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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2539

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (10.25 p.m.) —I rise tonight to speak briefly about and give support to the thousands of people in country New South Wales and Queensland who are again battling very dry conditions. We get very cut off from real Australia in Canberra. That is especially so with country Australia, which is suffering not only from low commodity prices but also, a large part of it, from drought again. Almost half of New South Wales is now officially engulfed by drought. This could reduce Australia's export earnings by over $1 billion as it cannot be alleviated fully for at least three months due to seasonal factors and the fact that we are now well into winter.

  Despite light falls of rain in the past few days, the percentage of New South Wales that is drought declared has risen from 34 per cent in June to 45 per cent in July. The north of the state is in dire straits, but the dry conditions are spreading south and now include Sydney, Forbes, Young, Molong, the Hunter Valley and right through the north-west of New South Wales.

  In the north-west area, around Tamworth, thousands of head of stock have been sent out of the area on agistment, if it can be found, and most property owners are supplementary feeding. The water resources department has announced that it is likely that there will be no irrigation water supplied in either of the Namoi or Gwydir valleys next season because of the drought. This means losses of hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural production, particularly cotton, which has had a couple of very difficult years although it has had reasonably high prices.

  Continuing dry weather coupled with high levels of farm indebtedness will have major consequences for family farms and rural commodities right through New South Wales. The onset of the colder winter weather means that frosts will impair pasture growth for at least three months.

  The Darling River, one of the lifebloods of the west of the state, has all but stopped flowing and it has been so long since any significant rain has fallen that the ground water throughout the area is fast disappearing. Dams are drying up and graziers are being forced to make some difficult decisions about whether to feed stock all winter or sell them on depressed markets.

  The wheat crop more than ever has been reduced to a lottery. Growers have run out of time, but are expected to take a gamble and sow a total of 3.8 million hectares of winter crops this year, compared with 3.7 million hectares last year.

  As stated in a New South Wales Farmers press release yesterday, this drought exposes the failings of the federal government, which decreed in 1990 that drought was no longer a natural disaster. Labor did not continue the traditional financial support to primary industry that allowed farmers to put money aside in the good times to see them through the bad times, once provided by the IED scheme.

  Many people in our capital cities, including key decision makers, are very isolated from the reality of drought, but it impacts on every single Australian. I think the budget forecasts and the growth forecasts will suffer dramatically from this dry period that has engulfed the eastern states.

  One-third of our export income still comes from rural exports. Without these export dollars the standards of living of each and every Australian will certainly not be maintained but will fall.

  The drought means that there will be a drop-off in grain revenues, a reduction in wool export income, whilst the price is starting to improve. There is some optimism there. The actual level of production will be restricted by this dry time. Cotton income, as I mentioned, will be substantially reduced and the volume of beef and sheepmeats will also be reduced.

  I can only hope for widespread rains to bring relief to the agriculture sector before too much longer because drought will always remain a very stark reminder that we are all ultimately in the cradle of nature.