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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6233

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (8:06 PM) —I thank each of the members for their questions on somewhat different themes. Can I deal first of all with the question from the member for Riverina. I do not have the Treasury budget papers in front of me, but I will refer to the question that was asked of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s budget papers. The reason you have an unusual annotation that had not appeared in previous budget papers is that in the ordinary course those programs may well have been extended for a further four years. The reason for doing it for 12 months is purely in the context of a drought review which would, presuming we reach a landing place with industry, have a new suite of programs that would cover similar work.

In terms of the overall effort of making sure that we continue to provide the support in mental health, in EC payments and in financial counselling, there is no change for people in any of those, even though there are some different methods that appear in the budget papers. The level of support that was there last year and that was there the year before is there next year as well for people on EC.

Can I also add the guarantee—to repeat again here what I have said a number of times and has been stated as well by the Prime Minister—that as we look toward any future drought policy, and as we look towards trying to find a way of shifting from crisis management to risk management, the only way you can properly do that is by saying that those would be rules which would apply to the next drought, not to the current one. That is why, even under the proposals we are looking at for a potential new drought policy, we are not looking at and not canvassing any options which would change the rules from under people who are currently receiving EC assistance. Any changes are about trying to help people who are already off the EC prepare for the next drought. They are the sorts of principles that have guided everything within the drought reviews. That has been affirmed by me, affirmed by the Prime Minister and affirmed by all the agriculture ministers around Australia at ministerial council as well.

Mrs Hull interjecting

Mr BURKE —The level of money in the budget is as I have described. You have some of it in Treasury papers, some of it here. On the extra expenses that you have, there are a series of a expiring programs that do continue, although you will find that some of them appear in different parts of different budget papers.

I will deal then with the comments that were made by the member for Flynn. I have got used to the fact now that the day after any budget there will be a media release from whoever is the Leader of the Nationals and from whoever is the shadow minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, saying, ‘This is a disaster for the bush.’ It will always be there. It will always be using the same set of arguments that could have been levelled at any of their previous budgets, based on accounting systems that are used. This budget is, indeed, no different.

Mrs Hull —But they didn’t say the drought programs would cease before.

Mr BURKE —To say that there had been a cut of $1 billion to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was, I think, an extraordinary and dishonest thing to claim. There is no way in the world that anyone looking at it fairly could claim that there was a $1 billion cut. There were cuts and, at every point, I have been completely upfront about what those cuts were. Land and Water Australia was a real cut. It will be $13 million in the long term, and about half of that is because of the wind-up operations that we are currently involved with. There is a further cut of $3 million to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. That is a real cut. There is also a $3.4 million cut to the work of my own department. Those are real cuts and that does happen at a time when there is a collapse in government revenue across the forward estimates in the way that we have seen. But for those opposite to add that up and to claim that we are talking about a $1 billion cut is completely dishonest.

If, in a moment, the shadow minister wants to stand up and explain why $13 million plus $3 million plus $3.4 million equals $1 billion, he is welcome to do so. He is also welcome to say where the opposition would add $1 billion to the deficit for new spending programs that it would like to put in place. One of the major cuts that he refers to, when you get into the billion dollar figure—(Time expired)