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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Page: 1974


Mr WILSON (O'Connor) (11:18): I take this opportunity to report to the parliament the record-breaking 2013 harvest across my electorate of O'Connor. As a farmer myself, I experienced the swings in growing conditions throughout the season, from the great rains in May to the devastatingly dry June and July. The saviour was the rains in August-September, followed by perfect harvest conditions. Western Australia's grain handler, Co-operative Bulk Handling, or CBH, has reported the 2013-14 harvest to be the biggest on record, receiving nearly 16 million tonnes and breaking the previous record by 750,000 tonnes. I estimate that the electorate of O'Connor contributed over 8.6 million tonnes to that impressive total. When you consider that the total harvest, according to the Grain Industry Association of Western Australia, or GIWA peaked at over 17 million tonnes, these are impressive figures indeed.

With three port zones servicing my electorate, I am pleased to announce that the largest shipment of grain ever to leave Western Australia left the Esperance port in February, conveying almost 80,000 tonnes of barley destined for Saudi Arabia, the largest importer of feed barley in the world. In January, the largest ever shipment of canola, some 60,000 tonnes, left Albany port destined for Europe. Even today, ships are still lined up waiting for berths to load in order to transport grain to over 30 destinations internationally. Unfortunately, the fully allocated shipping capacity at the Albany and Esperance ports has led to a lack of liquidity in the cash market for all grains across these shipping zones. However, the bulk of the wheat crop was priced during harvest at the quite healthy levels of $280 to $300 per tonne. For farmers, this bumper harvest translates to reinvestment in the farm enterprise, increasing equity and reducing their overall debt burden. Possibly even more significant is the much-needed boost of confidence to farmers across the electorate. This has a flow-on effect with more money being spent locally and benefiting local economies across the electorate.

Unfortunately, not every area in my electorate experienced a good season. A pocket of farms in the Yilgarn and Westonia shires never received the substantial rainfall that others received and have suffered crop failures. Many are struggling through their fourth poor season in a row. According to GIWA, while some farmers at Corrigin are averaging 2.7 tonnes per hectare, at Bullfinch 200 kilometres to the north-east they averaged as low as half a tonne per hectare, demonstrating a huge disparity in yield despite the small geographical difference.

While visiting the drought affected regions of WA in February this year, I met with local farmers at Southern Cross and could sense their increasing despair as they saw their eastern states counterparts highlighted in the media whilst their plight remained largely unrecognised. Assuring them that I would make their case heard in Canberra, I can now acknowledge the timely announcement of the federal government's $320 million drought assistance package.

The Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture, Minister Joyce, have acknowledged that some pockets of Western Australia's wheatbelt have been subjected to drought conditions and should qualify for assistance—a welcome announcement for farmers in these areas. The $280 million drought concessional loans scheme will be available to affected farmers, allowing them to restructure their existing loans. Assessed on a case-by-case basis, this new system will be much fairer than the old lines-on-the-map criteria. While final details are being negotiated with the state government, eligible farmers should be able to borrow up to $1 million or 50 per cent of their debt at an interest rate of around four per cent for up to five years. As part of the drought assistance package, the family support program and targeted community care in areas such as mental health will be of great benefit to farmers and their families in crisis recovery.

As the Prime Minister has stated, these people do not want a handout; they are just reaching for a hand up so they can get back to the job of primary producers as soon as possible. This is not a government bailing out unviable businesses. These measures are designed to restore dignity and reduce the suffering of affected families, assisting them with getting back on their feet and back to business. These farm businesses are viable but have been subject to adverse weather events. Short-term support measures coupled with climatic normalisation will see them restore the integrity of their businesses and contribute as primary producers for generations into the future.

In conclusion, I would like to extend my congratulations to the farmers in my electorate who, through a combination of innovation, hard work and sheer determination continue to work towards feeding this nation and contributing to Australia's GDP earnings in the export of food and fibre. I would like to reiterate my support for each and every one of them in their endeavours, and I say to the farmers of O'Connor: this government, from the Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture down, is committed to standing by our farmers through the good times and the bad and working together to create a more prosperous and profitable future.