Barnaby Joyce has defended his work as Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s special drought envoy — despite not producing a final report explaining what he did in the taxpayer-funded role.
The former deputy prime minister was tasked with consulting regional farmers and communities and providing advice to Mr Morrison as the Special Envoy for Drought Assistance and Recovery in September 2018. He held the role until the May election this year.
He was given additional staff to assist him in the role, which included the responsibility “to listen to affected communities so he can feed back a deeper picture of the human and economic impact of relief efforts,” according to the September announcement.
But a letter seen by The Daily Telegraph from Drought Minister David Littleproud confirmed in this time Mr Joyce did not write a report on what he found as a result of his travels in the role.
“The request for the former Special Envoy for Drought Assistance and Recovery’s Report cannot be complied with as he did not prepare a final report and as such there are no document (sic) exists,” the letter said.
Mr Joyce said he made at least four or five reports directly to Mr Morrison as part of the “vast amount of work” he undertook in the role.
“Wherever there was drought, from Tasmania to northern Queensland, I believe we were instrumental in getting a number of issues addressed,” he said.
Dry Tandure Lake bed in outback NSW. Picture Rohan Kelly.
Mr Joyce said his work resulted in an extension of the Drought Communities Program, improvements to loan schemes and bolstering support for farmers through rural financial counselling.
Though there was no specific requirement he produce any documents, Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the lack of reporting raised questions about the value of the role.
“What benefit did taxpayers receive as a result of the Drought Envoy’s additional staff and travel resources they paid for?” he said.
“We now know the answer is none.”
While it was not a cabinet position, Mr Joyce’s role was seen as a political promotion that would enable him to advise on drought relief policy.
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s office said Mr Joyce’s role was focused on getting into the community and “talking to farmers in drought”.
“Mr Joyce met with the Prime Minister a number of times to discuss his findings and he also presented these finding to the Cabinet,” she said.
Mr Joyce discovered he had been dumped from the role after the May election after being asked about it by journalists.
“I would have (expected a phone call) but that’s life,” he said at the time.
Mr Fitzgibbon said in light of the lack of documents produced by Mr Joyce, the federal government should at least hand over the Drought Co-ordinator’s report they commissioned.
“If they won’t, the next question is what have they to hide,” he said.
Responding to this request Mr Littleproud advised Mr Fitzgibbon in a letter the report by Co-ordinator Major General Stephen Day is still the subject of Cabinet deliberations and may not be released.
“The government may released Major General Day’s final report at a later date,” Mr Littleproud said.