Bill's Transcripts

Interview with Alexandra Kirk


ABC AM PROGRAM
24 JANUARY 2011


As the Federal Government assesses the flood damages bill and the size of an urgent one-off flood levy, it's also facing the possibility of the nation's big supermarkets importing more fruit and vegetables to keep prices down. The Government has already warned consumers that family budgets will come under pressure because of the rising food prices, but the Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten, has told Alexandra Kirk he hopes that supermarkets buy as much produce as possible from Australian growers.

Bill Shorten:

We import fruit and vegetables now, though I would have thought that there is scope for fruit and vegetable growers in areas of Australia, not affect by the floods, to fill supply gaps in Queensland and Victoria. In addition, I know that sometimes the large chains have very high appearance standards of fruit and vegetables, in they don't like the fruit and vegetables being submitted which might appear to be blemished or a little bit weather damaged.

You know if it's a trade off between paying moreand having a look at the blemished fruit there will be a proportion of Australians who are cost conscious and have been for a period of time to not necessarily have the highest blemish free fruit and vegetables but would look at the price of it. I don't think we need to micromanage the issue here.

What I do know is that we have got capacity, it will temporarily spike up, cyclone Larry the price in 2006, banana prices went up $15/kg but then fell some months back down to $2/kg.

Alexandra Kirk:

So you would discourage or encourage supermarkets to import more?

Bill Shorten:

Oh, you'd always rather find the domestic solution, but at the end of the day how a supermarket runs its business is up to a supermarket. What I would say is that I'm sure there is plenty of fruit and vege available in Australia. I also think that there are plenty of smart options, which by the way I think fruit and vegetable wholesalers and supermarketswill work through looking at sourcing domestically. But a portion of our food comes from overseas anyway, I think this will be a temporary issue and I'm confident that local farmers and growers can try and meet many of the gaps.

Alexandra Kirk:

Most of the gaps?

Bill Shorten:

If you're asking me about trying to quantify things which I don't think are fully known yet...

Alexandra Kirk:

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan is chairing a meeting of the private sector task force set up by the Government to advise on post flood reconstruction, you'll attend that meeting today as well. There's significant resistance to a flood levy from business leaders, do you think you can convince them to support a flood levy?

Bill Shorten:

The function of this meeting is to see how we can engage the private sector in the reconstruction and recovery of flood affected areas. The function of this meeting is to look at where the ideas of business, in terms of where capacity constraints, will be and how we encourage the private sector to help fund reconstruction and recovery, which is clearly in their interests.

The issue of the levy goes towards how does Australia pay for the rebuilding of literally billions of dollars in public assets, roads, rails and bridges? That exercise of how we fund the public rebuilding of damaged infrastructure and parts of Australia which have been hard hit by the biggest floods on record of any parts of Australia. I'm confident the government will look at a range of options, which include a levy, but also and importantly will look at how do we make tough decisions about redirecting existing government money allocated to existing projects, which were decisions made before we had this terrible natural disaster.

Alexandra Kirk:

Is the best way to raise the levy higher, adding it on the existing Medicare levy?

Bill Shorten:

Oh I wouldn't want to get ahead of myself by trying to pre-empt the Government decision on whether or not there will be a levy and how that will be formed.

Alexandra Kirk:

When will you know the size of the damage bill and whether Australians will have to pay a flood levy?

Bill Shorten:

We've been surveying some of the roads in rural and regional Queensland, that's going to take weeks to be done. I've got no doubt that sooner rather than later and I'm sorry I can't be more precise, but the matter of timing is appropriately up to the PM and Treasurer to Government policy. Sooner rather than later, I have no doubt the government will spell out its approach in terms of the principles by which it's going to fund reconstruction and recovery.