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Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Page: 71

Mr ANDERSON (2:01 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Could the Deputy Prime Minister inform the House how the government has helped farmers to take practical steps to better manage their land, despite the effects of drought in some areas, with particular reference to Gwydir?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the member for Gwydir for the question. Of course, the member for Gwydir would be well aware of some of the commentary that has been raised in recent days with the recognition of the devastation of drought across Australia and the circumstances it has left many of Australia’s farmers in, and the assistance that the government has announced for farmers in areas of exceptional circumstance. But also there has been commentary with regard to the ability of farmers to help manage the natural resources of our nation—the water and the land resources in our nation. It becomes quite important when we start looking at drought circumstances and the impact that that has on the land.

Last week—and the member for Gwydir would be interested in this information—the Australian Bureau of Statistics released a survey which highlights the amount of time, money and effort that farmers spend on managing our environment, particularly those parts of our environment that they are directly responsible for. The ABS found that, in 2004-05, Australian farmers on average spent about $3.3 billion on natural resource management—that was an average of $28,000 per farm per annum of their own money—and each farmer spent about 121 days per year on natural resource management in the areas of their direct responsibility. The member for Gwydir would also be pleased to hear that farmers in the Border Rivers-Gwydir region were among the top three spenders in the nation, contributing $157 million towards natural resource management in that part of the Australia—in the north-west of New South Wales.

There are more than 4,000 landcare groups in Australia reaching 75 per cent of farmers and land managers, and so there is significant interaction between the people that have direct control of the land and the people interested in better landcare management and better management of our land resources. As a government, we are actively assisting our farmers. In the current budget, we are providing $37 million for landcare in addition to programs such as the $3 billion Natural Heritage Trust fund and the $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. So there are significant streams of funding going into these critical areas of natural resource management.

The important point to note is that the broader farming community are doing their part in this challenge in this job as far as helping to manage the natural resources in our country. It is important that we recognise that these figures and these examples dispel the myth that Australian farmers are not responsible stewards of the environment; on the contrary, they are arguably critical to the overall national effort of better managing our environment and our natural resources across Australia. Therefore farmers in their time of need should be supported by governments in ensuring that we maintain that economic and social fabric right across regional Australia so they can continue to make those contributions in helping the nation manage our natural resources.