Dubbo Cattle Selling Facility



04 September 2015

Topics: NSRF funding for Dubbo Cattle Selling Facility, coastal shipping reform, Syria, Citizenship Bill, confirmation of MH370 debris

Warren Truss: Look, it's a pleasure for me to be here with Mark Coulton and Mathew, and members of the Dubbo Council as we talk about this substantial extension to the Dubbo Saleyards, reinforcing its position as the major cattle and sheep selling centre for New South Wales. Our $3.3 million commitment comes from the National Stronger Regions Fund. The National Stronger Regions Fund is about promoting economic development, especially in areas that are suffering disadvantage. It's about creating jobs—it's not a social program, it is in fact an economic program, and we believe that the most important thing about our $3.3 million commitment to this project is the economic boost that it's going to provide to Dubbo, and indeed the animal producing areas of New South Wales. So this is an example of the kind of projects that we're funding under the National Stronger Regions Fund. The second round of applications has recently closed, and so we expect to be announcing a new range of projects to be funded about the end of the year. There have been 51 projects approved under this first round, and this is one of the very significant ones that I'm sure will make a real difference to Dubbo and surrounding areas.

Question: What do you think of our facilities here in Dubbo?

Warren Truss: Well this is clearly a first class operation. It is one that other people come to look at if they're modelling or proposing improvements to their own yards. It is certainly a leader in new technology. The design is clearly intended to be animal friendly, provide the minimum stress possible for the cattle going through the transport and selling processes. This new project includes extra shade to take account the fact that it's not always cool in Dubbo, it sometimes can get very hot. And for those reasons it's important that we take animal welfare issues seriously. Now that's not anymore just a luxury, that's something that you have to have to meet the needs of the buyers, but essentially also the community standards in relation to these issues. So this investment will certainly help to ensure that Dubbo not only is a larger selling centre but also once that meets the very best of standards.

Question: So how buoyant is the agricultural sector at the moment?

Warren Truss: Well clearly it's patchy. There are areas that are suffering serious drought, others where the season has been really excellent. Generally there are quite good prospects for the winter crop that's across the country at the present time—not everywhere, but certainly the crop in Western Australia's looking very good and Western Australia is responsible for pretty close to half of the Australian wheat crop these days. There's certainly some areas suffering from serious drought and the Government is helping to try and support those people who are going through such really difficult times, mainly in Queensland but also extending into north western New South Wales. Mark has been very active in drawing to the attention of the Government the need to respond to the particularly difficult circumstances confronting producers in his electorate and other parts of northern New South Wales and we are responding to that as best we possibly can. The new drought announcements that are in our new agriculture paper provide a different scope to the support that we're offering to communities. Yes there's still help for farmers through loans and access to social welfare payments but we're also recognising the fact that when there are serious droughts in communities where agriculture or grazing is the main industry, the town also suffers. Shops close, businesses can't continue and so a significant part of our support for drought affected areas this time around is actually supporting those communities. Supporting projects that might create jobs so that people can stay in town and be there for when the good times come again.

Question: I mean obviously the agriculture sector is a shining star I guess but when you look at the infrastructure sector it's in decline, would you say that the agriculture sector is shining?

Warren Truss: Well we've got tremendous market opportunities now for Australian agriculture that we have never known. The Chinese free trade agreement, along with the Japanese and Korean agreement—three of our four biggest customers—it gives us new market access, way beyond our capacity to produce. Australian farmers and our agri-business now has the opportunity to choose between the best available markets in the world and not have restrictive trade barriers preventing the volume of commodity moving into those markets that we would want. So everybody's excited about China but never forget that Japan has been our major customer for many years and still wants to buy our products. There are tremendous opportunities now in Korea. These are all countries with large populations and relatively small farming communities and so for that reason they will need to tap food and other agri-business products from countries like Australia into the future. So there's just no doubt that the future for Australian agriculture is bright, we need to work hard to make sure that we can take maximum advantages of all of those opportunities. Now some times the prices will be high and sometimes they will be lower, the decline in the value of the Australian dollar is obviously good news again for Australian farmers and gives us the opportunity to have better returns for selling the same produce to the same market and that along with the new opportunities provided I think give farmers reason for optimism in the years ahead.

Question: So do you expect that those growing business opportunities internationally will see further investment in facilities like this one and across the country?

Warren Truss: Well clearly if we want to tap the best markets, we have to have the best supply chains, we've got to have the best processing system, we've got to be good at our marketing, other people are not going to just allow these markets to drift away from them. We've got to work hard at it but certainly we need to have high quality infrastructure in Australia, good transport systems to get our products to the places where they're going to travel overseas. A lot of these high value products are travelling by air and that means that the growth in air services and better airport facilities are all critically important to this supply chain. You know that there are people in Australia now putting together plans that will actually result in produce being airlifted from the nearest airport to Australian farms to places like Shanghai where the product will then be delivered to households in those cities direct from Australian farms. Now that's pretty exciting. That's moving into price ranges and returns that we've never known and so these are the sorts of things that we want to encourage in the years ahead.

Question: Mr Truss if I could just ask you about a few other issues. Did any officers of your department suggest to North Star Cruises that it should take its vessel off the Australian register and employ foreign crew to save money?

Warren Truss: Well if this company was to put foreign crews on their vessels, they would not be allowed to operate their cruises in Australia over the full 12 month period. The reality is that that is not an option for North Star Cruises or for that matter anyone else. If you're going to operate 12 months on the Australian shores, you will have to have Australian crew so it doesn't seem to me that the story is credible.

Question: Bill Milby from North Star will swear under oath at a Senate inquiry next week that this did actually happen. Are you calling him a liar?

Warren Truss: No I'm not making any observations at all, what I am saying to you is that it is not a practical option for somebody to put foreign crew on a cruise vessel in Australia if they want to have a 12 months operation around Australian shores. This company has been competing with international cruise vessels for a long time and I'm sure it will continue to be able to do so into the future. So what is reported is not credible.

Question: Have you ordered an investigation or any disciplinary action against those who gave this advice?

Warren Truss: Well of course not, this is a matter that's currently before the Senate Committee, and the Senate will have a look at the issue. It needs to be established that it's got some veracity before in fact any kind of investigation would be appropriate. What I'm saying is that the facts of the situation are not as has been reported. If this vessel was to have its crew replaced with foreign workers then they wouldn't be able to operate twelve months a year around the Australian coastline.

Question: What advice would you give to cruise line and shipping companies in regard to this new legislation?

Warren Truss: Well the reality is that since Labor introduced its shipping legislation, legislation largely drafted by the Maritime Union of Australia, the number of ships plying the Australian coast has fallen dramatically. The number of ships registered to operate around the Australian coastline has fallen from 30 to 15. The number on the transitional register has dropped from 16 to 8. The volume of tonnage registered to operate on Australian shores has dropped by 63 per cent. So by any measure the arguments being put forward now by the MUA and by Mr Albanese are completely fallaciously based. The facts are that the legislation has been an appalling failure. It has resulted in the halving—more than halving—of the size of the domestic fleet in Australian waters. Now we want a domestic shipping industry, it's very important for us to have ships plying our shores. If we cannot get more freight onto ships then there'll be more trucks on the road, more trains on the tracks, and the reality is that we've got ships that are currently travelling between our capital city ports that are not able to take on domestic cargo because of the rules that the previous Government has put in place. So they travel with empty spaces.

Now what we desperately need in this country, with our freight task doubling over the next twenty years, is for shipping to play a larger role in moving freight around the country, but instead of playing a larger role its share is declining—it's declining. This is an industry that will fade away altogether unless there is significant reform. Labor's reform has been a dismal failure, they must know that. Claims by Mr Albanese and others that our changes will result in 10,000 seamen losing their jobs are simply nonsense. There's only a little over 1000 people working on the ships now. So there aren't 10,000 jobs there now, and those sorts of claims are simply ridiculous. Even if you take the whole of the Navy into account—and no one's suggesting that the Navy is affected in anyway by this legislation—there still aren't 10,000 seamen in this country.

So unfortunately what we've got is a beat-up campaign by these unions. Their own attempts at rearranging the system have in fact dismally failed. One of the key elements of Labor's reform was to set-up a new international Australian register. Now we think that is a good idea. However Labor's international register has not attracted a single ship—not one ship. And that's because under Labor's legislation the MUA have an effective veto over all the operations of any vessel that chooses to go on that register. And no ship owner is prepared to put themselves in the position where they're held to ransom by the MUA. So we need to make sure that people understand the facts of what's happening.

We are trying to save the Australian shipping industry. We want Australian flagships; we want Australians working on those vessels. We need trained and skilled seamen to be pilots and to work in our harbours and the like. That's very important to our country. And so what we want to do is have a vibrant, strong, growing Australian flag shipping industry, and our legislation is designed to achieve that, and to repair the damage that was done by the previous Government's deal with the MUA.

Question: Mr Truss the Government is considering whether to expand Australia's campaign in the Middle East to Syria. Are we obliged to increase our humanitarian intake from Syria as a result?

Warren Truss: Well we would have to consider all of the issues… making a decision about what our role will be in that part of the world. You know clearly it's a very significant responsibility, and a serious decision to make, to take any steps to expand our military involvement in that part of the world, and we will make those decisions with all the facts in front of us, and we will do it with something of a heavy heart that we need to be involved in any kind of an operation in these parts of the world, but also with a sense of responsibility that as a middle ranking power we need to do what we can to make a more peaceful world.

Question: Do you support using Australian aircraft to bomb ISIL in Syria?

Warren Truss: Well the Cabinet will be considering those issues over the next week or so, and I think it's appropriate that we consider all the facts and make a decision when we have all of the facts.

Question: The Parliamentary Report on the Citizenship Bill is being released today; lawyers have strongly questioned the constitutionality. Would the law survive a High Court challenge—I mean should lawyers challenge it?

Warren Truss: Well I'm not a lawyer so I don't think I'm a good one to give you legal advice. But the Government is confident about the legal standing of its legislation, and we think that the legislation's important as a part of our fight against terrorism around the world.

Question: here has been a series of leaks, and as you know talk of unhappiness within the Coalition Government at the moment though. Do you think that the Coalition Government is living up to the expectations of the Australian people?

Warren Truss: Well we know that we always have to work hard, and do better. There are a lot more things that need to be done, we face difficult global economic circumstances, and that is providing new challenges in relation to our budget, and many of the other things that we need to deal with. But let me say from the Nationals perspective we remain strong and united, we are very, very vigorous contributors to the Coalition, and we want this Government to continue to deliver policy reform, and better opportunities for all Australians.

Now I'd just like to make a bit of a comment on MH370. Overnight the French have confirmed that the flaperon that has been discovered on the Reunion Islands has in fact come from flight MH370. This is a significant announcement and it confirms beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost at sea. This is obviously a very difficult moment for the families of those who were on board. But it does in fact provide some degree of closure for them that they have an assurance about what has happened in the last hours of this flight. Clearly from the Australian perspective we will continue with the search to try to find the whole of the aircraft. We are confident we're looking in the right area but of course we are frustrated that the search has been going on for such a long time in the most prospective areas without so far achieving the kind of result that we had hoped.

Nonetheless there's probably best part of another year of search ahead of us and we're committed to completing that work. I think it's important from the perspective of the families that we do what we can to locate the aircraft but it's also important for an understanding of what actually happened in the last hours of that flight that we seek to recover any of the relevant material from the aircraft to assist with that investigation.

I understand that the positive identification from the French relies on a serial number that's been identified on the flaperon which has come from this particular aircraft. So there is a high degree of assurance therefore that this part did come from the aircraft operating MH370. It is of course possible for an aircraft to fly without this part but it's highly unlikely, and certainly there'll be continuing work done to try to determine whether on the basis of detailed inspection it's possible to actually identify why and how this part came adrift from the rest of the aircraft. That's something for the future but this time the announcement being [indistinct] a very high degree of certainty as that the aircraft has been lost in the Indian Ocean and that this part was in fact from that aircraft.

Question: How confident are you that we will be able to find the black box 18 months later?

Warren Truss: Well we remain hopeful. We are highly confident that we're searching in the right area. Ever since the loss of the aircraft there's been detailed scientific work done about what happened to the aircraft on the basis of the satellite information that we have. That information has been perused time and time again. Different teams of experts have looked at it and they've all come to the same conclusion that we are looking in the right place. There's been some minor modifications to the search area on the basis of increasing the probability that the aircraft may be in one part of the search area rather than another. All of that has I think has helped us to feel reassured that we're looking in the right place. But we're disappointed that it hasn't been found by now. We believe we've got the best equipment and if it's there we'll find it.

Question: Will the Government ever reach a point where it says we haven't found it yet, we're probably not likely to, let's just stop looking?

Warren Truss: Well the $60 million that we committed to the current search which has been matched by the Malaysians—and they've added a further $20 million—that will enable us to search the highest priority areas. Once that's completed, the experts tell us that we've exhausted 95 per cent of the possibility. To search for the other five per cent would mean going on for years and years and that would therefore not be a cost effective exercise. So once we've completed this high probability area search, the countries involved they've agreed that we will not extend the search further.

Question: That 95 per cent possibility area, how much of that area has been searched so far?

Warren Truss: Well over half of the area has been searched and we're concentrating mainly now on areas further to the south which are obviously areas even further away from the Australian continent. Perhaps I could add that this is a very very difficult search. The weather has been poor during the winter as you would expect because we're getting down towards the Southern Ocean and therefore the search vessels have had to spend quite a bit of time in port. It's about six or seven days steaming time to get from the search area out- into port and so that has meant that the search has slowed over the winter. We expected that although it's perhaps been a little worse than we had hoped. But as we move now into spring the weather conditions should improve and the vessels will be able to spend much more time in the search area. Thank you.