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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 9094

Mr WINDSOR (3:24 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that north-western and New England cattle producers are starting to shoot their breeding stock, others are removing calves from their mother at birth to assist the survival of the females, and seven drought related suicides have occurred in the past month? What steps is your government taking to help these producers who are not recognised under current exceptional circumstances arrangements?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I have heard of those reports. In the past few days that issue has specifically been raised in quite a lengthy personal discussion with me by the Deputy Prime Minister. In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister has been at the forefront of bringing to my attention the importance of preserving the breeding herds and breeding stock of this country as it is faced by the drought. The availability of exceptional circumstances depends upon a number of factors. Those factors are a measurement of the severity of the drought as it affects particular areas. I think the member will know that exceptional circumstances applications are initiated by state governments. I imagine that he, as the member for New England, would have been in close and immediate contact with the New South Wales government to ensure that, if there are exceptional circumstances conditions existing in parts of his electorate, the appropriate action is taken—and speedily—by the New South Wales government. I shall undertake to the House to make inquiries as to whether any applications covering his electorate have come from the New South Wales government.

Let me more generally assure the House that, because my attention was drawn to this issue by the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party earlier this week, I have already asked in discussion with my colleagues that consideration be given to this issue. I also had the opportunity of discussing the matter with the leadership of the National Farmers Federation on Tuesday night. I drew attention to the action that had been taken by the Fraser government 20 years ago during the 1982 drought to preserve the breeding stock and the valuable asset that it represented. It provided a capacity for the Australian economy to come out of that drought, when it did rain, very effectively.

I can assure the honourable member that, if additional steps are needed, they will be taken. I have to say that the reaction I got from the National Farmers Federation was that, broadly speaking, there was not overwhelming evidence that a specific program at this stage for the preservation of breeding stock was needed. It is an issue that is very much in my mind, largely due to it having been brought to my attention by the Leader of the National Party.