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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 6399


Mr BALDWIN (6:53 PM) —Tonight I rise to speak on the Farm Household Support Amendment (Ancillary Benefits) Bill 2010. Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, there is no doubt that over many years our farmers have gone through trials, tribulations and undue hardship—you would know that from your own electorate down in Tasmania. It is important that governments of any persuasion provide benefit to those who work the land. Without people who are working the land and providing the food basket for this nation, our nation suffers dearly. We must also remember that the large bulk of agricultural product produced in Australia is exported, so it helps our bottom line. It is important, though, that as we go through periods of drought—and we must remember that Australia is by and large a dry nation which we attempt to farm as a wet nation—we come to a realistic understanding that, indeed, we must start to adopt dry-farming principles broadly and largely across Australia.

That being said, it is critically important that the government provide supports in those times of undue hardship, and it is important that that support is bipartisan. The coalition holds the majority of rural seats throughout Australia. My own electorate is a rural and regional electorate. I have farmlands from the floodplains through the Port Stephens, Raymond Terrace and Maitland areas, the home of the famous 1955 flood. I have seen that region under water, on the long weekend in June 2007, when the Pasha Bulker was grounded, but I have also seen that region tinder dry, when there has been no water and they have had to pump water out of the rivers just to keep the feedstock up where they could. There are areas through the electorate of Paterson where, indeed, it is impossible to bring water to the farms; then people have to rely on the importation of feed. Most of the time, farming is very marginal in areas like that, but, when you have the added cost of pumping water or bringing feed to keep your cattle sustainable, it is critically important that the government in those financially difficult times provides that support.

One of the key aspects of farming, in particular when times are tight—when they are dry—is the increase in the number of mental health problems throughout our rural farming communities and, sadly, the increase in the number of suicides because of the difficult financial pressures that are placed upon our farmers. Quite often these suicides are not recorded as such; they tend to be motor vehicle accidents or farming accidents; but nonetheless it is something where we as members of parliament and governments of either persuasion need to ensure we put into effect systems that provide support.

Exceptional circumstances relief is critical. I know from my own area that one of the difficult things is the fact that the locations of the gauges measuring the amount of rainfall do not necessarily reflect the amount of rain that is coming across an area. I will give the classic example of that. A catchment area that covers a large part of the Gloucester-Stroud area also includes some of the more coastal fringes down through towards the Great Lakes region. Whilst we might get coastal rain, some of those areas that are a little higher up, through Gloucester, Stroud, Allworth and Booral, quite often suffer because they are excluded from exceptional circumstances but do not have the rain. They do not have access to water, so their only recourse is expensive stockfeed to keep their cattle alive. As you would know in your own area, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, some would say it would be simpler just to remove the stock from the land and not incur that cost, but in particular in areas like mine, where you have a large number of breeders, it is very hard to replenish that stock either at an affordable price or at a rapid rate.

The issue with that is that it has a downstream effect on local employment and local investment. The money does not flow through our communities and, therefore, it starts a vicious cycle downwards. I know that this bill does not particularly relate directly to the zonings of exceptional circumstances, but time and time again members of parliament of all political persuasions put the arguments to the bureaucracy to redefine the areas within which rainfall is measured to determine whether an area is in long-term drought and what level of exceptional circumstances relief should be provided to those farmers.

It can be said that there is nothing better than to grow up in a regional and rural area. I was one of those young people who grew up in the city of Sydney but took the first opportunity to move into a regional and rural area. That is something I have been very thankful for. I have learned a lot from our farming communities. I have learned one end of a cow from the other and I have learned so much about the lifestyle and the environment, but after around 28 years in and around regional and rural Australia I am not quite a local yet. I still suffer from hay fever from grass seeds, so I tolerate it.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I am aware the hour is now coming to seven o’clock and it is time for the valedictory speech of my good friend Pat Farmer. With that I will hope to continue my remarks at a later hour. I wish Pat Farmer well in his future endeavours.