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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 9

Senator BURNS —My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Is the minister aware of calls from the uninformed federal opposition for the reinstatement of drought within the natural disaster relief arrangements? Can the minister advise the Senate whether or not the government intends to heed such calls?

Senator COLLINS —The coalition of course is a coalition of convenience, not policy.

Senator McMullan —And expedience.

Senator COLLINS —And expedience. Those opposite have completely forgotten that the issue of drought has received a great deal of bipartisan scrutiny in the last few years, all of which—

Senator Crane —When are you going to fix up the IEDs?

Senator COLLINS —From the actions of Senator Crane today at question time it is obvious they have forgotten. Drought was removed from the NDRA in 1989. That decision was endorsed subsequently by a drought policy review task force comprising Commonwealth, state and industry representatives. It was finally implemented by a decision of ACANZ in 1992. That unanimous decision was reached by all state and federal ministers in 1992. There was no dissent. The Senate also examined the matter in a bipartisan way. The report that Senator Crane was waving around about 10 minutes ago allegedly supports Senator Tambling's criticism of what the Prime Minister said in Queensland.

  Reflect on what the Prime Minister said in Queensland and listen to what the report that Senator Crane is waving around says about drought. The Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs report recommended as follows:

. . . drought should not be reinstated within the Natural Disaster Relief Arrangements as this would compromise the development of a self-reliant, risk management approach to drought.

That is what the report recommended. Senator Brownhill was the deputy chair of that committee—I note that he is leading the MPI this afternoon—and this is what he said:

It did not really matter whether drought fell within the natural disaster relief arrangements or not, as long as the Commonwealth government realised that it has to give some assistance once the economic capabilities of individuals were unable to cope with a drought.

I agree with Senator Brownhill's statement, which was uttered only a short time ago.

  The final point is that the essence of the national drought policy, which was endorsed by all federal and state ministers for agriculture in July 1992, is that the government has a role when drought exceeds that which a farmer can be expected to manage—that is normal drought. The policy explicitly acknowledges the role of RAS in supplying support in times of severe drought through the exceptional circumstances provisions of RAS.

  In the light of the MPI that is being run this afternoon, I might add that the Premier of New South Wales, after a tour of drought affected areas of New South Wales, called for the extension of the exceptional circumstances help from the Commonwealth government, which was immediately provided. In recognition of the fact that many of the problems facing rural Australia are regionally based, the government has introduced a regional dimension to RAS. I recently announced the provision of a $9 million package for restructuring in south-west Queensland—most of which is drought affected—and I have made a similar offer to the north-west region of New South Wales, and I hope the New South Wales government accepts that. The recent $14 million which was promptly provided in additional assistance by the federal government immediately after I came back from Queensland brings direct federal government assistance to over $50 million that has been provided to drought affected farmers since 1992.