Transcript Interview with Jess Rouse, 2NM

Jess Rouse: Now in New South Wales we are still 99 per cent of the state in drought; we’ve been waiting for last week for announcement to come from the Federal Government. A drought strategy was announced yesterday, around $1 billion. The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack joins me this morning to give us some more details. Michael, how are you doing?

Michael McCormack: Yeah, well thanks, Jess. I'm doing better than some of your listeners are, and very much appreciating that they are really feeling the effects of this prolonged drought. This has been going on for way too long and of course the Government has stepped its measures of assistance all the way through. And of course yesterday, we announced a further raft of assistance for particularly people in your area and throughout New South Wales, Queensland, and right across the nation, because the drought is also starting to now take hold in Western Australia. So its effects are being felt nationwide.

Jess Rouse: And there’s no silver bullet solution to this drought, but what was announced yesterday is definitely something. What are the main points of the extra additional cash that was announced yesterday?

Michael McCormack: Well the additional cash is going to go to 128 councils. So they're each going to receive another one million dollars, and I appreciate that Muswellbrook is one of those. And so they will be able to use that on various projects around town, programs to help through their local communities. And indeed, they'll also - each and every one of those 128 councils will receive a top up of their Roads to Recovery funding. So that'll be for road maintenance, for resealing some roads, and whatever they usually spend their Roads to Recovery money on, given the fact that those decisions are made at a local level. And so that's real money, right now, for those communities, for the right people in the places feeling the effects the most. There's also assistance as far as concessional loans through the Regional Investment Corporation. Now people can access that by going to www.ric.gov.au. Have a look to see what is there, but there are loans up to half million dollars for ag-related businesses. And we want these regional businesses - which we appreciate aren’t getting income at the moment to continue to survive through this drought and thrive indeed when the drought is over.

And we need them to keep alive. So what we're doing is we're making sure that we've got money available at no interest for two years. Now, given the fact that we know we don't want people to get into too much debt. We don't want people to get in over their heads, but what we do want to do is to make sure that people have the right cash if they can indeed invest in their business, if they can indeed have the capacity to invest in themselves and back themselves. We don't want them to get over their heads. And so what we're saying is to make sure that they talk to their financial counsellors, they talk to their banks and accountants, and if they feel they have the capacity to take out a loan, then do it under these no interest arrangements. And so that's Government backed of course. And of course there are other measures as well in the package as far as an education component - $10 million going to the schools to help students in these areas where it is difficult for people to send their kids off to school in some areas. And I appreciate Muswellbrook might not necessarily be one of those areas where a lot of kids are sent off to boarding school, but there are some who have the need to go off to school and alike. So there's a $10 million package there for schools to be able to get those kids clothing and whatever else they might need, textbooks and alike.

Jess Rouse: Jumping back to the money that’s going to councils, there is one particular council area in the Upper Hunter region that have has missed out in the first round, the second round, it doesn’t look like they’re not getting any out of yesterday either and that’s Singleton, and they are literally half an hour down the highway from Muswellbrook, who’s also in drought. Why are these council areas who really need this money seemingly missing out every time?

Michael McCormack: And there is a component on it- over it about how much rain has fallen, and of course that is gauged on the fact that the Bureau of Meteorology continues to measure the rain of course, or the lack thereof. And if they have had a few downpours or a shower or three, then that perhaps as the rounds roll on, that can go against them. And they also have to have a percentage of their workforce - 17 per cent, around 17 per cent - who actually work in agriculture. And so if they've got a large mine or if a local government area has a large Defence base, that actually happened in my local government area of Wagga Wagga, where we've got all three arms of the Defence, and that goes against Wagga Wagga which indeed is very much ag-related and very much reliant on agriculture and there's a real downturn because of the drought.

And so what I would urge and encourage Singleton to do is to make sure that they let us know, write to us, write to the Minister, David Littleproud. They may well have already done this, but do it again to put their case forward because there is a $50 million component of this drought package announced yesterday which is discretionary for the Minister to look at those councils. And rest assured, I understand, I've got a couple of councils myself which have, again, just like Singleton, missed out on being in that right criteria for the drought. And so what I would be urge and encourage Singleton to do - and I know the area well, I've spent a lot of time around Muswellbrook and Singleton, I know the Upper Hunter well - to write to David Littleproud or indeed myself, and we'll certainly look at their case and look at how we can help.

Jess Rouse: Yeah. Now we that yesterday, Major General Stephen Day, his report on the drought and what he’s seen was taken into account with what was announced. Fourteen of the 18 recommendations that he made were taken up. So what recommendations are left to be possibly picked up out of Major General Stephen Day’s report?

Michael McCormack: Well he had a raft of recommendations, of course, and we're still addressing all of those. We've noted four of them, as you say. There's a whole list of recommendations he's made, but largely what he's actually suggested we do is mirrored by what we did yesterday. And so we will continue to work through, indeed, what he said, what we need to do, and of course he went round just like our drought envoy, went around the area and looked at these communities, drilled down into what they were asking and what they were requiring, and indeed, most of, if not all of his report has been put into effect by government policies, by the range of assistance that we've provided yesterday. And of course, we've got local members out there on the ground very much living through this drought themselves. And National Party members, regional Liberals understand all too well the effects of the drought because our families are feeling it. Our people are feeling it, and we'll continue to. This isn't by any means probably the last of the assistance measures that we will provide, but we will continue to update our assistance as and when required. Hopefully we'll get some half decent spring rains for what is left of spring and going into summer, and we can, of course, before the next autumn sowing season, have some subsoil moisture so that we can get some crops out of the ground and get through this drought.

Jess Rouse: Yep, definitely. Well it is a great announcement yesterday. Michael, we really appreciate your time this morning in explaining it to us in a little bit more detail. 

Michael McCormack: No worries at all, Jess, any time at all.