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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13055


Mr CHAMPION (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. How is the government working with our agricultural industries to address climate change, and how has this cooperation been received?


Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the member for Wakefield for his question. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, while it has received a great deal of attention over previous weeks, is not the only policy involved in the government responding to climate change. While it deals with aspects of trying to mitigate and reduce carbon emissions, one of the challenges faced by the farmers of Australia is to adapt to the changes which are happening in the climate.

Anyone who was here during the previous term of government would remember endless lectures being given by those who were then on this side of the House about the importance of mutual responsibility, or mutual obligation, as they used to term it—they claimed they had levels of support for that and they claimed that the then opposition did not understand the importance of mutual responsibility. So it surprised me when the member for Parkes decided to rail against principles of mutual responsibility within my portfolio.

One of the things that we established on coming to government was, because a number of areas were starting to come out of exceptional circumstances, to make sure that, for the most desperate farmers in those areas, there remained a way for them to receive food-on-the-table money, the household payments—in a limited scheme, but certainly we were replacing what previously would have been no support for them at all. One of the things that farmers do when they are involved in receiving the transitional income support is they deal with the Rural Financial Counselling Service and undertake a level of training to help them plan for the future. One of the terms involved in conducting this planning is the term ‘climate change’. This brought an understandable reaction from the National Party. The member for Parkes, on ABC radio earlier this week, said, ‘Ultimately, to be eligible, they have to undertake some form of training, and I find that most offensive.’ He found it ‘most offensive’ that there would be a level of mutual responsibility and there would be training.

So I thought I would have a look at the sort of support that the Rural Financial Counselling Service provides when people are applying for transitional income support, just so that everyone in this House understands what it is that the National Party finds offensive: financial assessment and planning; business management; budgeting; taking into account the taxation implications; drought recovery; climate forecasting; climate risk management planning; climate change impacts and risk information—indeed anything that you would have thought is a sensible way for governments to assist some of the most desperate farmers. The National Party is willing to rail against that, not because it is not smart policy, not because it is not helping the farmers plan for the future, but because it involves the words ‘climate change’, and, the moment you say that, the National Party just start frothing at the mouth, even on something of mutual responsibility, which we were always told was a cornerstone of what the coalition actually believed in.

The term of ‘climate change’ for the National Party has become like the concept of ‘don’t mention the war’. The moment you say ‘climate change’ the coalition abandons concepts of mutual responsibility, the world becomes flat and Virginia Trioli becomes a very remarkable judge of character. It is that same consistent response of loathing, the way they respond to words, the way the National Party responds to the words ‘climate change’, the way the Leader of the Opposition responds to the words ‘Godwin Grech’ and the way half the Liberal Party responds to the words ‘Malcolm Turnbull’.