A $6.2m grant to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation was announced in Gladstone yesterday by acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
A $6.2m grant to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation was announced in Gladstone yesterday by acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

LIVE: Regional Leaders Debate

FROM the dairy industry to coal seam gas, communications, renewable energy innovations and whether or not regional Australia should have people from other nations - the regional leaders debate had it all. 

Below are the answers Greens leader Richard Di Natale, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and Labor' Joel Fitzgibbon gave when quizzed on these topics. 




Barnaby Joyce quickly opened his speech by pointing to the government's new $555 million assistance package for dairy farmers - which was unveiled today in response to outcry over $1 milk.

He then went on to rule re-regulating the industry. 

"Obviously people know that today we announced our dairy crisis package," Mr Joyce said.

"We have concessional loans which will go as low as 2.66% over ten years on a variable rate.

"There is five years interest only and PNI.

"We have got farm household allowance which allows a payment of around about $1,000 a fortnight to mum and dad who is in crisis so we can keep dignity in their house.

"We have made sure that there is available to get rural financial councillors into those areas to assist with the paperwork. We have made sure we have left something tactile to put money towards the McAllister district.

"It builds an irrigation infrastructure up so they have got something after this crisis.

"This crisis will pass through. It's caused by over-supply in Europe and the issue about - some of the suggestions I heard today, one was re-regulation of the industry.

"I try to be straight with people. We are not intending to do that.

"If we re-regulate the industry you will have Victoria - Queensland will love it because they will make sure no milk goes into Queensland. NSW won't like it as much but will like it more than Victoria who will be in regulated industry trying to sell milk to Victorians. Now the industry itself has actually approached me and said they do not want to re-regulate. 

"The other issue was about a levy. On that levy we have been in discussions with retailers and Coles has put 20 cents on milk. 

"Some people are cynical about that. I'm happy they are moving away from $1 a litre milk but the legislation that would require is not with us at the moment."

When asked if it was wrong that water is dearer than milk Mr Joyce replied "absolutely."

Greens leader Richard Di Natale then chimed in saying the answer lay with the actions of Coles and Woolworths and he compared that duopoly to Canberra.

"We need to decide whether we set a floor. That's one option that's up for debate. The point here is that we cannot continue to have a sustainable dairy industry while Coles and Woolies are ripping off dairy farmers," he said.

The problem is, this has been going on for a long time, we have been arguing about this ourselves, the Greens, in the Parliament, competition policy, the effects test and so on and you have got Coles and Woolies being protected by the Coles and Woolies of politics."

Mr Joyce hit back by pointing out setting a floor price had been the cause of the great wool price crash in the late 80s. 

And Mr Fitzgibbon then got his first chance to speak saying he thought consumers may have the solution. 

"I suspect the big retailers are starting to learn their lesson," he said. 

"Coles was the first to put up a new product so people can make a contribution. I think they would concede that while they might have made short-term gains on the dollar milk, their reputational damage has been significant.

"They are starting to back pedal and we need to put pressure on them."


The next question centred on immigration and whether or not refugees could or should be settled in regional and rural areas. 


A young Syrian refugee in the Lebanese camp.
A young Syrian refugee in the Lebanese camp. Kim Edwards


Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon was strident in his support of the idea. 

"If we are going to have a good migration program, dispersal is important," he said.

"We should do all we can in terms of Government policy to make sure that happens, not only because it's better to have people spread through on the nation but because many of those migrants have a substantial economic contribution to make in regional Australia and horticulture is a good example of where we have had migrants build new businesses, employing a lot of people in the region.

"I think government policy should design to encourage dispersal of our migration intake."

And Greens leader Richard Di Natale was quick to agree. 

"I agree with Joel, it's a great opportunity to revitalise regional communities, make a huge contribution, people bring skills to the area," he said.

"I was in recently places like Broken Hill, Mildura, in Mildura we have refugees setting up businesses, local barber, and that's one of the great disappointments for me around the debate, not just around immigration but specifically on the issue of asylum seekers and refugees, we talk about it as if it's a huge burden.

"But they make such a great contribution when they are given the opportunity.

"If we had a different approach, increased our humanitarian intake, if we close those offshore detention camps, those hell holes and we spent that money creating investing in the UNHCR and more a process where people can see a legitimate pathway to come to Australia, we could revitalise regional Australia."

And National's leader Barnaby Joyce said he was proud of how welcoming Australians were. 

"I'm proud that Australia is one of the most generous nations per capita on earth, Mr Joyce said.  

"We bring about 18,000 people a year.

"We have an extra intake of12,000 Syrians we are currently dealing with.

"There is not one person in this room, if I might be wrong, whose family in the last 200 years has not been an immigrant of some sort.

"My father was an immigrant.

"So I think we do - I think we run ourselves down a bit. 

"We are a great nation of accepting people. If you go to towns such as Mareeba is a classic one. People of different faiths, different creeds, from all different corners of the world. Where they have all work as a harmonious community is in Mareeba."

"When you get to Rockhampton you have to put an O at the end of your name. That's good. 

"I don't think we need to be too down in the chops about what we're doing and we are generous and let's make sure we remain that way."



New dwelling approvals on the increase in Mackay has some hopeful of a recovery.
New dwelling approvals on the increase in Mackay has some hopeful of a recovery. Claudia Baxter


Ms Smythe's question concerned property prices.

"My name is Tara Smythe and my husband and I currently reside in Mackay," she said.

"We were both born add raised in Moranbah and invested in property there, worked in the community and also have a business in the community.

"My question to you is what will you be doing in the future to fool proof such a boom and bust market that we've seen which has caused a lot of financial distress on a lot of people?"

And it was perhaps no surprise Mr Di Natale said the problem was mining itself. 

"We can do better than what we are doing. One of the issues, of course, in Queensland is the issue of coal mining," he said.

"We are seeing coal in structural design, we are seeing coal collapse and thousands of workers lose their jobs and we are seeing two parties who are not proceed pairing Australia for the transition.

"We have a lot of talk about the new economy but we can't say the words clean renewable energy.

"Having traveled through regional Australia, the huge opportunities in solar farms, in wind energy, such amazing technology that creates manufacturing opportunities,opportunities through the installation of those big projects and of course everything that hangs off that.

"But to be able to do it, you have to invest in infrastructure like renewable energy, you have to invest in things like the NBN. The Labor Party had a good proposal.

"This Government has unwound a lot of that good work.

Fast effective internet is critical in regional areas, to give people opportunities for services sector, health, education, aged care, we have to invest more in TAFE.

"We know TAFE is a pathway to get people the sort of skills they need. Unfortunately,what we've got is a mentality that says she'll be right and we're not investing in infrastructure that will help us transition to the new economy that will future-proof Australian regional societies."

Mr Joyce was up next and he described his position as one of pragmatism. 

"First of all, 85% of the lights you see on here tonight are generated by coal-fired power," he said.

"If we were to make a transition straightaway, as is Greens policy to 100% renewables you have to accept that means that people who are doing it tough are going to be poorer.

"We don't want that. It's not a binary argument we are not moving towards renewables. In my seat in New England, we will be a net exporter of renewable power.

"We have just started a 400 million dollar wind farm near Glenn Innes. 

"It started, people might say I'm a sceptic but I would say pragmatic. 

"We are making sure we make that move so we can benefit from this industry into the future. If you go to central Queensland and tell them what your policy is, which is basically to phase out - you want to ban all new coal mines.

"You want to move to 100% renewables.

"The people at Moranbah will find themselves on the unemployment scrap heap.

"As we get other projects ahead such as the mine in central Queensland, near Alpha, the Adani mine, that will never take off.

"We have the big problem in central Queensland is jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs. We cannot offer them fluffy promises. We have to offer them the reality."

He was then asked if he supports wind power and he replied in the affirmative, 

Mr Fitzgibbon then took centre stage and he said the issue was not foreign to him as his own region near NEwcastle had been hit by the mining downturn. 

 "We have been through the boom and bust cycle over many decades," he said.

"Each time it gets smoother because we have used the wealth that coal mine had used to leverage.

"It has created higher wealth jobs and invested in new homes and that has created construction positions.

"We have infrastructure we wouldn't have had because that infrastructure was economically viable because of the traffic and economic activity caused by the coal mining industry. 


"Now we have got an opportunity to transition skills out of the mining and power generation industries into the renewable energy sector.

"I think Government policy has slowly but surely started to smooth out that boom and bust cycle. I'm not suggesting we are there yet. On Barnaby's point or Barnaby's blue with Richard, people are voting with their feet and people's expectations."




OUR FLAG: Australian flag. Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail
OUR FLAG: Australian flag. Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail Max Fleet BUN010315AUS1

  The question came in from social media in Sydney - what are the party's policies on foreign ownership of farms?   Mr Joyce was up first and he said his Government had fought for a reduction. 

"We think it's incredibly important that overwhelmingly the Australian asset is owned by the Australian family, whether it's in the streets or inthe land," he said.

"That was why when the Cubbie Station decision went forward, we fought and got a reduction in the foreign investment review board limit from 252 million to 55.

"The Labor Party, Senator Penny Wong and Joel Fitzgibbon asked it to be raised to a billion. 

"Obviously they changed their policy again and took it back down to 50 so they are all over the shop.

"We believe it's overwhelmingly the view of the Australian people they want tighter controls about who owns what in our nation. That's why we prepared and we have shown brief we have prepared to say the word no.

"That is what the Australian people are asking of us.

"And we are delivering on that. When people say that will collapse confidence in investment and rural land, absolutely ridiculous.

"We have still got people lined up all the way down the straight, over the hills and far away wanting to buy farmland in Australia.

"We have to make sure what we do in our nation is show the Australian people the confidence that we have the capacity to properly regulate this, properly watch it so that - because if the Australian people lose confidence in our capacity to have control over who owns what, that will be no good for investment."

And after the debate descended into scuttlebutt fir a little while Mr Di Natale was allowed to address the question. 

"The change to the threshold for a review by the Foreign Investment Review Board was dropped from a $250 million to $15 million, he said.

"The Labor Party opposed it and the Greens supported it.

"We thought it was good policy.

"We think there is a national interest test that needs to be applied to huge tracts of land purchased sometimes by overseas governments. 

"We did another thing a register, legislation that would allow a register of foreign water licences. 

"So we - water is such an enormous issue in this country. We don't have an understanding about who owns it, how much and so on.

"So we got, for the first time, legislation passed that was Greens legislation, for a register of foreign-owned water licences. We think that is a very important step.

"When you have been to the lower darling and stood on a dry river bed with people who have for the first time since records have been kept, not seen water flow down the reaches of the Lower Darling, you recognise just how critical it is."

And somewhere in midst of fighting with Barnaby Joyce, Mr Fitzgibbon lost his chance to answer.







The question was straight to the point why do people in regional areas pay almost $10,000 a terabyte when folk in the city fork out just $1000?

And Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon was up first - saying this was the biggest issue for country people. However once again it was basically a brawl with Barnaby Joyce. 

"This is a very big question," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

"There is no bigger issue than network speeds and data.

"Under our NBN proposal we had a very important measure and the wholesale access would be equal whether you lived in the capital cities or deep rural Australia. 

"Barnaby wants to get rid of that equalisation and people in regional Australia will be paying more. 

"There is no greater divide between city and country than the transformation push effect of the internet, Barnaby." 

And at this point the debate descended into a squabble before the moderator moved the question no to Mr Di Natale. 

"You have to have fast, frequent telecommunications, fast internet, mobile phone coverage and so on," Mr Di Natale said.

"I will be very clear about it. I think the Labor Party had a good policy on the NBN the last election.

"I've seen the Government wind it back with a second-rate proposal. What we have got is a Government that is stuck in the last century.

"They don't understand that this is key to unlocking the potential of regional communities.

"The cost of not doing it is leaving these communities. The cost of not doing it is farms not being able to operate their machinery now. Farm has become a 21 century enterprise. It relies on fast communications.

"The cost of not doing it is unemployment. We need to recognise we have to invest in nation-building infrastructure. We have got this aversion to investing in transport infrastructure.

"The telecommunications infrastructure. That is going to be the pathway to the transition to the new economy."

Joyce was then given a chance to answer but and said the Greens could only pay for their policy with what he described as "death duties."

Whatever said death duties were they were quickly ruled out Di Natale before the questioner got back on his feet and said something which secured a round of applause. 

"I didn't ask that. I asked about access," the questioner said.

"I didn't ask about mobile phone towers, I asked about internet access.

"I look into sky net satellite for NBN for our region. 

"The most I will get paying $200 a month is 50 gigabytes of data and 60 gigabytes between one and seven in the morning.

"I can wake my kids up and do their homework when there is lots of data. Where am I going to get a terabyte of data. According to your plans, never."

And at that the crowd clapped. 




Coal seam gas bubbling to the surface along the Condamine River. (AAP Image/gasileaks, Dayne Pratzky)
Coal seam gas bubbling to the surface along the Condamine River. (AAP Image/gasileaks, Dayne Pratzky) Dayne Pratzky


Barnaby Joyce said his government had policy which said there shouldn't be fracking on agricultural land. 

"Obviously I know that you are referring to issues - we have a position on primary agriculture land, there shouldn't be fracking there," he said.

"It shouldn't be used for industrial use.

"Where it interferes with an aquifer, that should not be allowed.

"We also believe that there should be a fair return. If you are not on prime agricultural land and not destroying an aquifer, a fair return should go back to the community, it should be their roads, their hospitals fixed up.

"A fair return should go back to the land holder. If you are asking me to say whether I believe in banning coal seam gas - I don't. In a place such as Gladstone, we have 40 billion or 50 billion of infrastructure there and many people's jobs tied up.

"This is not a binary argument of banning it or allowing it.

"There is places where it should be allowed, there isplaces where it shouldn't. Let's make sure that on prime agriculture land, not only coal seam gas is not allowed into these areas.

"I'm happy to deal with one of the problems that was left by the previous - most of this legislation is at a State level.

"You will find Federal politicians are happy to talk about it because it's controlled by the State.

"But we have got - people always bring it up, a couple of mines out smied electorate, we have been fighting it. There was an exploration licence granted by the Labor Party.

"We had Independents in that at State and Federal level.

"I don't want mining on prime agricultural land. It needs to be protected. If you say banning mining or coal seam gas everywhere, I don't believe that because it will put a lot of people out of work."

Joel Fitzgibbon said there some CSG projects he would support. 

"When we were in Government, we didn't trust State Government," he said.

"Barn BHP and I, we don't want to give up valuable natural resources, particularly when we need the resources as we move from coal to gas. It's a question of doing projects on merit.

"There will be some coal seam gas projects that can be done without harm to the environment and water tables, et cetera.

"There will be those which can't be.

"They should all be judged on their merit.

"We strengthen the Commonwealth legislation including the water trigger. We put additional precautions in place. I'm comfortable with them."

And Di Natale said renewable energy is the answer. 

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