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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 2947

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (19:50): It is no secret that there has been a very wet, late summer. Not only that, there has been an enormous amount of rain in eastern Australia, particularly in the north of the state and in southern Queensland. Last week I spent time in both the Lachlan Valley and in my own electorate, and between the Goulburn and Murray Rivers in the electorate of the member for Murray, who spoke earlier this evening.

While the worst damage is to those who have been flooded, there has also been enormous loss and damage in agriculture because of the rain. In my electorate and a lot of others, the grape and wine industries have suffered badly. The grapes absorb water and then split, which ruins them. Not only that, permanent plantings in various areas, particularly around the Murray but also in my own electorate and other places, are under water. People will not know probably until the spring what the damage is to some of those plantings. Big lucerne-growing areas, such as those in my electorate, have been badly affected. Lucerne does not have to be covered for very long before it succumbs. Pastures, summer crops—there is a big list of crops affected by the rain. a lot of the areas, in fact most of those seriously hit, have been in one form or another declared disaster areas category A, B and C. Certainly in most of the areas we are talking about urban residents can get money, local governments are able to apply for money and businesses in agriculture can apply for loans of up to $200,000.

It is not good enough for the government to simply say: 'We've done it. The process can take its place.' Speaking to farmers in the Murray area, my own area and other parts of New South Wales, all of this happened 12 months ago—a lot of these farmers we are talking about have had 10 years of drought, two wet harvests and some of them have had two floods as well—and the problem for a lot of them is that 12 months ago they were judged not to be eligible because they were deemed to be not viable in the long term. Anyone who has survived the last 10 years and the wet harvests or floods in the last two years on top of that are there for the long haul. The government cannot simply say, 'We've set the process in train', wipe their hands and wait for it all to happen. Twelve months ago a lot of people were judged non-viable. Of course, after 10 years of drought and two years of flood people's books are not going to look good. But the government must take the long-term view on this, must look fairly at it and not stick to a rigid view which says that if your figures do not match the criteria of A, B or C then you do not get assistance.

I am the first one to say that taxpayer money should not go where it will not do the long-term job, but farmers do deserve a fair go here. In most of eastern Australia there are a lot of people who will probably once again, as they did 12 months ago, survive and be there for the long haul. This must be done fairly. The Gillard Labor government, Minister Ludwig and his parliamentary secretary must make sure that this is done fairly because a lot of people do need this to survive, not only in my own electorate but all across eastern Australia. As I am sure the parliamentary secretary is well aware, people can only take so much without being given a hand. Some of them have had, apart from the drought, two wet events and it does mount up. Let me say whether it is resowing pasture—a lot of them have got to do that—or simply surviving, they need a hand. (Time expired)