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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 149


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (18:00): Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks, I can understand why you got a little bit confused in calling me—there's no government speaker left to speak on this motion, which they put forward. I want to note that, again, it is the members of the Labor Party who are standing up to speak up for agriculture and for our farmers, particularly on the very important topic of drought declared parts of rural Australia.

I reiterate the comments that my colleagues have made and say how disappointed I am that all the government have done is extend the farm household allowance from three years to four years. That's all the government have done. For all of their whirlwind tours, for all of their listening and for all of their media ops, all they've done is extend the farm household allowance from three years to four years!

In some ways, you kind of expected the government to extend it, because it was so diabolical in the first year. It was such a struggle for farmers who were affected by drought to get access to the allowance that it's really not a surprise. In some ways, maybe the government are making up for the damage they did early on. Why were there problems? The government, on coming to office, cut funding to financial counsellors in the regions. I lost the financial counselling office in my electorate of Bendigo. They did a review and amalgamated, and people lost their jobs—people who had helped farmers access this allowance. We've also seen the government scrap an intergovernmental agreement to look at long-term drought reform, which was created by the Labor government through the COAG process. All the government do is put a bandaid on the problem. Labor sits down with the states, through a coordinated process and says, 'Let's talk about long-term drought reform. Let's work out a plan that has milestones, funding and arrangements in it.'

As I've travelled around the country, I've met lots of farmers in rural and regional Australia. Farmer after farmer has told me that the climate is changing. They've told me they believe in climate change and that they want to work with policymakers, with local, state and federal government representatives on a proper program of reform.

We know our farmers are innovative. Many have jumped in; they are trying to diversify their industries. They're looking at online businesses—if they can get access to the NBN. They are looking at how they can grow and diversify their market so if they don't put a crop into the ground, because of drought, they do have another income. I've met with farmers who've leased part of their land for solar parks or for wind parks—another way in which they're trying to offset the income they will lose as a result of drought.

But what we've seen from the government, for all their talking, is just another bandaid—an extension of the farm household allowance from three years to four years. Of course Labor's going to support that, because it's the very least the government could do. There's no long-term plan on how we're going to transition. There's no commitment whatsoever to restoring the COAG intergovernmental agreement on drought reform. That is something that the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and the Prime Minister could do: reverse the mistakes of their predecessors and restore that process so our farmers and our farming communities can engage with scientists, can engage with the funding and can work on ways to droughtproof for the future.

A couple of speakers have mentioned the Regional Investment Corporation and commented that the previous agriculture minister was its father. Well, he is a very disappointing father when it comes to the Regional Investment Corporation. Many of you will know that last week the Regional Investment Corporation met in a park. They don't even have an office! They didn't even get to meet in a McDonald's, like staff from another diabolical decentralisation project of this government did. They met in a park on a park bench, because they don't have a location. This is an organisation that is supposed to be responsible for funding. It is a corporation. It is taking jobs and money and business from the Bendigo Bank, which is responsible for rural finance in my electorate, and, rather than it happening in Bendigo Bank—an accredited financial institution in this country—it's occurring on a park bench.

To the father of RIC: well done! To this government: well done for again putting at risk our farmers, the farming industry and farm finance! This government needs to do more for our farmers, and it need to do more to tackle the effects of drought and look at long-term drought reform.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Howarth ): As there are no further speakers. the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.