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Tuesday, 24 August 1999
Page: 8896

Mr LLOYD —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Would the minister please inform the House of assistance provided by the federal government to support poultry producers during the recent outbreak of newcastle disease at Mangrove Mountain in my electorate of Robertson?

Mr TRUSS (Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —May I thank the honourable member for Robertson for his question and also for his representations on behalf of the poultry producers in his electorate who have endured difficult times as a result of the outbreak of newcastle disease in his electorate. All honourable members will be aware that something close to two million chickens were destroyed and many farmers have been without livelihood for some considerable time.

As a result of the representations by the member for Robertson, the government has taken a number of actions to support the local farmers. Indeed, much of this support has been unprecedented. There have been something like 17 significant disease or pest outbreak incidents in Australia since March 1996, but the Mangrove Mountain chicken growers are the only ones to have received special assistance. Since April, the government has made ex gratia payments available to these producers while their farms are in quarantine. Around 95 farmers have had access to benefits of welfare assistance to enable them to ensure that their families are adequately cared for during these difficult times. In addition, the Commonwealth has provided the largest share of the cost of cleaning up the affected areas and, as a part of the program that is in place—the cost sharing between the Commonwealth and the states—has met its share of the cost associated with the clean up.

Some farmers may be eligible for continuing assistance through the Farm Family Restart Scheme. Centrelink has notified all of those farmers who are no longer eligible to receive the ex gratia payments because their farms are no longer under quarantine that they may wish to apply if they feel that they are eligible, and some farmers have taken up that option.

There have also been calls in some quarters for exceptional circumstances declarations to be made for that particular area. There is no doubt that this has been an event which has caused considerable difficulties in the area. However, one of the criteria that have been agreed between the Commonwealth and the states is that, before an area can be declared to be under exceptional circumstances, the events must have a longstanding impact. It will take a couple of months before that really can be assessed in this instance. Certainly the government will stand ready to assess any application that New South Wales may wish to make at that time.

I compliment the member for Robertson on his representations on behalf of the growers. All Australians certainly feel for them, for the trouble that they have gone through. Newcastle disease is one of those horrific diseases that it is very important not to have endemic in the nation. There has been considerable cost associated with stamping out this outbreak, but we have also ensured that the growers, the individual affected farmers, have had access to special assistance to enable them to see their way through this tough time.

We now call on the suppliers to readily and quickly restock these farms so that they can get back into production. That is a contractual arrangement between the various parties. We believe these properties can continue to produce chickens in the future in a successful and viable way.