Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

Ben Fordham: Okay. So you were listening to Michael McCormack from the National Party, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Joel Fitzgibbon, the Member for Hunter, and the Labor Party member. Now, I know both of these gentlemen, Joel Fitzgibbon and Michael McCormack. They both are very passionate about the bush. And they’ve had a blow-up in Question Time today. In the interest of sorting these things out, they are both on the line.

Michael McCormack, good afternoon.

Michael McCormack: Good afternoon Ben. Good afternoon Joel.

Ben Fordham: Joel, good afternoon. Joel Fitzgibbon, good afternoon. Where’s Joel gone?

Michael McCormack: He's probably taking a cold shower [laughs].

Ben Fordham: Sounds like he's listening back to himself in Question Time by the sounds of things. Anyway, I’ll find him right now. Can you tell me what he was saying to you, Mr McCormack?

Michael McCormack: Well, he interjected all day yesterday on me when I was answering a question about the drought and the importance of farmers and the importance of our regional communities, and I let it go. I just thought: no, rise above it. But today when he did it again and continued to just mouth off during what I thought was a bipartisan answer, what I thought was a bipartisan position about helping out our farmers, helping out our country communities which are really struggling, and I thought: you know what, I’m just not going to cop this. So I just gave it to him both barrels.

Ben Fordham: Well, I made the observation at the top of the show today. Usually issues like the drought are above politics.

Michael McCormack: Well indeed. And today we saw Labor jump to their feet and offer support on our motions, on our answers about fire and about veteran suicide, as they should. And you know, it would have been far better for Joel just to have sat there being quiet, and then got up when I'd finished and also praised that great organisation, the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, because it is doing some important work and it has always had bipartisan support, and that's the message I was trying to get across.

Ben Fordham: So what was his intention? Do you think he was trying to goad you; do you think he was trying to throw the bait out there in the hope that you took it?

Michael McCormack: Possibly. But the fact is, you know, we've done a lot for rural and regional communities suffering drought, and whether he thinks we've done enough - who knows. But of course we will stand side by side with our farmers and we will do more.

And let me tell you, the Future Drought Fund which Labor opposed in the last Parliament, which they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to offer support for in this Parliament since the election - fact is, had they supported it back when it was first introduced, it would have actually had tens of millions of dollars more in interest to actually get out to farmers as this drought continues. And of course we're offering farm household support, we're offering rural financial counselling. We're doing a lot in the space of getting money to organisations such as Rotary, such as the FRRR, such as the Country Women's Association to help these country communities. I just thought- I just expected that he might have just been a bit more magnanimous today.

Ben Fordham: Do you want to talk to him?

Michael McCormack: Sure, I'm happy to.

Ben Fordham: Joel Fitzgibbon, good afternoon.

Joel Fitzgibbon: G’day Ben. Technical problem there, I'm sorry.

Ben Fordham: That's okay. Michael McCormack’s on the other line.

Joel Fitzgibbon: G’day Michael.

Michael McCormack: G’day Joel.

Joel Fitzgibbon: I should be- I'll begin by asking you; are you okay?

Michael McCormack: I'm fine Joel, how about you?

Joel Fitzgibbon: That’s good. No, I'm fine. But you …

Michael McCormack: [Talks over] But our regional communities aren’t, Joel, and I just think when we're in Parliament, when I am being bipartisan, that I think a bit of quiet and respectful attention might have been better.

Joel Fitzgibbon: Michael, you [indistinct] …

Michael McCormack: [Talks over] I'm happy to have a cup of tea with you any day, Joel.

Joel Fitzgibbon: You completely lost it in Question Time today, when all I was interjecting with was: why don't you actually do something, and you lost your s*** because you are under pressure from rural communities …

Michael McCormack: [Talks over] Well, there’s no need to swear Joel.

Joel Fitzgibbon: [Indistinct]

Michael McCormack: Yes, I will always lose it when we’re talking about regional communities.

Joel Fitzgibbon: [Talks over] You are under pressure- are you going to let me speak? You are under pressure from rural communities because you have been exposed. They are coming to realise you have done two fifths of bugger all for them with respect to this drought, you are …

Ben Fordham: [Interrupts] Hang on a moment. If I can jump in there, Joel, I mean- and look, I know you care about the bush, I know Michael McCormack cares about the bush. But when it comes to the drought, we know that this is something that is a major issue at the moment for people in several parts of Australia. New South Wales is doing it tough, Queensland is doing it tough, and elsewhere. You've got to give some credit to where it's due when it comes to those in power who are doing everything within their power when they're up against mother nature to try and help.

Joel Fitzgibbon: But I don’t think that's true, Ben. I mean, six years ago, they tore up the agreement we had with the states to progress a serious, comprehensive strategic drought plan. Then they sat on their hands for most of the six years. Forget about this Future Drought Fund which will not release any money until next year – that'll be seven years into the drought. That won't go to farmers, it's not going to help farmers. That is just spin you heard from Michael. We needed real and meaningful assistance for our farmers, not next year, we needed it six years ago. He's failed to deliver it and that's why he lost it in Question Time today. He's been exposed. He's been found out.

Ben Fordham: Michael McCormack.

Michael McCormack: Yeah. Well, that's just nonsense. And the fact is in 2016, in my area, in fact, there was almost too much rain. In fact, many of the crops which had been planted towards that spring time, when they just need a few decent showers just to top them off, they were just pounded with rain. And in fact, the farmers, whilst they got a harvest, it wasn't as good as what the early promises showed because they actually got too much rain. So, there are a lot of areas which actually have received decent rain in the last seven years. I appreciate that some parts of [indistinct].

Ben Fordham: [Talks over] Sure. If I can just jump in for a moment because I don't- I know I'm playing the role here of a bit of a mediator but I think that if the Deputy Prime Minister could make it rain, Joel Fitzgibbon, he would but he doesn't have that power. And I think that people in the bush don't really want to hear you two arguing at the moment. They want to hear some teamwork.

Joel Fitzgibbon: Ben, I've been offering bipartisanship on drought for the last six years. Farmers around the country will be collectively shaking their heads at what the Deputy Prime Minister just said. He said it rained in 2016 so everything's okay. The fact is, Ben, that at the Farm Household Allowance system, that is an income support payment for farmers which has been broken, farmers can't access it. Now, they're being told they've got to come off it because they’ve been on it too long. He's got his Future Drought Fund which doesn't start till next year. And in between, we've had concessional loans, Ben,which cost the Government next to nothing, on which most farmers say: I don't- switching debt or taking more debt on is not a solution for me, Ben. They haven't been doing the work and they are now being found out, and that's why Michael McCormack got so upset during Question Time today.

Ben Fordham: Look I'm sure there'd be farmers listening, saying that people have taken their eye off the ball when it comes to drought proofing Australia for 20, 30, 40, 50 years or even longer. But Michael McCormack, if I can go back to you, I'd just say again what I said to Joel Fitzgibbon – farmers want to hear you guys working together at the moment, not working against each other.

Michael McCormack: Oh indeed, and always willing to work in a bipartisan way and that's why I think during my answer today, I mentioned the word bipartisanship a couple of times. And indeed very, very pleased that Bill Kelty, the former union warrior, has actually joined up with John Sharp for that Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal. I think that bipartisanship is commendable. And what else is commendable is the National Water Grid. We're going to put in place a national water infrastructure building. We're going to take the petty politics out of it. We're going to get those states on board. We're going to make sure that we've got the best available science and we're going to actually store the water.

When it rains, it will run again. No question. It’ll probably rain that much we’ll be cursing it. And then we will be able to use it and harvest it and harness it when it's dry again because that is Australia – a land of droughts and flooding rains.

Ben Fordham: When can you two-

Joel Fitzgibbon: [Interrupts] Ben-

Ben Fordham: Hang on a moment. When can you two catch up and break bread?

Michael McCormack: I'm happy to have a cup of tea with Joel now if he wants to come around of my office or I'll even go around to his if he really wants to.

Ben Fordham: Joel, can you go around there now and the two of you have a conversation face to face?

Joel Fitzgibbon: Not right now. I'm on chamber duty in the Parliament, Ben. We will get around-

Ben Fordham: [Talks over] When can you catch up with the Deputy PM?

Joel Fitzgibbon: Ben, can I say

Ben Fordham: [Interrupts] When can you catch up with the Deputy PM? People want …

Joel Fitzgibbon: [Talks over] [Indistinct] do it.

Ben Fordham: … you guys on the same page here.

Joel Fitzgibbon: We almost had a game of golf in Wagga Wagga not that long ago. We're good mates. But let me say this. He talked about water infrastructure. They have been talking about building dams and other water infrastructure now, Ben, for six years, and guess what? Haven't turned a sod, Ben. They’ve not turned a sod.

Michael McCormack: [Talks over] We’ll be turning a sod before the end of the year, Joel, at Emu Swamp Dam in the Granite Belt near Stanthorpe in Maranoa, which is one of the most hardest hit areas by this drought.

Joel Fitzgibbon: [Indistinct]

Ben Fordham: [Interrupts] Joel, can you give can you give my listeners a commitment that you will catch up face to face with the Deputy Prime Minister in the next week?

Joel Fitzgibbon: Absolutely. I have no problem with that at all Ben …

Michael McCormack: [Talks over] We’ll tweet the photo, we’ll tag you in it Ben.

Joel Fitzgibbon: … and he knows that.

Ben Fordham: I appreciate your time, both of you.

Michael McCormack: Good on you. Good on you, Joel.

Joel Fitzgibbon: [Talks over] [Indistinct]

Ben Fordham: Joel Fitzgibbon and Michael McCormack. They will catch up together in the next seven days.