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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20007

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (2:25 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Would the minister advise the House how the government is continuing to support farmers and their families and small businesses, such as those in my electorate of Maranoa, to deal with the economic consequences of drought?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I know the member for Maranoa knows that no government in history has done more to assist farmers during a drought than this coalition government has during this drought. It has been a magnificent effort to provide support to farmers at a time when they need it, and I am pleased to tell the House today that another 6,500 farms around Australia will benefit from the latest announcements of exceptional circumstances assistance. Three thousand farmers, graziers, horticulturalists and intensive livestock producers in the Burnett region will be able to claim EC support. This declaration will include cattle, dairy, pig and some perennial horticultural producers, as well as croppers who can demonstrate that they have had two failed crops, and it covers the Upper Brisbane Valley, the South Burnett and the Eastern Burnett subregions. In addition, pig producers in the south-east Queensland EC area are also eligible to receive full EC assistance. This means two years of income support and interest subsidies of up to $100,000 a year for two years. I am sure that the member for Blair, the member for Hinkler and other members in that area will be very pleased that this assistance is being provided to farmers in that region.

The farmers of the Darling Downs, in the electorates of the honourable member for Maranoa and the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, have also been receiving exceptional circumstances support for the past two years. But their benefits have expired, and I am pleased to announce today that the government has accepted a recommendation from the National Rural Advisory Council that EC benefits should continue for a further 12 months in that region. There has clearly not been a full recovery in the region. Indeed, the dry weather of the last two or three weeks is adding to the concerns there. There are about 3,500 farmers in that region who will potentially benefit from these announcements.

I might also add that small businesses in EC declared areas are also eligible for assistance from this government and that interest rate relief will help small businesses through the drought, because we know that they are also adversely affected in times when incomes stop flowing in to the farm sector. Over 23,000 applications for financial support under EC and the 9 December package have now been approved, and 6,700 applications for interest rate subsidies have also been approved. The federal government is currently paying out about $10 million a week in assistance to drought-stricken Australian farmers.

Of course, that contrasts very markedly with the efforts of the states. Today we are announcing support for another 6,500 Queensland farmers. What has the Queensland government provided to assist these farmers over the years? Precious little. The minister, Henry Palaszczuk, has boasted that they provided $7 million in assistance over five years. So Queensland has provided $7 million over five years—it only takes the Commonwealth four days to deliver to Australian farmers what Queensland has taken five years to produce. That is a clear demonstration of the states' real lack of commitment to supporting their farmers.

Across the border I am sure the members for Parkes, Riverina and Farrer and the Deputy Prime Minister would be interested to know that another group of farmers in New South Wales have had their drought assistance stripped away by the state government. Farmers who live in the areas of the Broken Hill, Brewarrina, Gloucester, Molong, Murray, Narrabri, Riverina and Wagga rural lands protection boards have all been told: `No more assistance from the state government. For you, the drought's over. The paltry aid we were providing has been ended.' It is very disappointing that the states should continue to place so little emphasis on ensuring that farmers are able to see their way through this difficult drought. The Commonwealth continues to stand by them, and today's announcements demonstrate our deep and abiding commitment to ensuring that the rural sector is able to recover from these tough times and contribute once again to our national economy.