Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Transcript: ABC News Breakfast, Saturday 28 Sept

September 28, 2019

SUBJECTS: Drought; the ACT's legalisation of recreational cannabis; AFL Grand Final.

JOURNALIST: It's time now for our pollie panel and this week, we're discussing the latest Federal Government drought-funding announcement and the ACT's legalisation of recreational cannabis use.

JOURNALIST: Joining us is Liberal MP Julian Leeser and Labor MP Andrew Giles. Thank you both for your time this morning. Julian, I might start with you. The Government this week announced a $100 million support package for farmers and people in drought-affected areas. Now that came after a fairly extravagant week in the United States where he was wined and dined by the US President. He also announced a $150 million package towards NASA's moon-to-Mars mission. Now while he was over in the United States, he received a bit of criticism and there was a social media campaign saying, hashtag "Scott Morrison, where are you?" in reference to the drought. I wonder when this drought money was decided on?

JULIAN LEESER: Well I'm not a member of Cabinet, so I couldn't tell you that. But this $100 million that we've announced is on top of the $7 billion drought-funding that's been previously announced. It's going to make a big difference to people on the ground. It's going to make it easy to access the Farm Household Allowance, cut a lot of the red tape there, it's going to provide support to 13 more councils.

There are 123 council areas in our country that are doing it tough as a result of the drought and this provides extra funding for infrastructure, it provides funding to organisations like Vinnies and the Salvos, and it provides more financial counselling for people on farms who are preparing for drought. As well as infrastructure money that's previously been put in place to ensure that we're better drought-proofing the country with better water management and better infrastructure in that regard. So I think it's important. I think the Prime Minister can do two things at once, I think he can do many things at once, and it's important at the same time that we're thinking about the drought, that we're also thinking about the future of our economy and jobs. And that's why we've put the $150 million investment into the space program. We already have a $4 billion investment in our space program. 10,000 jobs are created but the aim of the Government is a $12 billion investment that will create 20,000 jobs up to 2030. It's a great idea and we should be able to do that.

JOURNALIST: There are a lot of great talking points there and a lot of bullet points and I appreciate all of those numbers. I want to hone in on one thing which is getting rid of the red tape around the Farm Household Allowance. There's a lot of criticism of the Farm Household Allowance as being impossible to get and like pulling teeth to try to access it, and the Government estimates that there are about 24,000 farmers who would qualify and fewer than 7,000 actually receive it. What will the reduction in red tape look like?

LEESER: For instance, if you're a couple that owns a farm, you've both got to fill out individual forms. Now you only have to fill in one form. Previously, it was four years in the total life of your farm that you could access assistance for. Now it's four years in every ten. To demonstrate the fact that every 10-20 years, we have a drought like this and people should be able to access their funding. So we've listened to farmers on the ground. We continue to listen. We can't make it rain, obviously, but we can continue to improve assistance for farmers doing it tough.

JOURNALIST: Andrew Giles this sounds like a good thing. Does Labor support this move?

GILES: We support any additional assistance for farmers and for drought-affected communities. But this package is simply too little, too late. And it's also too ad hoc.

I mean we need a plan for drought, and that's got to be a plan that actually involves the Government taking seriously the challenge of climate change. But even in the narrow terms that the Government set out, they've failed.

They've commissioned two reports from the drought coordinator, and of course from the former drought envoy, Barnaby Joyce. But they haven't produced them. In fact, it appears that Barnaby Joyce hasn't even produced any report and of course, when we talk about this additional $100 million, let's not forget that this additional drought money comes from taking $4 billion out of vital infrastructure, mostly for regional communities.

JOURNALIST: Andrew, one of the things that the Government is funding in this package is $1 million payments to 13 additional local government areas that they're going to be able to spend on things like water infrastructure upgrades, mental health support and those other projects in places like the Western Downs in Queensland, Temora in New South Wales, Coorong in South Australia and Swan Hill in Victoria. Do you guys support that funding to local governments?

GILES: We do. These are important investments. But it seems like there's small scale support, particularly on the infrastructure side that can't make up for the enormous sums of money taken out of the Building Australia Fund.

JOURNALIST: Julian, I understand when you are saying that Australia should be able to do both regarding the space mission and supporting our farmers. Can you understand that some farmers could be watching the pictures of Scott Morrison in the US being entertained by Donald Trump, and think - well, I'm surely more of a pressing issue for Australia than funding some space mission in collaboration with the US?

LEESER: The space mission wasn't the only matter that was discussed in relation to US visit, and of course, what we're constantly trying to do is to put together additional markets for Australia. The US-Australia Free Trade Agreement has been a great success for both countries. One of the things that we talked about there was things to do with recycling and plastics which has been one the Prime Minister's real focuses.

JOURNALIST: But some farmers can't pay their bills.

LEESER: Look, everybody understands the position that farmers are in and farmers are a real priority for the Government. This is not some sort of new plan, as Andrew was suggesting. This builds on top of the $7 billion that we've already put into the package. But the Government needs to think both about the situation that besets farmers to date, for which we're concerned, but also the future jobs and prosperity of the country - it's why we need to be able to do both.

JOURNALIST: Also this week, the ACT legalised recreational cannabis use and now there have been stirrings from Cabinet about whether or not the Federal

Government could consider overturning that law. Obviously, being a territory, the ACT like the Northern Territory, is always subject to Canberra overriding its decisions. Peter Dutton called the law "unconscionable". Is it unconscionable to allow people to recreationally use their own cannabis?

LEESER: Well I don't support this law. I'm the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Suicide Prevention. I'm very concerned about the medical evidence that we have heard in relation to increased psychosis as a result of long term cannabis use, particularly cannabis use for young people. So I don't support this.

JOURNALIST: Is prohibiting currently preventing long term use?

LEESER: Well it's not prohibited in the ACT, it's been decriminalised for many years. I don't understand why we're having this particular law. In relation to the ACT, Section 122 of the Constitution gives the Federal Parliament plenary power to make any laws it likes about the territories. The Attorney-General is considering a response in relation to this and is considering a response, particularly because the AFP are responsible for policing in ACT. And there is an interplay at both federal and territory laws here and people should be very careful, as he said, before they go and think - well, you can have your couple of plants and have your 50 grams because of the interplay of the two laws. This law has been rushed. The AMA is opposed to it. I think we should be cautious about it.

JOURNALIST: Andrew Giles what do you make of the law?

GILES: Well look I'm not a member of the ACT Legislative Assembly, and I think the most important thing is to recognise that this is a matter which should be within the powers of the ACT Government. Those law makers have the opportunity to consider the evidence and make the decision they made. And while there are big debates that Julian has referred to, I do think that it is important that we try to look at these issues through a health and harm minimisation perspective. And I also think as a federal parliamentarian that we should be cautious in doing anything that treats the citizens in the ACT and indeed the Northern Territory as second class citizens. Too often, we've seen conservative national governments step in and tell residents of the territories what to do and what not to do. I'm very concerned at the noises that are being made in this regard, on this example.

JOURNALIST: Should offer them statehood Andrew?

GILES: Well, I don't know if that's something that is a priority...

JOURNALIST: Why not? Why shouldn't all of the states and territories be treated the same? Why shouldn't they all have the same rights?

GILES: That raises some really big Constitutional questions, and I think, for me, there are some much more important questions like recognition and securing a voice to Parliament. I would be interested in what residents of the ACT say. I know that there has been a debate about statehood for the Northern Territory that has been running for a while. I welcome the debate. But for me, I think there are more urgent Constitutional reforms priorities, no more so than the voice.

LEESER: I think that we should remember in 1989 when the people of the ACT were given a vote on whether they wanted their own self-government, they actually voted against it. But the Hawke Government gave it to them anyway.

GILES: I hope you're not proposing to take it away, Julian?

LEESER: I certainly don't support the ACT becoming a state. Imagine having 12 senators for Canberra. Canberra has got enough power as it is. I don't think that my constituents would support that either. But I think that the nature of territories is that they are sub-national units, that they are less developed than the states. They are there with the supervisory power given to the Federal Parliament under Section 122. That's a power rarely used. We're not saying we're going to use it. The Attorney-General is just considering the interplay of the laws.

JOURNALIST: On the final light note, it is AFL Grand Final day today so we wanted to get your tips. Have you had any thoughts Julian Leeser? What's your tip?

LEESER: As a Sydney boy, I'm going for the GWS Giants. The AFL pumps a lot of support into the local AFL clubs in my area. Some of them are feeders for GWS.

So I say, go the Giants.

JOURNALIST: Andrew, you're in Melbourne. I think that you could probably be mobbed leaving the ABC studios in Southbank if you agree. Are you going to go the other way?

GILES: Look as a Carlton supporter; I think I've got licence to go for whoever I want in this one, anyone, but Richmond, Collingwood and Essendon is our view! But can I make a broader observation. What an amazing story Marlion Pickett's is.

What an amazing story of resilience and rehabilitation and I hope he has a magnificent game. An incredible story that I think that we can all celebrate hopefully at 5:00. I think that Richmond deserve to be favourites though.

JOURNALIST: We shall wait and see. Andrew Giles and Julian Leeser thank you very much for coming in this morning.

LEESER: Thank you.

GILES: My pleasure.