TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Mark Vale, 2DU Dubbo - 6 August 2018

Subjects: Assistance for drought-affected farmers


Mark Vale:

Joining me now is the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of The Nationals, Michael McCormack, the Member for Riverina.

Michael, since the last time we spoke quite a bit has happened. You’ve been elevated to the position of Leader. You’re now Deputy Prime Minister and we’re in the midst of a very vicious drought.

Michael McCormack:

Yes, it’s a prolonged drought and in some parts of Mark Coulton’s electorate it’s now three out of the past four years.

That’s really, really impacting upon the farmers, their mental health – but not only the farmers – also the small businesses throughout all these communities. Whether it’s Dubbo or even all the smaller towns right throughout what is 49 per cent of New South Wales which Mark Coulton represents in the Parkes electorate.

And I know my electorate of Riverina and south west New South Wales as well, in south western Queensland, and beyond, this drought is really taking its toll.

Mark Vale:

Now I do believe you’re part of a travelling party here with the Prime Minister. Is that correct?

Michael McCormack:

Well look, back in June we visited Phillip and Ashley Miles’ property ‘Strathmore’ near Trangie. We sat around their kitchen table and we asked them what sort of assistance they needed, what sort of measures that they thought could help.

And they certainly told us in extension of the Farm Household Assistance would be good. So we extended that from three to four years. What we’ve done today is actually extend the eligibility for that as well.

We’ve also got Farm Household Assistance two lump-sum supplementary payments worth up to $12,000 for eligible households. We’ve changed the threshold from $2.5 million up to $5 million.

Because a lot of farmers, Mark, are asset-rich but they’re cash-poor. So what we wanted to do was but a bit of cash on the table so that they can decide how they best can spend it, whether that’s with school fees, groceries, whatever they feel they need – it just gives them a bit more money.

It also puts some money back into their own regional local communities. So those small businesses which sometimes – all too often – during these tough times, whether it’s drought or indeed whether it’s floods or whatever it is, they sometimes get forgotten.

But they’ve not been forgotten by this federal government. We’re helping the farmers and through them we’ll also be helping the small businesses right throughout these regional economies.

Mark Vale:

Okay, did you notice a change in the countryside since you were here last?

Michael McCormack:

Oh look, certainly. It’s got a lot browner. There’s not even a green pick for any of the animals and of course they’re all being – sheep, cattle – they’re all being hand-fed, and they’re being hand-fed anything from orange peel to grape skins. It is really quite a tragic sight.

Pleased that the New South Wales Government through Niall Blair’s intervention has come on board. They’ve put $500 million on the table for fodder subsidies, transport subsidies and that’s a really good positive thing.

So, based on that and with the federal government assistance today that’s going to make a world of difference.

We’ve put on the table today $11.4 million in mental health support schemes on top of the assistance we gave back after we first visited the Miles’ property near Trangie.

We’ve also provided $15 million for the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal. So that’s an organisation that goes out and gives charity grants. So that’s really important because there’s a lot of good charities and a lot of good social media in our campaigns that have been launched.

One of which, the Are You Aware We Care? campaign, has really had a public voice.

We’ve, on the back of that, we’re having a series of public hall meetings, town hall meetings – the first one of which is on Tuesday at 10.00 at Attunga. So that’s near Tamworth – but there’s going to be future ones at Narrabri, Moree, Inverell and Glen Innes.

It’s just a start with pilot programs to see how we can assist farmers further. We’re going to get government agencies in from social services, mental health, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and the Australian Tax Office to really help families understand there is help out there.

Don’t self-assess, come in and take part in those public town hall forums and if – and I know they will be a success – we’ll extend those to other drought-stricken areas as well.

Mark Vale:

I guess it’s something the government is now doing as well as the farmers, but watching these weather reports fairly closely to see whether there is going to be the long-term relief on the horizon at some point?

Michael McCormack:

Every day of dry weather we’re one day closer to it raining. And I know, just on Friday, throughout my hometown of Wagga Wagga we got 4.5 mls of drizzle, and it was drizzle. But gee, the next day there was sort of a shadow of green on the ground and it doesn’t take much rain to get things starting again.

But what need is good, solid, consistent rains now through to spring just to get some of the fodder back.

But in the meantime the government’s there to help. We’re going to back these farmers. They are, as I said at the press conference alongside the Prime Minister, they are the backbone of the nation. They grow the food and fibre that we need and we’re there backing them all the way.

Mark Vale:

Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister, Member for Riverina, thank you for your time. We do appreciate it. We know you’re busy.

Michael McCormack:

Any time at all, Mark.

Mark Vale:

Thanks Michael. Fantastic.

Shane Manning