Triple J Hack with Tom Tilley

Tom Tilley: Alright. Well, let’s go to Michael McCormack. He’s the Deputy Prime Minister. He’s the Leader of The Nationals. He replaced Barnaby Joyce in that position in February after Barnaby Joyce mishandled his affair.

Michael McCormack, thanks so much for joining us. You grew up on farms around Wagga. What’s it like hearing those stories from young farmers?

Michael McCormack: Yeah, compelling listening, Tom, to Isabella and Gav, Jock. Jock certainly had some interesting things to say about water infrastructure, and he’s right.

And that’s why we have just put $176.1 million down on the table for the Rookwood Weir. They’ve been talking about that for decades but we’re actually going to build it, and I’ve just actually left a teleconference to come on air where we were talking about a water infrastructure project in Queensland.

So, in David Littleproud’s seat, to make sure that these communities can become a little bit better drought-proofed than what they are now. But speaking of David, he was the facilitator of a very good round-table today talking to the National Farmers’ Federation and state farming groups, but perhaps even more importantly listening to the banking sector and to see what they could do as well to help farmers through this very, very trying times.

And, you know, it is devastating. Our farmers are the most resilient in the world, but they do need a bit of a hand. We’re giving them that hand in this very dry time.

We’ve extended the Farm Household Allowance from three years to four years. The Agriculture Minister in conjunction with his department are streamlining it so that it’s not as difficult as it was to fill out the forms, and most importantly—and I’ll just get this in before you talk—really important that people don't self-assess.

You know, we have to urge to farmers not to self-assess and to seek the assistance that is there for them, Tom.

Tom Tilley: So much of the assistance is cheap debt, offering them loans at a lower cost than they would otherwise pay, and you just heard Isabella say that often does more harm than good. Is that a solution we jump to too quickly? Should we be thinking bigger than that?

Michael McCormack: If you go to the website, if you go to the agriculture website, it's not hard. All you need to do is Google drought help and it comes up and just scroll down. There's support packages there, there's Farm Household Allowance support.

We've made taxation measures that are that are helpful. I know the ATO wants to talk to people and listen to people, more importantly, who are struggling. We've also got rural financial support experts in the field who can come out, talk around your kitchen table with farmers and their partners.

We all need to be on-board with this to help them through. And of course there is also mental health available. So we've put down some packages there to really get to the nub of it to help farmers through this.

We can't make it rain as a government but we can certainly provide the sort of support that farmers desperately need.

Tom Tilley: Sherry from Manilla, you're a dairy farmer. What would you like to see from government?

Caller Sherry: I'd like to see obviously more help. I'm also running a fundraiser for the Drought Angels in Sydney called Dollars For Dust, and we’re also we’ve got a Facebook page and Instagram page and stuff, and we’re more just, you know, trying to get it out there to the city people—because I actually live in the city now.

But it’s getting out, because a lot of people that I talked to have no idea about the conditions and how bad the drought is and all that sort of stuff. So, really bringing awareness so that we can all, you know, as a community, help our farmers. 

Tom Tilley: Yeah, all right. Thanks so much for calling in. I think a lot of people are finding out about it right now thanks to Dave Marchese. We're going to head back out to the bush with Dave Marchese.

Tom Tilley: Michael McCormack, we’re going to come back to you for more questions in just a moment.

Let’s get into it with Dave Marchese. You heard earlier in the story that one of those farmers was carrying around a gun in case they need to put down cattle. It is pretty grim but there are solutions that our young farmers are now working on and a lot of these young farmers have recently come back from ag school with new ways of doing things. So let’s get back out there with Dave Marchese and find out how these new ideas are going down.

Jack Carrigan: So I’ll show you some stuff, this is actually pretty cool, you’ll see some oats that wasn’t out of the ground two days ago because it was too dry.

Farmers often come across from my view of mainstream media and social media, we come across as a lot like a whinging old cocky, a bit.

Dave Marchese: As Jack Carrigan drives me around his farm, he keeps making the same point: he is sick of farmers being portrayed as whingers.

Jack Carrigan: I definitely don’t think we’re that; we’re a very innovative bunch, I think. We’re quite resilient.

This stuff here that you can see in the rows wasn’t out of the ground yesterday or two days ago.

Dave Marchese: We’re on Jack’s family farm just outside Merriwa in the New South Wales Hunter Valley. It’s a pretty good day because a tiny bit of rain fell overnight and it came at a great time for Jack.

Jack Carrigan: Now that there, you’ll see has just started to germinate. That wouldn’t have been there yesterday.

I don’t know, I get a, I suppose, quite a fulfilling sensation I suppose out of being able to produce a crop and look back at that and think: you know, I grew that. I would never say I’d beat mother nature, but it’s always good to challenge her a few times.

Dave Marchese: Like a lot of young farmers these days, Jack left the farm to get an education. Now he’s back, armed with an agriculture degree. He sees the drought as an opportunity to try new scientific approaches that are more responsive to the environment.

Jack Carrigan: For me it's another agronomic challenge at the moment. I see it as an exciting opportunity to try and better myself in terms of water use efficiency. So it's obviously going to be a tight year for water.

Dave Marchese: And farmers are doing things differently: they're becoming better prepared for drought, hoarding away more feed for animals when conditions are good, using techniques like minimum tillage which aims to keep more water in the soil. And they're keeping their eye on the future.

Maisie Morrow: When you look at the driverless tractors and…

Dave Marchese: Driverless tractors?

Maisie Morrow: Yeah I know, pretty hectic.

Dave Marchese: Farmers are also working more closely with experts like Maisie Morrow. She's an agronomist.

Maisie Morrow: I work with farmers in advisory role, so you look at soil, soil health, how do we get the soil as healthy as possible to grow a seed.

Dave Marchese: As a 25-year-old woman, Maisie is often giving advice to farmers two or three times her age, and it doesn't always go down that well.

Maisie Morrow: It is tricky especially—not only being girl, but being a young female, how receptive they are of me whereas they can go and ask their old mate down the road, across the fence and they see what he's doing and they're much happier to take that on board. Potentially his opinion matters more. So it really is building up a rapport and building up that trust.

Dave Marchese: A big part of Maisie’s job is making the farmers aware of new techniques and technology.

Maisie Morrow: As technology and as science and it gets more and more efficient and more technical and there's better ways of doing things, that’s where I come in. I’m the middle person. I talk to the scientists and make sure that the farmers can understand what they're saying.

Dave Marchese: Wow, so we're looking at a paddock and we can see a whole bunch of green shoots coming up through the soil and you're saying that a couple of days ago that wasn't there?

Jack Carrigan: Definitely wasn't there, so it was…

Dave Marchese: Back on his farm, Jack Carrigan reckons there's a lot to look forward to.

Jack Carrigan: I'm really excited where the next 20 years will take us, like our generation have got challenges like no other. I mean you throw a few curveballs into the mix like a dry time or a flood or two and it really is going to make stuff exciting.

Tom Tilley: That was Jack Carrigan, a young farmer in the Upper Hunter Valley in New South Wales. And he was speaking to Triple J newsreader Dave Marchese who comes from that area, and thank you Dave for that really excellent report there, out on the ground with the farmers in the Hunter Valley. And Dave will be reading the news at 6 o'clock.

Listening in to that story was the Leader of the National Party, the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. And Michael McCormack a few interesting texts have come in a little bit critical of The Nationals. One person says: The Nationals are supposed to support farmers yet they deny climate change science.

Another person says: not sure how much sympathy I have for communities who continue to vote for climate deniers but want us to provide government support for the impacts of climate change.

I mean what do you say to that? Your constituents are some of the people most affected by climate change. Why aren't you leading the fight against it?

Michael McCormack: Certainly no one is denying that the climate is changing and the climate has been changing since day dot. But the fact is we also, as Nationals, have actually delivered fodder storage shed write offs, we've delivered water infrastructure write offs, and the instant asset write off enables farmers to invest in fencing and other things that they would not have been able to do under any other government.

So, certainly The Nationals in conjunction with the Liberals have been in there fighting hard to make sure that farmers are able to cope with changes to their drying times and, you know, certainly that has been a huge boon for farmers.

Tom Tilley: But what about fighting climate change, why isn’t that a priority for The Nationals?

Michael McCormack: Well it is a priority for The Nationals, and you only have to listen to the Water Resources and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, talking about this very subject to know that you know, we’re addressing, making sure that we have provisions in place for better soil measures, for more water infrastructure, for drought proofing our communities, and that is all helping our farmers to cope in these drying times.

Tom Tilley: But what about reducing emissions, and actually like reducing humankind’s impact on the climate change? Labor have the strongest goals in reducing our emissions, why aren’t you out there advocating for us to go harder on this given that affects so many farmers?

Michael McCormack: Well sure, and Labor wants to do a 50 per cent renewable target too, which is going to de-industrialise Australia. Labor wants to make sure that by putting all sorts of restrictions it’s going to actually stop farmers from doing what they do. I mean I saw Labor’s policy decisions almost ruin the Murray-Darling basin farmer’s,  irrigation farmers throughout the Murray…

Tom Tilley: Okay, but on climate change they're working towards higher targets for carbon reduction, which will reduce the manmade impact on climate change. Why aren’t you there shoulder to shoulder, given this affects your constituency so much?

Michael McCormack: Well I'll never be shoulder to shoulder with Labor as long as they're in bed with the Greens and quite frankly any farmer who thinks that Labor are going to give them a better deal than the Liberal and Nationals is quite frankly kidding themselves. 

And I think if you ask any downright honest farmer they'll admit as much as themselves. So the farmers will always do better under a Liberal and National Government and are at the moment than they ever will under a Labor Greens coalition,  let me tell you.

Tom Tilley: On the text line, John from Shepparton says: European governments subsidise their farmers because they know how important strong food production is. We need that here.

And it's interesting Michael McCormack, to bring up a European example because the Netherlands which is a tiny country has become the second biggest agriculture exporter in the world behind the US and they've embraced some incredible technology. Why have they got the jump on us?

Michael McCormack: Well I'm not sure whether they're exporting as much to Asia as we ever will, but we've been able to broker free trade arrangements with South Korea, with Japan, with China, the Trans-Pacific Partnership 11 when the US decided to opt out that plan.

That's a $13 trillion opportunity for Australian farmers brokered and arranged with the help of our Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, in conjunction with his Assistant Minister Mark Coulton, Member for Parkes, who knows all too well of the drying effects of what's happening right at the moment.

So, we're right behind our farmers backing them all the way with tax incentives with farm householder's assistance measures to help them through these drying times. I say again to farmers: don't self-assess, look at what help is available from the federal government.

I call on the state governments, and I know the New South Wales Government is really pitching in there and doing a lot of hard work as well but, we need the state governments to come on board and do even more, and we'll certainly get farmers through this.

They’re the most resilient people in the world. I know it. I'm a son of a generational farming family from Wagga Wagga. We went through the drying times, our farmers will come out the back of this, I just suggest to them to be positive, to stay upbeat, to take advantage of what incentive measures that there are there, what assistance packages that are available both through the state and federal governments.

Not to self assess, and if they are in trouble, sing out. Sing out, you know find out what mental health is available from the relevant government agencies because it is there and it is there to help them.

Tom Tilley: It is a good message there. Michael McCormack I've got about 20 seconds left and you mentioned, I'm sorry, I hit the wrong button.  You mention your background there. People knew Barnaby Joyce, well you've replaced him, tell us a couple of things about you before we hear the news.

Michael McCormack: Well I'm always going to be in there sticking up for regional communities.  I love the regions.  I was born there, I will fight hard. I will not be silent when I ought to speak and I will continue to fight and strive hard for better infrastructure for making sure that our rural communities know that the National Party is the party for them,  the party of choice to help them through these drying times and certainly the party for farmers.

And I know I stand side by side with my regional Liberals in fighting the good fight, for and on behalf of farmers, for and on behalf of the regional communities, we proudly serve.

Tom Tilley: All right Michael McCormack great to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us on Triple J.

Michael McCormack: Thanks Tom, any time at all.

Tom Tilley: That’s the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia sticking up for the farmers, it's been a fascinating discussion looking into the impact of the drought.