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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17049

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (2:39 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Would the minister update the House on practical assistance being provided to drought-stricken farmers across Australia, including many of those in the Blair electorate? Is the minister aware of any alternative assistance?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the honourable member for Blair for the question. It is especially appropriate because the drought-stricken farmers of Blair are amongst the latest to become eligible for Commonwealth drought assistance. Around 3,500 farmers in the Upper Brisbane Valley and the Burnett regions are now eligible to receive income support from the federal government and subsidies on interest on loans of up to $100,000. I am sure that assistance will be very helpful to the farmers of Blair, as it has been to farmers in many parts of Australia.

The Commonwealth's commitment to drought assistance continues to grow. Around 15,500 Australian farm families are now receiving Commonwealth income support and about 4,000 farm businesses are receiving some business support by way of interest subsidies on their loans. Yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister, the member for Parkes and I met mayors from western New South Wales in some of the worst drought affected areas and where the drought is having a devastating impact on the entire community. We want to work with those communities to help them by continuing to provide the assistance that is necessary to support them through these difficult times and then look to rebuilding once the rain comes. It is interesting to note that around half the farmers in the Bourke and Brewarrina region are receiving income support, and that clearly demonstrates the depth of the crisis in that region.

However, by comparison with the Commonwealth's efforts, the states continue to walk away from their responsibilities. The farmers in Blair who are now going to get assistance from the Commonwealth have got little or nothing from the Queensland government. That has been typical of their approach. It takes the Commonwealth only four days, in its assistance to Australian farmers, to provide the same amount as Queensland has given since the beginning of the drought. Every four days we provide more assistance to Australian farmers than Queensland has since the beginning of the drought. The story in Western Australia is the same: about four days of effort on the Commonwealth's part is all Western Australia can manage. As for New South Wales, it takes us only about two weeks to provide more assistance to Australian farmers than New South Wales has provided since the beginning of the drought. If you want to move to South Australia, the Commonwealth takes about half a day to spend more money on assisting drought-stricken farmers than South Australia has provided since the beginning of the drought. It is shameful the way in which the states, prepared to do absolutely nothing, have walked away from their needy farmers. The Commonwealth will continue to play its role and to assist farmers in need, but so much more could be done if the states would only cooperate and do their share to help farmers through these difficult times.