Interview with Kelly Fuller ABC New England North West

Interview

JMI003/2018

09 August 2018

Subjects: Assistance for drought affected farmers

John McVeigh: Good morning Kelly, good to be with you.

Kelly Fuller: Thank you for your time. We've seen the Federal Government response, which I will talk a bit more about to you in a moment but we've also seen the state government so we were turning our attention to what local government could do this morning. Katrina Humphries was suggesting—she was maybe wondering was there some capacity for you to open up some emergency funding that could be handed to local councils in the trust that they'll spend it on helping to reduce the rate burden for rural properties; is that something you're able to consider? Is there a parcel of money you think you could secure to do just that?

John McVeigh: Well Kelly, as I was discussing with Mayor Humphries and in fact with mayors right across New South Wales and Queensland in recent weeks in numerous visits I've been holding. We do have certain programs and particularly what's called the Drought Communities Program; where the federal government does provide funding direct into local government, into councils in drought declared areas to help them continue to spend money in their communities, for community projects, employing locals, so that’s one local area I’m looking at very, very intensely at the moment. I want to report back to the Prime Minister and my colleagues in Canberra, but it’s important to work with councils in determining their eligibility and so forth, that’s for sure.

Kelly Fuller: Okay but that’s something that you’re actively considering. That would be very helpful. Do you think that, I know it’s a bit beyond your realm, but do you think as the Minister for Local Government, is there a role you could, maybe New South Wales could look at changing the act in some way to give the councils ability to respond in times like this?

John McVeigh: Well, I'll leave that for relevant state ministers to discuss. Obviously, as the Federal Minister, I'm encouraging everyone to work together. Local government councils in Australia are creatures, if you like, of state governments; they operate under state legislation. I provide or facilitate a lot of funding through the local governments but their legislation is under the various states. I think in times of drought, there's no better feedback that we can get from local communities, from mayors and councillors and that's been my experience, for example, in Trangie, in Narromine, up here to Moree on through my own home patch in the Darling Downs around Toowoomba, Western Queensland up to Far West North Queensland where I've been earlier this week. So, we need to be working with councils; that's for sure.

Kelly Fuller: While you're here, we've heard calls by the federal Labor Party today that the Government should fast track the drought support packages they've put on the table, not making farmers wait until September to access them and even giving them the option, they're suggesting, of accessing the full amount rather than having to wait again later on in March; is that worth considering given what you're seeing on the ground now that it should be opened up more quickly?

John McVeigh: Kelly, what I think is really important is to recognise that the federal government is working with many, particularly the rural sector, in responding to this drought. Our program, I'm very pleased to see, has got the full endorsement of Fiona Simson, the president of the National Farmers Federation.

The Prime Minister announced the extra $12,000 supplementary payments—that's an extra payment on top of what's already there for those who qualify for drought support. So, here we are in early August encouraging people to continue to seek their qualification for drought support. In other words, don't self-assess because there are lots of people out there who can get assistance—they're not getting it yet. It will mean that by September, which is only a few weeks down the track, we're able to roll that out. So, I take advice, along with the Prime Minister and my colleague, the Agricultural Minister David Littleproud and others, from farmers, from the National Farmers' Federation. I certainly don't take advice on drought from the Labor Party nor the Opposition Leader who's based in Melbourne.

Kelly Fuller: Ok. Look, I guess our focus has been around the federal package locally about, I guess, the next tranche, which I imagine will have to be unrolled at some point, and it'll need to focus on, it will need to focus on off-farm assistance. These are measures that will help rural communities keep their labour force. As Minister for Local Government, I guess the importance of keeping the community in town and supporting businesses and talking about some of the levers that the government can pull around taxation changes, maybe helped with the BAS when you've got the GST rolling around and the removal of maybe the petrol excise for farmers. Can you give us any sense of what that tranche might be, off-farm assistance? What mechanisms are you hoping the government will pull that will mean there's more support off-farm?

John McVeigh: Well, here in Moree today, we're having another one of the drought forums where we'll be meeting with locals a little later on this morning, making sure they're aware of what assistance is available but continuing to seek input on what might be considered down the track. The important thing, in terms of drought, is no one knows when it will finish, therefore, consideration of support and support itself is ongoing. The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has said in recent days that the federal government is looking at more and will do more, that's certainly the case. But you've got to be able to research with locals what's needed and what we can update.

I think your point about supporting local communities, around our farmers right across the country, is really important. So it's not just affecting farmers, it's affecting local communities whether it's Moree or Emerald or Trangie, other locations that I've been visiting intensively in recent weeks. So, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister, have said we will be doing more and that's in response to the rolling impacts of this drought but no one knows when it will rain. The Federal Government is there to back up farmers until it does.

Kelly Fuller: Alright, Minister, we appreciate your time; I know you're pretty busy. So, thank you for taking a couple of minutes for us this morning. Thank you very much.

John McVeigh: No problems, Kelly. All the best.

Kelly Fuller: Thank you. That's John McVeigh there, the Minister for Regional Development, Territories, and Local Government visiting Moree.