international interaction that we have through our Handshakes Program and just bringing the entire industry together in one spot. As I said before, the investment that the Australian Government makes in this makes it absolutely possible - without that support, it wouldn’t be the international event that it is today. So with those few words, I’d like to welcome the Minister back here to Rockhampton.

MURRAY WATT, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY: Thanks Simon, good on you mate. It’s terrific to be back here in Rocky, the Beef Capital of Australia, and this is my third visit back to Central Queensland as the minister since the election of our Government back in May. 
My very first visit to a farm as the Agriculture Minister was in Emerald, a cotton farm just outside Emerald. I was back not that long ago with the Prime Minister at a cattle station just south of here. And it’s terrific to be back here the week after the Budget to talk about some of the really important things that this first Albanese Government Budget has in store for regional Australia and particularly for Central Queensland. 

Last week’s Budget I think was a real winner for regional Australia and for Central Queensland. If you look at the Budget there, we had over 760 budget commitments for regional Australia overall and over 25 just for Central Queensland. And that covered everything from road investment to health care to events like this, to manufacturing, to education – pretty much every issue that Central Queenslanders have been calling for action on over the last 10 years has been delivered by the very first Albanese Government Budget. 

In Central Queensland in particular we put a real focus on delivering some of the election commitments that we took to the people. And as Simon says, I well remember being here on a hot day in mid-January with Simon and the Prime Minister where we made the commitment to fund Beef Australia 2024. This is an incredibly important event for this town, and for the whole region. I’ve been to Beef now twice myself – the last two Beef events – and I’m really looking forward to the next event in 2024. And talking with Simon and his team, it’s going to be bigger and better than ever, particularly as a result of this funding that the Federal Government is providing and set down last week in the Budget. 

We are delivering on our election commitment to provide $6 million to Beef Australia for Beef 2024. This is one of the biggest trade shows in the agriculture field anywhere in the world, let alone the southern hemisphere. So it’s really important that our federal government gets behind this. And with this extra funding, what we’ll be able to see is even more commercial exhibitors. More people will be able to attend the event. It will be bigger and better than ever, and I’m sure Simon can give you a bit more detail about what they’ve got in store for the next event. 

But as I say, this is just one example of the great funding that has been provided through last week’s Budget for Central Queensland and for regional Australia overall. In the field of agriculture generally we’ve also made really big investments in biosecurity - $134 million for biosecurity to protect our agriculture sector from diseases that we know are out there and we don’t want to see get amongst our agriculture sector here in Australia. The foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease scares that we’ve been through recently I think have really woken a lot of people up in the general community to the importance of biosecurity. So I was really pleased to see the Prime Minister and the Treasurer come through with serious funding to help keep our agriculture industry safe.

So I’m happy to take any questions about this or anything else, but, as I say, this is a really strong Budget for regional Australia, a really strong Budget for Central Queensland, and, in particular, it’s going to be fantastic to see Beef ‘24 up and running with that bit of extra funding from the Federal Government.

JOURNALIST: The LNP has been out this morning saying that you’ve kind of forgotten about Central Queensland, Rocky in particular, and completely scrapped the Ring Road, but I understand that’s not the case. Would you like to advocate on behalf of the federal government on that project?

MURRAY WATT: Sure. Well, yet again, what we see from the LNP is lies. They spent the last 10 years lying to the people of Central Queensland, and they’re still doing it now that they’re in Opposition. 
The facts are that funding for the Rockhampton Ring Road is in the federal government Budget that was handed down last week. So this nonsense that the project has been scrapped is completely untrue. If you actually look at the infrastructure budget, not one project anywhere in Queensland has been scrapped in the transport and roads sector by our Government. And in contrast, there are other states where we have got rid of projects that were complete rorts, were never going to happen, like commuter car parks down in Melbourne. So we have seen projects in Melbourne and Sydney either deferred or cut altogether. Not one transport or road project in Queensland has been scrapped by our Government. The reality is what happened with the Rockhampton Ring Road is that there wasn’t enough funding in the Budget under the last Government. There aren’t the materials to deliver it and there certainly isn’t the labour to deliver it. If you ask anyone who is trying to do a construction project in Central Queensland or anywhere in the country at the moment, they’ll tell you that there aren’t the tradies, there aren’t the materials and costs are going through the roof. And this project is no different. The tenders went out. The tenders came back at $800 million over budget. Now, if you were a home owner here in Central Queensland trying to build your first home and the builders came back with a quote that was nearly double what you’d budgeted for, then you’d be having a serious hard think about this project. And what we’re going to be doing is taking a sensible approach, which is smoothing out the infrastructure pipeline both across Central Queensland, and right across the country, to make sure there is actually funding to deliver it and to make sure there is Labor to deliver it. Again, the reality is that the workforce shortages in Central Queensland after 10 years of LNP government are so severe that the tenderers were going to have to bring workers up from Brisbane to do this. They were going to have to fly people in. They were going to have to find hundreds of homes for workers that just don’t exist in Central Queensland. Every time I’m in Central Queensland, people talk to me about the housing shortages that we have here. This project was going to require hundreds more homes that don’t exist and put even more pressure on the housing market. 

So what we’re doing, as I say, is taking a sensible approach. We’re smoothing out the infrastructure pipeline so that we actually have the funding to deliver it, so that we have the workers to deliver it. And this project first began, don’t forget, under a Labor government. When Kirsten Livermore was the federal Member for Capricornia over 10 years ago, that’s when the planning work for the Rockhampton Ring Road started. This last Government has been in power for 10 years, didn’t even dig a hole, let alone deliver it. So this project started under Labor back under Kirsten Livermore, and it will be a Labor government that deliver it.

JOURNALIST: Just on Beef 2024, what are some of the biosecurity measures that are going to be in place?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, so I know that Simon and his team will be having a very strong biosecurity focus at Beef 2024 along with a range of other issues as well. In last week’s Budget what we did, as I say, is deliver $134 million for extra biosecurity initiatives. There are a whole bunch of things. Some of them have a focus particularly on northern Australia because we know that it is a real gateway for some of those diseases coming in from our north. So there’s money there to employ more biosecurity officers both out in the field, in our airports and in mail centres as well. And one of the other really important things that we delivered in last week’s Budget in biosecurity was around $45 million extra for livestock traceability measures. Now, what that means in plain English, is that basically what you want to be able to do is put tags in animals’ ears so that you can keep track of where they’ve been and when they’ve been there. Because if we were to ever have a big outbreak of foot and mouth disease, what we want to be able to do is track where animals have been and where infected animals might have been moving to. There are some good traceability systems in place already in the cattle industry in Australia. But there’s not for sheep and goats, and sheep and goats are just as likely to get foot and mouth disease as cattle, and expanding that livestock traceability system to pick up sheep and goats is another really important biosecurity thing to be done that hasn’t ever been done by any government in Australia.

JOURNALIST: For people coming to the event, is there any biosecurity measures that they will need to know?

MURRAY WATT: I’m sure there will be, but maybe Simon is probably better placed to talk to you about that.

SIMON IRWIN: Thank you. Yes, what we will be doing is following expert advice. Beef starts in 552 days, and if you think back 552 days, we had no idea what anything was going to look like. So we have a committee that’s public safety and animal safety. That committee will be stood up and we will just follow whatever the experts tell us to do. And I think it is important to keep the risks in perspective, too. That neither of lumpy skin or foot and mouth are diseases in Australia. So I think, as the Brisbane exhibition found out this year, there were certain things taken but it still could go on. And we don’t see biosecurity being a huge impost on anybody who wants to exhibit or visit Beef in 2024.

JOURNALIST: What will this $6 million be used for in the coming 2024 Beef?

SIMON IRWIN: It will be used for infrastructure. Because one of the things we have to do with Beef is basically build a small city. When you’re using a showgrounds that’s in the middle of town we had 1800 stud cattle in there - it’s about $25 million worth of cattle. You can’t leave them out on the flat, just standing in the sun. So we have to build a huge amount of infrastructure. This will be used for that. It will be used towards attracting international visitors. As I mentioned before, that’s been a really strong part of Beef. Last year obviously when you couldn’t travel everywhere it was a much lesser part, but we see that as being really important. And the thing we want to drive there is actual business outcomes. So we just don’t want people coming here to think ‘isn’t it marvellous? And look at the [indistinct] and aren’t the cattle great?’. We want to see deals done. And this funding from the Federal Government enables us to work with trade missions, to work with Meat and Livestock Australia, to work with TIQ, for all those stakeholders to go out and just try and get as many international people to come together at Beef for the purpose of trade.

JOURNALIST: Will you need to put in any foot mats and stuff for people that might have dirt or any other stuff on their shoes, just to be safe that way?

SIMON IRWIN: That may well be one of the outcomes. As I mentioned before, we don’t really know yet. But if that’s what it is, that’s what it will be. It’s still– you know, it’s something we’re really aware of, but it’s one of those things we’ll just have to take it and figure out the protocols much, much closer to the event.

JOURNALIST: And, I guess, any cattle as well that might have, say, Bovine Johne’s disease or anything like that, will you guys be ensuring that, I guess, the papers and stuff like that are filled out correctly?

SIMON IRWIN: That’s been happening for a lot of years. You can’t just go to any sort of cattle show and not have a Johne’s status - have all that paperwork in line. So that’s a huge amount of work for the people- our committees that organise those stock competitions. But you can’t just run a flag up and say we’re going to do it here, so all that is pre-determined and followed. If you don’t have the right paperwork, you can’t come on the grounds. It’s as simple as that.

JOURNALIST: I’ve got one more for Murray.

MURRAY WATT: I had a feeling you had something. I could see you hovering there!

JOURNALIST: Sorry, one more about the Ring Road. Do we have any idea of any sort of time frame it will be?

MURRAY WATT: We’ve got to finalise those sort of details with the Queensland Government. But what I can say is that the money is in the Budget, which has a four-year period. If we enter a time when the inflation rate isn’t as high as it is and all of a sudden we do have the workforce available, then that will influence the ability to start the project sooner than what we otherwise might. I mean, the fundamental problem here is that we’ve had, for 10 years, a government that did nothing about skills shortages, did nothing about housing shortages, and let inflation get out of control. So we’ve already held a skills summit and made a range of changes that are about making sure that we have the skilled workers that Central Queensland and the country needs. We’ve announced programs about building more houses in Central Queensland and right across the country. These are the kind of things that we need to see happen if we’re going to be able to have these extra projects delivered in places like Rockhampton.

JOURNALIST: With the economy working the way it is at the moment, though, will this delay not only see prices rise and those workforce shortages be worse off when the Ring Road does start?

MURRAY WATT: No, I don’t think we have to accept that that is inevitable. I mean, inflation at the moment is running at a level that we haven’t seen in this country for probably 40 years. And, you know, you would certainly be hoping that world conditions would change over the next four years, and we might not be seeing those sort of inflationary outcomes that are affecting construction prices.
And in terms of workforce, as I say, we’ve already made a number of commitments about trying to get the skilled workforce that Australia needs in Central Queensland and right across the country. We’ve lifted the migration cap from 160,000 to 195,000 with a specific increase on migrant numbers for regional and rural Australia. We’ve put in 500 more workers into the Immigration Department to clear the terrible backlog of visa applications that we inherited. When we took office there were nearly a million people who had visa applications that hadn’t been processed, and we’re gradually bringing that number down. And, thirdly, of course, we’re also bringing forward fee-free TAFE places, including in agriculture. One of the things that I’ve been really pleased about is that we’ve just been able to reach agreement with the Education Department federally to make sure that agriculture is a priority sector. And I’m sure there’ll be others as well. So we’re taking real steps now to make sure we have that skilled workforce. And I can tell you, things would have been a lot easier if the last Government had done that any time in the last 10 years.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct].

MURRAY WATT: Sorry, can you say that again?

JOURNALIST: So with the methane pills being produced overseas, do you see any federal support to introduce that coming into 2024?

MURRAY WATT: The methane pills, did you say?

JOURNALIST: Yeah.

MURRAY WATT: Yeah so supplements, things like that?

JOURNALIST: Yeah.

MURRAY WATT: So I think one of the really exciting things about agriculture and livestock in particular is the real advancements that the industry is making itself in bringing down its emissions, including methane emissions. And we’ve now seen a number of countries overseas, but also in Australia, come up with some really innovative solutions for the industry to bring down its emissions. Some of them are the sort of feed supplements that you’re talking about that are being produced overseas. But even here in Australia we’ve got companies that are producing seaweed and other feed supplements that in the early trials are showing reductions of up to 98 per cent in methane emissions. So, again, you know, you’ll get the LNP out there claiming that the sky is going to fall in if we reduce our methane emissions. And remember, these are the same people who said that the weekend was going to end if we had electric vehicles. They were the same people who said that we’d be paying $100 for lamb roasts. And none of that ever happened. Because the industry itself in Australia is making huge improvements to bring down its emissions, including methane. And finally we have a federal government in Canberra that’s going to back industry with real funding to help take those solutions further.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Ring Road as well, do you think there will be the additional funds - obviously because we’re 700 million over budget at the moment?

MURRAY WATT: Well what we would hope is that in the next four years the price of that project will come down because, as I say, it’s come in $700 million over budget, but that’s right now at a time where were seeing massive inflation. One of the other problems is that because there is such constraints in the construction market we’re not getting as many tenderers putting in bids in the first place. So, of course, that means you don’t get the level of competition that you want to see for these kinds of projects. So what we’ve said is that there is money in the Budget to deliver this project. But what we think needs to happen is just to take a bit of time to get a fair price for taxpayers, to make sure that we have the workforce that we need to deliver it and to make sure that we’ve got the homes that are needed if we do end up having to rely on any workers that don’t come from the local area.