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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6236


Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (8:22 PM) —If I can deal with the member for Riverina’s issues first and then respond to the member for Solomon. The thing that is absolutely identical about the way the forward estimates are dealt with is that the forward estimates only show current drought declarations—current EC declarations. That is absolutely identical. The thing that is different is that some of those payments appear in a different set of budget papers to where they used to appear. But the way in which those figures are calculated is absolutely identical.

I am very glad the member for Riverina raised an issue at the beginning of her question about what happens when the current EC declarations expire. The comment the Prime Minister and I have consistently made with respect to any new drought policy is that we are talking about continuing the current system for current recipients for the duration of the current drought. Now, we all wish the current drought had expired well in advance of current EC declarations. The likelihood of that happening nationwide is at best remote. In all the discussions we have been having with industry we do so on the basis that there will continue to be a National Rural Advisory Council and that, for existing drought declared areas, it will continue to assess whether those declarations need to be extended or not. That is the basis on which we have been operating.

That is why we have legislation before the House of Representatives right now which deals with allowing me to extend the terms of the current members of the National Rural Advisory Council. If we were ending drought declarations, I would not need to do that. The fact that that legislation is in the parliament at all should be taken as a very strong show of good faith that we are working on the basis that, for the current drought, the current system is in place. But we do not want to wait for the next drought, for areas that have already come out—wait for the crisis—before the government get involved. Now, these are difficult budgetary times to try and work through those issues, but the conversations we have been having with industry are on the basis that we want to try to find a way of working through those issues. But nothing should be read into the current expiry dates for drought declarations. The intention of the government remains that the National Rural Advisory Council would provide recommendations to me on any existing declarations as to whether or not they ought to be extended. So that is the basis of that.

I thank the member for Solomon for his question and acknowledge his strong engagement, particularly with the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association. I know he is very strongly engaged with them. I am reminded that, at the time of the last election, when he was campaigning, he had to deal with a scare campaign, not claiming that we would cut billions of dollars from agriculture but claiming that we would shut down the live export industry. That says something about what you can expect from National Party scare campaigns, given that we have now opened more markets than the previous government.

The member for Solomon was one of the first people to say, ‘You’ve got to come to my seat and you’ve got to visit a farm,’ and he took me a farm, just out of Darwin, where they grow crocodiles. That is the only crocodile farm I can say I have visited in my time in the portfolio and I thank the member for Solomon for that.

Biosecurity has been provided with transitional funding of $156 million, once again, through to the end of June next year. My department, DAFF, receives $92.2 million and $63.8 million goes to Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to maintain our animal and plant health status.

One of the things we did shortly after coming to government was a comprehensive review of all issues relating to biosecurity, headed by Roger Beale. That Beale report calls for some far-reaching reforms. What we have done in this budget is maintain the current system while we work our way through each of the recommendations contained in the Beale report.