Barney backs down on funding figures

23 Oct, 2014 12:10 PM
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Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has claimed a victory of sorts in a debate with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce on drought funding figures.
All he said was 'it’s our best estimate' ... (but) estimates are simply not good enough
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has claimed a victory of sorts in a debate with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce on drought funding figures.

SHADOW Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is claiming a salutary political victory over his National party rival Barnaby Joyce, after a vocal debate over drought support payments that boiled throughout the week in Canberra.

Yesterday, Mr Joyce was forced to correct an answer he made during Monday’s question time on the number of drought support applications, which Mr Fitzgibbon said amounted to “an enormously embarrassing retraction”.

Mr Fitzgibbon had originally asked Mr Joyce to say how much the government had actually paid in doubt assistance to farming families, following announcement of the government’s drought assistance package eight months ago.

Mr Joyce said nearly 4000 applications had been approved for the farm household allowance which was “a substantial amount of money”.

“This means that they are receiving between $900 and $1000 a fortnight,” he said.

“We have actually changed conditions so that we can bring dignity back into these people's lives.”

Mr Fitzgibbon intervened several times during the answer including raising a point of order on relevance, which the Speaker rejected. But Mr Joyce was also forced to withdraw his comment referring to an interjecting opposition MP as a “clown” during the fiery exchange.

Mr Fitzgibbon’s displeasure focused on the Minister’s suggestion in his answer that the Interim Farm Household Allowance money is delivered “straight away” once an application is made.

“This, of course, is incorrect,” Mr Fitzgibbon said in a statement.

“Farming families applying for Farm Household Allowance are finding the process a bureaucratic nightmare.”

The exchange spilled over into question time yesterday when Mr Fitzgibbon asked why the Minister hadn’t returned to the House to correct his previous day’s statement on drought support.

Mr Fitzgibbon said Mr Joyce’s embarrassing plight was worsened by the government’s efforts to protect him from giving an answer, through senior Coalition MP Christopher Pyne.

“The point is that there was no discrepancy pointed out that needs to be corrected,” Mr Pyne said.

“There was simply an assertion made and therefore there was no question.”

Despite persistent objections from Labor frontbencher Tony Burke and Mr Fitzgibbon, Speaker Bronwyn Bishop ruled the Opposition’s question wasn’t completed within the required time frame.

“The lesson from this is that people should abide by the standing orders and ask their question within the time allowed,” she said.

But later in the day, Mr Joyce made a return to return to the House of Representatives to correct the figures he provided in Monday’s question time answer.

He said 4957 applications have been received for the Farm Household Allowance, with 4551 fully processed, 4098 applications approved to date, with 4011 recipients currently receiving payment.

“According to estimates - which is the best we can do - 3500 recipients have transitioned from Interim Farm Household Allowance payments,” he said.

“Payments to farmers who had been in receipt of Interim Farm Household Allowance and had applied for Farm Household Allowance continued without interruption until their applications had been assessed by Centrelink.

“Further specific inquiries on this should be directed to the department that actually administers this, which is the Department of Human Services.”

However, Mr Fitzgibbon told Fairfax Agricultural Media he remained dissatisfied with the Minister’s answer.

“It was an enormously embarrassing retraction for Mr Joyce made worse by the fact the government tried to protect him from the question yesterday,” he said.

“His answer last night only sought to highlight that up to 1000 farm families are still waiting for financial support and he can’t even give concrete figures, all he said was 'it’s our best estimate'.

“But he should be in a position to say how many been people have been denied this support and how many pending.

“Estimates are simply not good enough.”

Mr Fitzgibbon said he would pursue the issues with the Department of Human Services (DHS) in Senate Estimates today and with the Department of Agriculture next week.

“But there can be no doubt, on any measure now, that the government’s drought policy announced in such fanfare in February after the infamous and well-covered Prime Ministerial drought tour has been an absolute failure and drought assistance is not getting to drought-affected farming families.

"This drought is still very much alive and still hurting farming families,” he said.

Mr Joyce’s office said the corrected statement last night was about being accurate with the numbers - 406 applications were on hand for processing and not 1000, they said, while 453 have been rejected.

DHS figures had also indicated the average time to process a claim was 42 days, since July 1, the spokesperson said.

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READER COMMENTS

Inverell
23/10/2014 1:59:41 PM

The Lib/Nat's have had no intention of supporting farmers during this drought. I don't know anyone receiving benefits and the rules have been written in such a way as to stop the majority from being eligible to apply. A few thousand out of tens of thousands that need it is pathetic. The labor party helped farmers much more during the last drought which was welcome. Only problem was they took it all back and then some with the LE rural destruction plan. This drought is the worst in living memory in my area and it just keeps on going.
Jock Munro
23/10/2014 2:59:27 PM

When considering Barnaby and Fitzgibbon there would be no doubt at all about who cares the most for farmers. Fitzgibbon wanted to flog off Graincorp to ADM as well-his so called victory in the parliament is a hollow one indeed.
argis
23/10/2014 4:59:14 PM

Come up with something substantive for agriculture, Joel, instead of just playing games with words. In essence you care no more for farming than your parliamentary colleague Ludwig who decimated the beef industry to appease the left wing extremists.
John Niven
23/10/2014 5:18:27 PM

The problem is, Jock, neither of them care.
boris
24/10/2014 7:00:38 AM

I strongly disagree Jock. Barnaby and the National Party need an agricultural sector in poverty to remain relevant. They feel oh so important when growers complain about the terms of trade, which have been caused by costly socialist policies over the decades. Labor for all its failings do want wheat farmers to prosper. Not that I would vote for them, but I am beginning to dream of the day when they have the ag portfolio again. Barnaby is painfully confused and puts sentences together in a convoluted manner. Surely even the agsocs would be turning the radio off when the Boof has the microphone?
Jock Munro
24/10/2014 6:39:33 PM

I think that Barnaby is the best thing since sliced bread and he does care John Niven. Take the opportunity to meet and listen to him.
Mark
27/10/2014 8:21:11 AM

Boof ag needs vision. Not support. We need a vision to compete. Stop fluffing around and get our ag businesses productivity up.
Bushie Bill
27/10/2014 8:33:42 AM

What agriculture painfully needs is a streak of reality and a rationalist government to ensure that the unprofitable and unsustainable agsocs are taken out of the game and their own misery, so that the industry can become professional and run as a business. You can be a lifestyle farmer if you want, but in so doing, you forfeit all rights to the public purse for support. Your choice.
Ted O'Brien.
27/10/2014 6:10:23 PM

The ALP has been fiddling Hansard for generations! They started it, and shamelessly too. This is all a beat up for the purpose of creating confusion.
Bushie Bill
28/10/2014 9:10:00 AM

Perhaps you didn't notice Ted, but this article has nothing to do with Boofhead Barney and his team fiddling Hansard. That was a second stuff up following the Boof"s waffling and "errors" in Parliament. Perhaps Ted, you should give a thought to whom is creating confusion?

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