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Transcript 15648

Interview with Jane Bardon, ABC Country Hour

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 21/09/2007

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 15648

Subject:
Drought assistance; Parliament.

E&OE...

BARDON:

Well you're basically announcing some more of your drought assistance package, what are you announcing today?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I'm announcing today is the Government has decided to liberalise both the off-farm income test and also the off-farm assets test. We received a lot of representations from the NFF and also from individual farmers that during this prolonged drought these tests are a little too restrictive and we have a range of options as to how extensive the liberalisation will be. We've had a preliminary discussion and Cabinet will meet in Sydney on Tuesday and the extent of the liberalisation will be determined there but I want farmers to know that we are aware that both of these tests need to be liberalised and we'll be announcing next Tuesday the extent of the liberalisation. There are some other proposals in front of us ancillary to these two things which will also be considered on Tuesday. We've not taken decisions on them but we'll consider all the other details of this additional assistance and that will be announced on Tuesday after the Cabinet meeting. You will of course recall that last week I announced an extension of the Exceptional Circumstances provisions in relation to many areas in southern Australia and the EC will extend from March until September of next year, then on top of that we pre-declared if I can put it that way a large part of Western Australia and a large part of Tasmania and the drought assistance measures under EC are already kicking in for those areas.

BARDON:

How many more farmers will be eligible now under this relaxed criteria?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it's always very difficult, see we estimated last time that the relaxation was going to bring in several thousand and it didn't bring in as many as we thought. But I would imagine that several thousand additional farmers will be eligible. It would depend on what the final amount is. At the moment there is a loading in relation to the income off-farm of about $10,000 on top of the normal amount that is allowed generally for social security purposes and depending on whether that is increased by how many thousand dollars over and above the 10 will determine the number who are eligible. But that finetuning will be done on Tuesday, we'll have a range of options in front of us but I want farmers to know we are aware of the need to liberalise both of those tests and the precise details will be made known on Tuesday.

BARDON:

Will this relaxation bring irrigators into the situation because they've been really locked out because they haven't been living in drought declared areas for long enough to get assistance and particularly the Murray-Darling Basin....

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we are considering, that is one of the details of it that is going to be looked at on Tuesday.

BARDON:

And I understand you're also considering some specialist industry packages, things like maybe looking at weed planting, permanent plantings, fodder help maybe, even looking at specific industry sectors and their water charges, will we hear about.....

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the water charges are really things that the states should be looking to, but there are a number of those other issues that will be on the table on Tuesday. We haven't taken decisions in relation to those, we have decided to liberalise the assets and income tests and that's why I'm announcing it. But I don't want to pre-empt the discussion in relation to those other issues. The message I want to communicate is that we will be providing additional help because this drought has gone on much longer than people ever dreamt likely and I know how hard it's hitting. We do have a problem with the Murray-Darling and that's why I am appealing to the Victorian Government to join the other governments, New South Wales, South Australia and the ACT, as well as the Commonwealth on establishing this special reserve and this is an occasion where people have to forget their states, they have to worry about cooperating, they have to think as Australians and not as Victorians or Queenslanders and it is very important that we adopt a cooperative attitude.

BARDON:

Farmers particularly in Victoria are up in arms about this idea of a reserve because they know that they're the ones that are going to lose their water in favour of cities like Adelaide, having a critical supply for next year, will the Government look at any compensation arrangements if for example they lose enough water to kill off an orchard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we will always look at something that's fair and reasonable, always look at something that's fair and reasonable, I can't say more than that at a time such as this. What I would say to every farmer is that we will get through this only if we work together. If we adopt a parochial approach we won't get through it and we have to remember that there are needs for Australians in the whole of the Basin area. I'm not saying one is more important than another, and you have to determine these things on the basis of fair sharing of the burden. The Commonwealth is ready to provide help. We are in a financial position to do so but we also expect the states to play their part, and I want to work with the states, I'm pleased that New South Wales and South Australia have readily agreed to the proposal that came out of task group of officials of all of the governments, it's not something that we've handed down like tablet from the mountain, it's something that we have been given by our officials who've worked together and the basis of it is let's solve this problem together.

BARDON:

Have you left it too late because really this contingency planning process has started when we're really already were in a dire situation?

PRIME MINISTER:

No we haven't left it too late, it was always intended that it be handled in this way, but when we had some rain in June people thought that there would be follow up and they thought that it did represent the beginning of the breaking of the drought in the Basin, and we all hoped and prayed that it would rain more, and in those circumstances you obviously wait in the expectation that it might rain and in any event I guess people knew a fair way in advance what would have to be done if there were no more rain.

BARDON:

But the climatologists have been saying for several years now that it was going to get drier and we've had very low reserves really for at least five years, with you know continuing drought, should we not have started this contingency planning, you know a couple of years ago?

PRIME MINISTER:

You have to understand that nobody can make it rain. I mean you say you know should've, well in the end if it doesn't rain you have to use the water that you have in the most equitable and sensible manner. It's no good sort of saying well you know you should've done something as if to imply that some how or other governments can make it rain. No government can make it rain, but governments can make sure that what water is there and what water is available is used in an equitable fashion.

BARDON:

While you're concentrating on the immediate drought relief, the Labor Party's preparing....preferring to really look ahead at trying to help farmers adapt to climate change for the future, do you have any vision there, do you have any plans....

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm not sure of what the Labor Party is talking about, they're saying that, but what's their plan?

BARDON:

Well they're looking at providing money for farmers to adapt to climate change conditions, for example.....

PRME MINISTER:

Yes, but on what basis?

BARDON:

On the basis that climatologists are saying it's going to get warmer.....

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes but they're not really explaining what the criteria are and in the end the $10 billion investment in the Murray-Darling Basin is the most visionary plan around for conserving scarce water because what that $10 billion plan does is to prevent in the future evaporation and wastage by piping and lining all of the irrigation channels and it also provides billions of dollars to buy back the over-allocations. So there is no plan for the future which is more far-reaching and more visionary than that plan because it addresses on the basis that we're going to have a scarcity of water, it addresses areas of wastage and seepage and evaporation, which are occurring as we speak. If you can pipe and line all of the irrigation channels of the nation it will make an enormous difference and I can't think of anything which is more calculated to help farmers adjust to climate change than that.

BARDON:

Your Treasurer Peter Costello has said today that we're going to have to look at reducing some water-wasting farming practices and he pin-pointed particularly flood irrigation, do you agree with that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven't seen the context of that comment and I'm not going to respond. I'm long used to having comments of my colleagues put to me without knowing the context and I'm not going to reply until I know the context of that. But I do make the point that the Murray-Darling plan is very, very effective in relation to conserving and using in a most intelligent fashion the water we have.

BARDON:

Voters were really presented yesterday with probably one of the most unseemly parliamentary sittings which maybe our last sitting, how can you really convince voters that you're looking out for their interests and this isn't just a political bunfight over people's positions with sort of dirt unit digging and this kind of thing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we don't have any dirt units.

BARDON:

Well there seems to be a few members walking around parliament, not members of parliament, but people who are in that industry who are....

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not aware of them, we don't have them. Look yesterday's unseemly episode as you put it started because the Labor Party accused us of spreading rumours about Mr Rudd's health. Now that was a false allegation, it should never have been made, they were given an opportunity to prove their allegations, they offered nothing, they started that. I have never sought to smear Mr Rudd on the basis of his health, I don't need and have no desire to do that. I don't wish him any ill will as an individual, I don't, and his health is a matter for him, I have no reason to believe that he's not healthy enough to do the job, no reason at all and the fact is they accused me and my colleagues of spreading rumours about Mr Rudd's ill health, that was a false allegation and we are simply not going to cop false allegations of that kind. They fail to prove it and it's reflected in the press this morning, the general judgement of the media which is normally not all that supportive of the Government is that Mr Rudd had no basis for that allegation and he should never have made it and that was the beginning of the debate yesterday and if that allegation had not been made then other issues would've been raised.

BARDON:

Do you deny that one of your Ministers has a dirt file on Julia Gillard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I'm not aware of any dirt files on Julia Gillard.

BARDON:

And your Treasurer also said that yesterday was the last sitting of parliament, so is it now game on for one and all and are we going to see the election announced imminently?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well when I'm in a position after certain things for the Australian people have been done to announce an election I will, but nobody should make any assumptions about the election date.

BARDON:

Certainly the polls seem as if they're moving a bit more favourably for you without being....make you more inclined to wait or to go....

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I'm not going to get into a commentary on the polls.

BARDON:

Okay, thanks very much Prime Minister

Transcript 15648