Transcript by The Hon Paul Fletcher MP

Sky News

Topics: Foodbank, Food relief funding.


Tom Connell: Joining me now is the Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher, Minister thanks for your time, you’ve heard what Foodbank has had to say, National Farmers Federation say as well they’re baffled. Your response?

Minister Fletcher: Well Tom, the total amount of funding for food relief will be $4.5 million from 1 January 2019.

That’s $1 million a year over a four-and-a-half year period. And that level of funding has been maintained from the previous funding period, which concludes 31 December this year.

Now what happened was there’s been a competitive selection process to identify who would receive the funding for food relief for the period commencing 1 January next year. And so food relief is provided by organisations which have connections with supermarkets, with commercial caterers, with other organisations that have surplus food and then what this government funding is used to do is to assist them in the cost of gathering that food and distributing it to frontline services around the country – several hundred or more frontline services.

These are services like Community Support Frankston in outer suburban Melbourne, which I visited on Monday, or Indigo Junction in Midland in Perth, which I visited on Thursday.

The organisations that provide food relief play crucial role in gathering and distributing the food it might be bread, it might be pasta, it might be other kinds of food. Now, under the current process there are two providers of food relief.

What’s been recommended to me, what was advised to me by the Department of Social Services following a competitive selection process in which six organisations applied for funding, it was recommended to me that three organisations should be chosen: that’s Foodbank, Second Bite and Oz Harvest, and so that is the arrangement that will apply from 1 January next year.

Very important to recognise there’s been no reduction in funding the annual amount of funding for food relief has been maintained.

Tom Connell: No, I understand that, that will apply from January 1 next year, the Prime Minister said earlier today this will be looked at. Is this being reviewed or not?

Minister Fletcher: Late last week I became aware of the concerns from Foodbank about the particular impact on them of the fact that this decision was communicated to them six or seven weeks before Christmas – obviously a very busy time.

I’ve spoken with Brianna Casey who is the Chief Executive of the Foodbank. She’s explained to me her concerns about the transition impact of this change, what it will mean for them. She’s also explained to me the consequences of the very short notice that’s been provided.

I do understand though those concerns. I’ve asked for urgent advice from my department as to how it is that the process led to the decision only being communicated to Foodbank late last week, some six or seven weeks before Christmas I’ve also asked …

Tom Connell: So is it fair to say that timeline Minister, just before Christmas was that a mistake regardless? That sort of notice to a charity such as Foodbank, which is gearing up right now?

Minister Fletcher: Look Tom, I’ve asked for advice on how that happened. And Foodbank, Brianna Casey the Chief Executive, has explained to me the impacts on them of that decision being communicated, six or seven weeks before Christmas.

What I’ve also asked my department for advice on is whether there is a capacity to provide some transitional funding to assist in the process of the transition, recognising the short notice that’s been provided and the fact that we are coming up to Christmas which is the busiest period.

Now it’s important to make the point Tom, that we’ve had here a careful competitive selection process.

So when $4.5 million was allocated for food relief, and that was a decision taken some time ago, what we then needed to do was to determine how that money should be allocated.

So my department, the Department of Social Services, conducted a competitive selection process, six organisations applied.

Three were recommended to be funded and that’s advice that’s come to me and I’ve accepted that advice. It is important that we have proper processes.

Tom Connell: Right. Just on that then – the reasons behind that one Minister. Foodbank says it can leverage another $8 million worth of donations, does that mean OzHarvest is for its share of this, going to leverage the same amount or more?

Minister Fletcher: What I can say is all three organisations – Foodbank, Second Bite and also Oz Harvest – are all impressive organisations with great capability to collect food to leverage donations from the private sector, from foundations and so on, and to apply their expertise towards the objective of providing food for vulnerable Australians, homeless Australians.

So these organisations play a very important role and that’s why we’ve worked very carefully to choose which organisations should receive this funding, commencing 1 January next year, recognising that all of them also obtain, can I just finish this point Tom, all of them also obtain funding and support from other sources as well as government.

So that’s the outcome of the competitive selection process and it is important we have proper processes.

But that being said I want to make clear I’ve spoken to Brianna Casey, the Chief Executive of Foodbank, she has explained to me the particular impacts on Foodbank of this decision being made and communicated to Foodbank with pretty short notice, some six or seven weeks before Christmas which is obviously a very busy time …

Tom Connell: I understand the notice you’re talking about and the transition as well Minister, but can I just clarify what is being reviewed or considered by both you and the Prime Minister, it is about transitional money and that four year window and the amount of money going out, that won’t change?

Minister Fletcher: The decision that’s been made, it’s important that we have proper processes, but I’ve asked for an urgent review from my department of how it was that this was only communicated to Foodbank some six or seven weeks before Christmas. And I’ve also asked for urgent advice in relation to transition finding.

Now I don’t want to say any more about that until I’ve received the advice, but I do anticipate working on this issue over the next couple of days, engaging again with Foodbank and with Brianna Casey the Chief executive, because I do understand the consequences of the transition that Foodbank is being asked to make and the short notice that they’ve been given at a very busy time of year.

Tom Connell: Fair enough, I’m not asking you to go into what will exactly what will happen with the transition money, I understand that is up for review and you want due process, but is there any consideration of the decision itself or is that decision, the funding one, the four year one, one you’ll stick to.

Minister Fletcher: Well let’s be clear, a decision has been recommended to me and after proper processes I’ve accepted that advice, but what I’m separately looking at and I’ve asked for advice on, is whether there is a capacity to provide additional funding to deal with the transitional challenges. And that’s advice my department is working on at the moment.

I want to obviously get this resolved as quickly as possible.

I’ll be speaking again to Foodbank and to Chief Executive Brianna Casey after I’ve had the chance to get that advice. It’s important that we work through this.

That’s the current state of play and I’m looking forward to getting that advice and having further engagement with Foodbank

Tom Connell: Minister Paul Fletcher thanks for your time today.

Minister Fletcher: Thanks Tom