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Tuesday, 3 March 1998
Page: 250

Mr NAIRN (10:55 PM) —Last week I announced in my electorate that the government had approved exceptional circumstances assistance to many farmers on the Monaro. This was a just decision. The announcement has been well received by the people in Eden-Monaro. I fought very hard for my constituents on this. I did that because I knew that assistance was justified.

Last year the Rural Adjustment Scheme Advisory Council, RASAC, prepared a report for the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, John Anderson, which recommended against exceptional circumstances assistance. That report followed an application by the New South Wales government. RASAC at that time recommended against assistance simply because the data provided by the New South Wales government did not prove that an exceptional circumstance event had occurred. The data provided was very sparse because the normal scientific data that would be used was just not available.

There was, however, a lot of local knowledge that showed the Monaro was experiencing something quite exceptional. Unfortunately, in the initial application by the New South Wales government and in the initial assessment by RASAC, the local knowledge was not given the prominence it should have received. As RASAC is the independent body appointed to assess these matters, the minister would have been justified in accepting its report and therefore not declaring the region. However, I argued strongly to him that the RASAC assessment was not right. He agreed to take it to cabinet, and cabinet asked that the whole matter be looked at again.

I attended the all day inspection by RASAC on 2 February. It was obvious that not only had conditions worsened but also the area affected was spreading. It was quite an eye-opener, for instance, to witness the dry waterhole on Darvall Dixon's property; a waterhole which has never dried up, to the knowledge of locals. By coincidence, a neighbour Mr Charlie Massy happened to be at Mr Dixon's property borrowing some machinery. He explained to the RASAC members that his property had a natural basalt lake. It was long since dry, but there was a bore adjacent to it. This bore had always been there for drought insurance—it always flowed. It had dried up a few days before.

We visited James Larratt's property where we saw the devastation caused by wingless grasshoppers. We went to Jimembuen in the southern part of the area now declared exceptional circumstances. The owners, David and Jane Glasson, produce high quality merino sheep, as well as cattle. Most of the cattle are gone, either having been sold or put on agistment elsewhere. Sheep stocking levels are dramatically reduced. They have been feeding since November. Never before, in the knowledge of the family, which goes back to the 1930s, have they had to start feeding sheep at that time of the year. That is exceptional.

I was back at Jimembuen last weekend and travelling extensively around that part of the electorate. Tragically, the conditions have worsened over the past couple of weeks. I spent some time on Sunday morning helping David Glasson feed sheep. The ground which is not bare earth already is what I can only describe as quite a scary colour—it is a funny grey. It is the grey that you often see in a person critically ill. Having made that observation to Jane Glasson, she said, `You are right. The land is very sick.'

Having spent quite a bit of time on the Monaro since the announcement last week, I know how grateful the people are that the government has granted this exceptional circumstances assistance. I opened the Delegate and Dalgety Shows on the weekend, and many people asked me to pass on their thanks. Dalgety is within the declared area and Delegate is in an additional area which is currently being examined by RASAC, and I hope a recommendation is forthcoming to the minister in the near future.

I want to thank everyone involved: the farmers for their patience during this process; the New South Wales Farmers Committee, chaired by Bruce Bashford, who put together the application and supplementary application; and David Hartley, from New South Wales Agriculture, who put in a special effort with the supplementary information after acknowledging there had been some mistakes by his department in the early days of the application. I also thank the Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, who took time to look at the country and understood the circumstances that existed, and John Anderson for understanding why I persisted.

Exceptional circumstances assistance is in place to cover the equivalent of a natural disaster. Floods and bushfires are natural disasters that are easy to observe. Drought—and its associated difficulties—is like a cancer: it eats away and creeps along slowly. The difficulty is knowing when it has reached natural disaster stage. The interest subsidies, exceptional circumstances relief payment, health card and Austudy will all give some relief to those suffering, but we need rain and we need it soon.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! It being 11 p.m., the House stands adjourned until 9.30 a.m. tomorrow.