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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7080

Mr HAASE (Durack) (21:40): I stand here this evening to bring some news to this House, and that is in relation to agriculture in Western Australia. Many members of this House that are informed about the nature and wealth of agriculture in Australia would believe that the state of agriculture is dependent upon the weather and if it rains all will be well and agriculturalists, broadacre farmers in particular, will be well rewarded with a reduction of their indebtedness to banks. I rise this evening to squash that illusion.

Especially in the seat of Durack in Western Australia—and I speak specifically about the broadacre farming area of the midwest and the Central Wheat Belt—as the seasons go by, currently we see a reduction of population, we see an increase of acreage owned by one entity and we see, because of pessimism about the outlook for agriculture in Western Australia, a reduction in value of hectare of agricultural land. Each year that goes by regardless of whether the seasons are average or good, because of the assessment of the value of properties, the encroachment of the entity on the indebtedness to the banks is reduced. For instance, from last year to this year we have had a reduction from about $900 per hectare in the Central Wheat Belt to a mere $600 per hectare. Farmers work hard, they plan well and they do the right thing, and yet their equity in their property is reduced because they cannot get ahead due to the pessimism in the agricultural industry.

I do not know how we turn this around, but I bring to the attention of the House the fact that, even if seasons are good, agriculturalists and broadacre farmers in Western Australia are falling behind. It would be a surprise to the House, I believe, to know that the enrolments in UWA, the University of Western Australia, in agricultural science this year were a mere 15 bodies. In law, by contrast, there were 800. I put it to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that Australia—which survived on agriculture and rode on the sheep's back—is heading for a fall if we keep believing that agriculture is going to continue to be our salvation. It is not.

As properties amalgamate, as the population reduces, as children are forced to the city because of a lack of infrastructure in the bush, and as they decide to take up city jobs and not return to rural areas to become farmers and take over from their fathers, so the whole environment suffers. Sporting clubs suffer. The education system suffers, because schools are invariably closed as the population reduces and children have to travel more miles to get to a centre for a satisfactory education especially in secondary education. We have moved now to a year 7 start for secondary education. This is unacceptable. We have children now, authorised under the state government system, to travel an hour and a half each way each day for secondary education. It is unsatisfactory. We have reduction in the whole community environment. We have reduction in volunteerism—and, Madam Deputy Speaker Burke, you would know full well that volunteers are the glue that keeps communities together.

I bring to the attention of the House this evening that agriculture is not going to be sustained in this country unless central government realises that agriculture needs a lift. I do not want charity, but those in agriculture need to be recognised for the value that they have in looking after the land of this great nation and being the best rural land managers that we could ever have. We cannot afford to ignore them. I suggest that the government ought to be more considerate of— (Time expired)