Press Conference on Bournwood Farm

Well, thanks for joining us here today, folks. We’re at [inaudible] Park on the property of Philip and Rosemary Blowes at Bournewood, which is just near Yeoval. And the reason that we’re here today is because I’ve invited the Acting Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, the Member for Riverina, into the area because I firstly wanted to show him firsthand the devastating effect that drought is having in the Yeoval, Cumnock and Wellington areas, but also to show him some of the innovative ways that our local farmers are using to get through this drought.

And Philip here has basically implemented a system of sprout germination so that he uses one tonne of sprouts – in this case, it’s wheat that we're feeding the sheep with today – and he's germinating those seeds and basically creating feed over a period of six or seven days. So he's using one tonne of feed and he's creating six tonnes of green feed. So one tonne of seed, six tonne of green feed is created. So it's better for the sheep.

But it's also, I think, showing that with a little bit of lateral thinking, there are different ways that you can get through it. And so, in the good times, Phillip was running about three sheep per acre here, and even though we're in very, very difficult times now, he's still able to run about two head per acre here. And that's a pretty good rate considering the lack of feed in these paddocks. And a couple of days ago, these paddocks were absolutely bare. It was a moonscape here. And certainly, I've been here at times when it has been a moonscape. And while it has a little bit of a green tinge at the moment, there is certainly no subsoil moisture out there.

And so, I thought it was very important for Michael to come and see something that one of our local farmers is doing to get through. And obviously, the impacts of this drought have been absolutely devastating right across the board from our farms into our country communities, our towns, our villages, everywhere. But with a little bit of country innovation, I think we can see here today that there are people working on different and innovative ways to get through this really difficult and devastating time.

So, Phillip, thank you very much for having us here today. Michael, thank you for coming. And what I might do now is just throw to Philip, who can give you a little bit more detail about how long he's been doing this and the benefits of this feeding system on livestock.

Philip, over to you.

Philip Blowes: Well, we’ve been going for about four years doing this. It's a work in progress. We've developed the system ourselves but we've borrowed ideas from many other people. There's quite a few people doing this in different forms, different shapes. It looks different. But we just started it as cheaply as we could with the facilities that we did have and we just build it up bit by bit. So, it’s a work in progress. We’re still researching and that’s going [indistinct] for quite a while until we work out a system that we can actually take the sheep totally off the paddock when it’s dry and actually get the feed off the ground as well. So, that’s better nutrition for the sheep.

But the system works. That's the main thing I want to say. It does work. And those sheep are really in good order for a drought. I know they're not perfect, but for the number we’ve got on and for what  it cost, it’s way ahead of any other way of feeding. So far, so good, so we'll keep doing it and keep refining. Thanks.

Journalist: What is the process? Would you just be able to quickly talk me through the …

Philip Blowes: [Talks over] Process.

Journalist:… process, yeah.

Philip Blowes: Okay. Normally it’s barley, but this year it’s wheat because it was cheaper. We soak it for four hours and drain it and then load it onto shelves or on trays, and an automatic water system comes in and waters it [indistinct]. And after four, five or six days, depending on the temperature in the shed and the weather - how cold it is, how hot it is, [inaudible].

Journalist: [Inaudible question]

Philip Blowes: [Indistinct] so we’re determined to persevere [indistinct] hands-free and [indistinct]

Journalist: What is the cost saving compared to, say, buying in feed roughly?

Philip Blowes: 135 or [1]40 a tonne versus grain at four to five hundred a tonne. And this, as you can see, they’re sitting on top of the ground - they’ll come back and eat that till there’s nothing left. You come back tomorrow, you’ll be lucky to find a grain for what they stalk on the ground. But grain, it goes on the ground, gets buried in the dirt. And grain also is not assimilated as well as sprouts. If you go to the saleyards, you can pick out which sheep have been on grain because most of the time it’s on the ground in the pen. So, there’s been a nutritional value.

Michael McCormack: Alright. Well done, Philip. And they say necessity is the mother of invention. We're seeing here, absolutely, somebody who's very, very innovative. I commend Philip for what he's doing; for the fact that he's getting on and having a go in this crippling drought. He knows that he needs to feed his family. He knows that he needs to make money. And the best way to do it is to think outside the square. He’s developing this practice and the sheep are obviously very much liking it because when he drives his ute out into the paddock, they come running for him. And that’s tremendous to see – they’re happy, healthy sheep. Certainly, when he takes them to Cowra Breakout Meats, he knows that they're going to be in the very best condition.

And drought notwithstanding, our farmers will get through it because they are the best innovators. They are the base carers of country. They are the best animal welfare carers in all of the world. And I know that our farmers are going to succeed through this drought. We can't make it rain. As a Government we can't make it rain, anybody. But the fact is we're making sure that we're getting on, we’re caring for our country. I've spoken to Ian Chivers from the local Landcare group just about what Philip is doing here on his farm, [inaudible] Park, and others have also looked at how they can also use these technology, use this way of feeding sheep, into the future because the weather forecast doesn't look all that promising.

So, I’m sure [inaudible] to get through this drought and, who knows, it might be something that might be taken up by a lot more farmers around the district. Philip is showing the way - more sheep per acre on his property than I believe there are in most of the district. So he’s doing well. His sheep, perhaps even more importantly, are doing well. And as Ian Chivers said, Landcare is also right behind this. The Government is right behind Landcare – an organisation 30 years young doing practical, pragmatic ways and means of taking care of country and looking at how we can best use the resources that we have in this prolonged drought to maximum effect to help stock, to help the land, to care for the country.

I commend Philip. I’m very thankful to Andrew Gee, too, and I know how hard he is working as my Assistant Minister to make sure that the people in and around his area and regional Australia as a whole are looked after during this drought. We’ve already put $7 billion of assistance on the table. That includes a $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund, which will help farmers like Philip and others to help future drought proof them against future droughts. We know we will get through this drought. We know it will rain again. And until it does, the Government is standing side by side our farmers, shoulder to shoulder with them.

I'm developing the National Water Grid Authority to build more water storage infrastructure  because we know that if you add water, you can grow agriculture. We know how precious a resource it is. It's our most precious resource of all. So we will build dams, we will continue to support organisations such as Landcare and we will continue to support farmers such as Phillip to get through this awful drought.

Journalist: What reports into the drought you received from the Drought Envoy Barnaby Joyce?

Michael McCormack: Well certainly I was around the Cabinet table when Barnaby came in and reported direct from the communities that he had visited. And that was his task all along, to visit communities and then to report back to Cabinet about what we needed to do to further support those communities. He was never there to write a report. I don’t want Barnaby Joyce writing reports, I want him feeding back the information. You know, people might get hung up about writing reports, something in a nice thick tome that they can sit on the shelf and no one will look at. We wanted real, practical, anecdotal evidence of what was going on in the drought. That's what the farmers were telling Barnaby. He reported that back to Cabinet. He did his job as we asked him and tasked him to do.

Journalist: Are you going to make it public, what he reported about?

Michael McCormack: Well, it was in Cabinet. He reported back that farmers in Western Queensland were doing it tough. He gave us some anecdotal insights into just how tough they were doing. He visited farms just like Philip’s here near Yeovil and reported back what Philip had told him. I mean, it was anecdotal evidence but it was very real and practical evidence, and it helped our Government form our drought policies. It helped our Government to know that we needed to tweak farm household assistance allowance. It helped our Government to recognise that more infrastructure was needed, along with the Drought Communities Program.

So that sort of anecdotal evidence that Barnaby and others, Major General Stephen Day, were able  to provide. And of course MPs such as myself and such as Andrew Gee who live in drought stricken communities, of course, we were all feeding that into the process of making sure that the Government was listening, was on the ground, and was then reporting back to Cabinet, as you would expect a good Government to do.

Journalist: Unlike Mr Joyce, Major General Day actually did write a report, that was part of his job. When will the Government …

Michael McCormack: [Talks over] Because he was tasked to do that.

Journalist: Correct. But when will the Government be making that report public?

Michael McCormack: Well look, obviously we're considering that, and obviously we're looking at what even further drought measures we can put in place. Major General Day did a very, very good job. And certainly, I was very pleased to go with him to a number of drought communities, indeed to a number of farms, to listen firsthand. Now, his report is obviously being considered by Government as we look at what other measures, what other further assistance we can provide our farming communities.

But it's not just farmers that we need to provide for and that we are providing for, it's also those rural and regional communities doing it very tough. And some of them aren't even ag related.

They’re businesses, they’re hairdressers, they’re coffee shops, indeed even schools. They are all doing it tough. Very pleased that the nation has been very generous with the support it's given our rural communities. But of course, there's more that we have to, and we will and we must do. And I would encourage those people in the city to look and see if they can find the means to come out on a weekend to see some of the sights in these country areas, in these regions. There’s some fascinating things to see and do. I mean, we are not far from Yeoval; that's Banjo Paterson country, as Andrew Gee always proudly tells me.

You know, there's lots to see and do in these drought affected communities. I mean, there’s Cootamundra in my electorate, home of Donald Bradman. Quilpie, Dinosaur Museum in  Queensland. There's so much to see and do that country people know about that city people sometimes haven't even heard of. And I’d encourage city people to get in the car, take a trip into the bush and be amazed what they can see. And they'll also be very much helping those businesses doing it tough at the moment in this drought.

Journalist: Are you satisfied that Barnaby Joyce made a significant contribution is his role as Drought Envoy [indistinct] a waste of taxpayer money?

Michael McCormack: Absolutely. I know he did his job. And, you know, I talk with Barnaby regularly and certainly we know, as a Government, that Barnaby did the job asked of him. And he absolutely did a very, very good job. And you only have to ask the country communities in the New England, where he represents that area very fiercely and finely. But also, all those other areas that he visited as the Drought Envoy. They know that their voices, they know that their stories were being heard at the top level of Government.

Journalist: If his role was so important, why is it no longer continuing?

Michael McCormack: Why was it- sorry?

Journalist: Well, he’s no longer Drought Envoy, so the role doesn’t matter anymore?

Michael McCormack: Well, what we did when we won the election on May 18 was that we actually put a Cabinet Minister with drought responsibilities around the Cabinet table; that’s David Littleproud. So his role changed. He was the Agriculture Minister before the election. We've now made him the Minister for Drought. He's got a few other portfolio responsibilities as well. He's the Emergency Management and Disaster Minister. He's also Minister for Water Resources. But importantly, he's the Minister for Drought.

So drought now, for the first time in this nation's history, has a minister around the Cabinet table. And Cabinet Ministers listen to David Littleproud, act upon his advice, and it’s very important advice that he gives. So we've actually elevated it to a Cabinet role.

Journalist: What do you say to the suggestion that Mr Joyce was given this role to keep him busy and not come after your job?

Michael McCormack: Well, I think that's absolutely ridiculous. I mean, we're all very busy as parliamentarians, but Barnaby has obviously got a lot of experience as a representative for country electorates. And it was actually Scott Morrison and I who gave him that role. And we knew that in Barnaby, we would have somebody who would have appeal in those country communities. They’d be more than happy to tell him their stories - their stories of hardship, their stories of heartache - and he'd be able to report that effectively back to Cabinet. That's what he did.

Journalist: $150 million for NASA, though. Do you think that’s a bad look with the state [indistinct]?

Michael McCormack: Well, it's actually an investment and it's an investment in the future technology. We've got a space industry at the moment worth about $4 billion. We, as a Government, want to grow that to $12 billion and thousands of jobs by 2030. That's the aim. $150 million dollars is an investment in this sort of technology. Technology that will certainly even fine tune GPS, which farmers use very much all  on- in their cropping, in all sorts of measures and means whilst they’re sowing crops and doing    other things on their farms. And so when you can invest $150 million into an industry like that, which is actually going to have benefits for farms, I think it's a wise investment.

Journalist: And is the federal government moving anywhere with dam infrastructure? Is that a role for the state governments?

Michael McCormack: Well, it’s a role for both of us. And that's why last October, I wrote to the state and territory governments and asked them for their priority projects for dam infrastructure. Pleased that I’ve now got those reports back. I’m pleased that I've got those priority lists back. Unfortunately, the Victorian Government doesn't believe in dams, so they don't think it's going to rain again and so they’re not wanting to build more water storage infrastructure. Well, more’s the pity. We’ll just have to spend the money in other states. I'm really disappointed with Lisa Neville's attitude towards this.

Very pleased that the Queensland Labor Government has actually come on board. They've actually given me the priority projects. I'd like to see more work done on Rookwood, obviously. But very pleased on 3 August that the Queensland Government, through Dr Anthony Lynham, their Water Minister, signed up on the dotted line for the Emu Swamp Dam. Now, that's going to provide water storage infrastructure for the Granite Belt which is going to grow agriculture in and around Stanthorpe considerably. And I know when you’ve got [indistinct] and the group of farmers there, willing to invest $24.3 million dollars into their own futures, into their own irrigation dam, into their own prosperity going forward, then that's an investment that should be backed up by Commonwealth and state governments and that's what's happening.

Delighted to be working with Melinda Pavey and others in the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government. They've brought forward their projects as well and I've had several meetings and several teleconferences – one in fact just last week - with both the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Gladys Berejiklian the Premier, and the Deputy Premier John Barilaro, just talking water infrastructure as to what we could do and what we will do.

And so we've got $1.3 billion for the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund. We're establishing the National Water Grid Authority. We're taking the petty politics out of building dams. We're getting on with the job that people would expect us to do.

Journalist: In the Government's opinion, where is the worst drought affected that’s going to use the funding first?

Michael McCormack: Well that’s- Emu Swamp Dam is one of the worst affected, but I don’t want to sort of say one area is worse than any other area because they’re all bad. And you will hear tales of woe wherever you go through South Australia. Victoria – had a few rains in Victoria recently. Southern New South Wales, where they’re [inaudible] already. But indeed, as you come further north, in and around the central west, north west New South Wales, western New South Wales it is, as Andrew Gee just described it quite aptly, as moonscape. But of course, then you move up into Queensland, it’s desperate. And I don’t want to say one area is worse than another but we need to build water storage infrastructure. It won’t help this drought because, you know, it’s going to take a while to obviously get the shovels  in the ground and excavators digging dirt, but it will help [indistinct] in the years to come. Because there will be more droughts. It will rain again. It will rain again [inaudible] need to harvest and then harness that water. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re getting on with the job - $1.3 billion. It was topped up with another half a billion dollars last year for the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund. We’ve got a Prime Minister who wants to build dams; we’ve got a Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister in myself who wants to build dams. We’re getting on with the job with the states’ cooperation. And if the states don’t want to cooperate, well, we’re going to build water storage infrastructure anyway.

Journalist:[Inaudible question]

Michael McCormack: [Inaudible] … and he has been out to Western communities already. He cares. And I know that he’s getting daily updates, regular updates. I mean, there’s never a day that goes by I don’t speak to the Prime Minister. There’s never a day that goes by that we don’t talk drought. And indeed, when he became the Liberal Leader back on August 24 last year, the very first thing that I asked him to do was to visit a drought community. Indeed, he’d already had it written down on his piece of paper as his first priority as Prime Minister to do just that.

So, you know, he cares. He’s obviously in America at the moment and that’s important – the trade talks, et cetera. Very, very important for our farmers; our farmers who will get through this drought. And when they do those trade negotiations that the Prime Minister is doing in the United States, and of course elsewhere, with Simon Birmingham and Mark Coulton doing the bidding, Australia’s  bidding as Trade Ministers. That’s going to be very important for our farms, to ensure that they have the right [inaudible].

Unidentified Speaker: [Inaudible]

Michael McCormack: [Interrupts] And he was here for the drought summit. That’s absolutely correct Andrew.

Journalist: With the $1.3 billion, is that for hard infrastructure like dams or is it also for things like Peter Andrews’ Natural Sequence Farming, where water can be stored in landscapes fairly cost- effectively?

Michael McCormack: It’s- look, I’m happy to take any proposal put forward, but it’s mainly for pipelines; for heightening, lengthening and strengthening weirs for business cases indeed. But I want to build dams. I mean, for far too long we’ve talked about, we’ve procrastinated about, we’ve faffed about building dams.

Well, the time for building them is now. There’ll be shovels in the ground; all things being equal at Emu Swamp before the years’ end. And I think that will be the catalyst for a dam building surge in this nation that this nation has longed for, for way too long. And we’ll get on with it. We’ll build the dams. We’ve got the money to do it, and when we exhaust those revenue funds for building the dams that we’re going to build with the $1.3 billion then we’ll top it up.

Journalist: With building the dams, does that mean that the farmers are going to be opened up across the east coast or the west coast with levies and fees to cover the builds of these dams?

Michael McCormack: Well, building dam infrastructure is a matter for the Commonwealth – obviously it’s a priority – but the cost of water, that’s always been a prerogative of the states. We have to always remember that states have the remit for that sort of thing, just like the states have the water for- have the prerogative and the remit for town water supplies. But the Commonwealth will always work through those proposals. You wouldn’t get the Stanthorpe irrigators put in $24.3 million of their own money down on a dam if they thought they were going to pay too much for the water. So those sorts of things are worked through with the states, but they’ll do it with the cooperation of the federal Government. We want to build water infrastructure and we don’t want to get, you know, too many environmental, too many bureaucratic things in the way of doing what people are crying out for.

Journalist: Anthony Albanese has claimed today in Bendigo, the Government needs an energy and climate change policy. What is your view on this?

Michael McCormack : Well we've got one. You know, newsflash: Anthony, we've actually got one. We've got a climate policy. We're meeting all our international obligations, and what we're not going to do is what would have happened under Labor, under Bill Shorten had he become prime minister, or indeed, if you become prime minister. This is a message to Anthony Albanese: that if he becomes prime minister, they'll put- Labor will put in climate policies which will de-industrialised Australia, which will make it very difficult for farmers to do the sorts of things that Philip Blowes is doing here on his farm. What we don't want to do is make electricity and power unaffordable and unreliable. That's the Labor way. So we've got policies in place that is going- and with the big stick legislation. If energy companies gouge customers, well, they'll be broken up. That's our policy. They're good policies and,        message to Labor, they were taken very clearly and enunciated very articulately leading up to the May 18 election, and we won that election. So now, we've got the mandate to put our policies in place and we will do just that.

Journalist: He has also claimed that the Government is not doing enough to support apprentices? Do you think this is the case?

Michael McCormack: Well, $525 million of work skills, and particularly programs for rural and regional apprentices, was laid out in the April 2 budget. So, that's already seeing benefits right across country areas. And I was delighted that Michaelia Cash came to Wagga Wagga late last year to announce the latest program in making sure that we've got the right apprentices in all sorts of trades. I've always said that a trade certificate – an apprenticeship, a traineeship – is worth everything as much as a tertiary degree. I've never shied away from that. We need more apprentices, whatever the case might be, and our Government is backing them all the way.

Thank you very much.

Journalist: The Guardian has been reporting that Water New South Wales has been looking into a Bradfield- type scheme to divert rivers in the inland northern areas of New South Wales to rivers through western New South Wales. What is your response to this

Michael McCormack: Well you know, I always sort of double check things after I read them in The Guardian, I have to say. I mean they are not, The Guardian, the purveyors of accuracy when it comes to these sorts of things, particularly when it affects regional Australia. But that said, the Bradfield Scheme was something that was proposed in 1938. It wasn't followed up then, when potentially if you could build things, well, maybe that was the time to build them. I mean, the Snowy Mountain Scheme, that wonderful irrigation and hydroelectricity scheme, was thought up around that time and then obviously it took some decades to construct and to build. And it's been a lifesaver and a game changer for regional Australia. But turning the rivers back on themselves is not something that, would I think, even be able to be achieved these days. That said, with the Bradfield scheme there are elements of it that we are already putting in place, such as dam water storage infrastructure and pipelines and enhancing irrigation areas in northern Australia. That was a part of the Bradfield dream, and we're putting in place and we've got the National Water Grid Authority which wants to build dams, and will build dams indeed, in those catchment areas where we get rainfall in the order of meters, not centimetres. So what we want to do is make sure that we add water and grow agriculture. We're endeavouring to grow agriculture from a $60 billion industry now to a $100 billion industry by 2030. And we'll be able to do it if we actually add water.

So, that's part of the dream. that's part of the scheme. I know Bradfield had his ideas. I don't think The Guardian would be pushing that. I'm sure The Guardian, which is very much, very much in the environmental left field way of doing things; I don't think they'd be promoting Bradfield anytime soon. Couldn't imagine that happen.

Unidentified Speaker: Thanks everyone.