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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 367

Mr CROOK (O'Connor) (19:56): This year, 2012, is the Australian Year of the Farmer. This year recognises and celebrates Australian farmers for the work they do in feeding our nation—and many others. It celebrates the role of the Australian farmer as a man of the land, an innovator and a world leader.

There is no denying the importance of the agricultural sector to the Australian economy. The agriculture sector generates $41.8 billion to the economy each year, with $31.2 billion of this in the export market. Agriculture supports 1.6 million jobs in Australia in farming and related industries, accounting for 17.2 per cent of the national workforce. Agriculture plays a major role in safeguarding our food security, with Australian farmers producing almost 93 per cent of Australia's daily domestic food supply, while exporting a massive 60 per cent of our total agricultural production to other countries.

Agriculture also plays an important role in keeping our regional communities vibrant and sustainable. One only needs to look at the devastating impact of the 2010 drought in Western Australia or last year's live export ban to see this very clear fact: when Australian agriculture suffers, regional Australia suffers. It is vitally important that this federal government recognises the significant role that the agricultural sector plays in our economy, in our food security, and in our regional sustainability.

As it is the Year of the Farmer, I would like to raise in this House a number of issues that are currently impacting on the agricultural sector. The issue of live export continues to be a concern for many livestock producers. With the federal government now focussing on sheep exports to the Middle East, many producers in my electorate of O'Connor are understandably concerned. As an export market, the Middle East consumes 99 per cent of Western Australia's total sheep exports, with the majority of these exports coming from O'Connor. The federal Minister for Agriculture, Senator Joe Ludwig, recently travelled with a delegation to the Middle East to look at the progress of reforms which require Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey to slaughter Australian animals by international welfare standards by the end of this month. While I understand that the industry, both in Australia and overseas, is supportive of these reforms, I share my electorate's concerns around the implementation of these reforms in such a short time frame—1 March is simply too short a time frame for these reforms to be properly implemented.

Drought is another issue which is continuing to impact on my electorate. Although WA has had a record harvest, there are still areas of the state heavily affected by drought. Just this morning, I met with a young man from Salmon Gums, Tim Starcevich. Tim is a regional winner of the ABC HeyWire competition, and his family have been pioneer farmers in the Salmon Gums area. I quote to the House from Tim's HeyWire report:

One of the main reasons why everyone is leaving Salmon Gums is the rainfall.

The town's water supply has just about run out, with most of the farmers carting water for their livestock, and the people who live in town trying to save every drop of rain that falls.

Dad is a second-generation farmer and he remembers the town full of people, shops, and brand new houses. He told me how you could drive in and get fresh bread and vegies. Now all you can get is a meat pie or a Chiko roll from the roadhouse on the outskirts of town.

Since Tim's HeyWire report, I note that thunderstorms have alleviated the water crisis to some extent; however, the ongoing drought has some families considering moving off the land. While many farmers appreciate the assistance from state and federal governments through drought assistance programs, areas like Salmon Gums and Southern Cross in my electorate have had the poor fortune to suffer drought for consecutive years.

Biosecurity risks for Australian fruit, the skills shortage and supermarket pricing are other significant issues that many Australian farmers face day in and day out. In 2012, the Australian Year of the Farmer, it is not enough for this federal government to recognise and congratulate the Australian farmer; we must do more. We must help our farmers so they can continue to remain on the land, driving our economy, protecting our food security and sustaining our regional communities. In 2012, the Australian Year of the Farmer, I call on this federal government to lend their support to the agricultural sector by addressing these issues. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

House adjourned at 20:01