THE HON JASON CLARE MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL SERVICES,
TERRITORIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
MEMBER FOR BLAXLAND
SENATOR DEBORAH O’NEILL
LABOR SENATOR FOR NSW
WEDNESDAY, 9 OCTOBER 2019
SUBJECT/S: Impact of drought on the Dubbo community
JASON CLARE: Thanks for coming along this afternoon. It's great to be here in Dubbo with my friend and colleague Deb O'Neill, the Senator for New South Wales. It's a gorgeous day in Dubbo. It’d be better, as we were saying, if it was raining because Dubbo needs rain like the rest of the country. Most of Australia's in drought at the moment and Dubbo is no exception.
Today we've had the opportunity to talk to the local council, the Chamber of Commerce, talk to organisations that are helping people that are suffering and struggling from the drought. The drought doesn't just affect farmers. It affects farmers first but it's also affecting businesses here. Businesses who rely on providing services to people who work on the land, but also to everybody that lives and works in Dubbo.
Talking to Catholic Care this morning they made the point to us they've seen an increase in domestic violence services required. When things get stressful, domestic violence tends to increase. We've seen that right across Australia but also here in Dubbo. Also the need for financial counselling services and assistance. This is a real crisis. It's one of the biggest issues in the country and it's a real challenge here for the local community. But this is a resilient town. Dubbo people, like country people right across Australia, are strong, tough and resilient and are going to get through this.
It was a really positive meeting with the local council who went through the different things that they're doing to make sure that when you turn on the tap here in Dubbo the water keeps coming out. Out of that meeting I feel very positive and confident that the local council has got a plan to make sure that when you turn on the tap water is going to come out.
What we need is a plan in Canberra. What we need is a plan from the Federal Government to help make sure that we've got the funding needed for the infrastructure to get through this drought and make sure that Dubbo is more drought-resilient in the future. And we haven't got that at the moment.
A couple of months ago we had a Bush Summit here. The Prime Minister turned up and the Opposition Leader turned up and the Labor Party said “Look, whatever is needed we will support it. We'll support the legislation going through the Parliament to provide the money to make sure that Dubbo and the rest of Australia hit by drought has the funds it needs to fix the problem now and into the future.”
The problem is that the federal government hasn't come to the party with the funds and with the plan to make sure that local communities like Dubbo have what they need. There’s a drought plan that's been developed by their special drought co-ordinator and the government refuses to even release that document. We need more than just a local plan developed by local people, we need the Federal Government to come in and help out as well.
And just on that point, there are stories in the papers in Sydney and in Melbourne today about the failure of the Federal Government to provide similar funding for roads and rail and other infrastructure. We've got the State Treasurer of New South Wales and Victoria both screaming in the papers today for the Federal Government to bring forward more funding for roads and for rail and for infrastructure. They're saying the states can do their bit but the Federal Government needs to help out as well. This is exactly the same thing that Philip Lowe, the Reserve Bank Governor, has been saying for the last few months; that the federal government needs to pull its finger out and provide more funding for infrastructure to help fix the economy.
The economic growth at the moment is the slowest it's been since the Global Financial Crisis hit more than a decade ago and we need more investment in infrastructure to fix the economy, to get more people into jobs - more than a million people in Australia at the moment are unemployed or can't find enough hours. And with economic growth the slowest it's been in 10 years with construction figures going south, with business confidence going south, with consumer confidence going south, the Federal Government needs to act.
Now the Federal Government in the big cities has got this thing called the Urban Congestion Fund. They haven't spent one cent from that Urban Congestion Fund in the last financial year. They keep beating their chest about busting congestion. This mob couldn't bust out of a paper bag. And in places like Dubbo, you've got promises on the never-never to invest more in the Newell Highway. That won't see one cent of the Federal Government funding to upgrade the Newell until 2024/2025 - that's five years away.
So what the states are saying to the Federal Government is pull your finger out, do something, help build the roads and the rail and the other infrastructure we need and it's the same with water. It's the same with drought. We've got local governments and state governments trying to do their best to help people in Dubbo and right across the country deal with drought, deal with congestion, deal with the problems in this country and we've got a Federal Government which is just failing to do anything.
DEB O’NEILL: Well it's a pleasure to be here in Dubbo again, the last time I was here is handing out at the election. I've been across the whole of the region right out to Broken Hill, Cobar, Bourke, Brewarrina, meeting with local people and one of the things that really concerns me is that people in Dubbo understand how bad it is the further west you go. But the government has been sitting on its hands. This is the third term of this government. They failed to plan for the infrastructure necessary to provide water security to this community. The whole of the western region is suffering. And that drought is now encroaching on Dubbo in a way that people in Dubbo really haven't seen for a very, very long time. What we see is a failure of Federal Government to plan. Even if they had a plan which they haven't released, it's too late now after six years to fix problems that should have been foreseen six years ago. So the community is suffering as a consequence of a failure of visionary actions by this government.
The other thing that concerns me a great deal is there's the great show of the LNP. You know we've got some pretty serious showmen at the helm. The problem is they're talking about seven billion dollars. Well this community, like the rest of the country, knows that money isn't flowing into projects and infrastructure that will make this region water safe. The sad thing is seven billion dollars lending is not spending and this community is now waking up to the fact that there's the Morrison show. There's the pretence of action for farming communities here by the local member. But on the ground, people are seeing the reality. Now there are water restriction level 3, heading to level four and this is not an impossible situation for a resilient community to actually withstand. But people shouldn't be put in that position. And there’s pressure that's being borne by family businesses in town but also businesses that are working the land all around the western part of this state. They can't make up for a failure of government investment. This is what we're seeing. The drought is one thing, failure of government investment - you put those two together - that's pressure on communities of a kind that we really shouldn’t be seeing in a resilient community like Dubbo.
JOURNALIST: Definitely. And you've spent the day sort of meeting with stakeholders including council, local businesses, local charities. What's the consensus? What are they saying?
O’NEILL: I think that people who represent Dubbo, in the conversations we’ve had, believe in this town. I have to say that I was impressed by Council's dedication to developing a plan to manage the situation to make sure that Dubbo remains the economic hothouse that it is really for the western part of New South Wales. I don't doubt their commitment.
What I doubt is the responsive capacity of the Federal Government. We've had a very affable member of the National Party Mr Coulton in for a very, very long time. Over the last six years what did he do to provide infrastructure that would provide water security for his community? I think the answer is nothing. Well the chickens are coming home to roost. You can't do nothing indefinitely and face this sort of situation of drought that this community is facing and walk away and say it's somebody else's fault. Yes we need the rain but we needed a government with vision to invest and give the great working people out here in the west the opportunity to do their bit on the back of government investment we haven’t seen, so that's a very big problem, it makes everybody vulnerable.
JOURNALIST: Yeah definitely. And I mean what the council is looking at sinking a bore again. Obviously bore water is only so much we can use and it dries up as well. But I'm sort of talking about infrastructure and what needs to be done. What does Labor think needs to be done here?
O’NEILL: Well we're not the government and to form any plans, the very first thing that we would hope to get is access to the $5.6 million drought plan that the government itself has commissioned. Major General Stephen Day has provided the report to provide basically a battle plan for how to deal with the drought issue and the government has refused to release that. So access to information is really, really important, particularly when you're an opposition party and you want to plan for things. But I think the immediate plan, my colleague Jason Clare has indicated was pretty well heralded by Anthony Albanese and his visit to this very town where he said if the government bring forward legislation to put money into infrastructure in this town Labor will support it. We are on the record in saying that very, very early in the term of this government. Well at this stage we haven't seen anything like that sort of legislation coming into the Parliament. Neither have we seen the drought report. Neither have we seen any announcements of significant infrastructure building. And if you're not going to do it now, when are you going to do it? This government doesn't seem committed to building infrastructure for its community, at all
JOURNALIST: Definitely, and I know on a State Government level, John Barilaro and a few other Nats members there calling out we need more dams. Does Labor agree with this or do you think we need more dams and should that happen sooner?
CLARE: Well this is why people get so peeved off with politicians. This government has been in power for over six years. Tony Abbott when he first got elected promised to build 100 dams. How many of you think they've built? They haven't built one major dam. When we were in power, we built dams. They’re good at raving on and promising that they're going to do things but they just don't deliver. They promise to build roads - don't deliver. They promised that they're going to do something about the drought. Well there are not many people I've met in Dubbo who think they're doing anything serious about the drought. There are people worried that the residents of Dubbo are getting dudded by this government, whether it's on roads, dams or whether its pipelines to drought proof Dubbo into the future. What we've got to make sure of is that we get through this drought and that we make sure that we build the infrastructure here to make Dubbo drought proof into the future. And there’s not a lot of people in Dubbo that are confident that this government has got the will or determination to make sure that that happens.
JOURNALIST: You're mentioning drought proofing for the future. I mean this drought is unprecedented. We know farmers that save up stock, they save up, you know, produce and everything and they keep it away but they weren't expecting to last this long. No one really expected to last this long. Do you think the government…I mean they obviously didn't anticipate it to last this long. We're not seeing the infrastructure we're needing. Is it possible to drought proof the community?
CLARE: Well you're right. The droughts come and go and there'll be droughts into the future as sure as night follows day. What I'm talking about is making sure that when drought comes, that when you try and turn the tap on here in town, water comes out of the tap. What the council talked to us today about is the way to make sure that we can keep the taps running is to build pipeline infrastructure from the dams not just to service towns like Dubbo but also towns like Wellington and Nyngan as well. And they've come up with some pretty effective practical logical plans to do that. They're the sorts of things that the Federal Government should be looking at seriously and saying let's fund this to make sure that when drought comes again that we're not going to run out of water. Not just in Dubbo, but in Wellington, in Nyngan, in Orange, in other parts of the Central West as well.