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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5132

Senator O'BRIEN (3:05 PM) —I too rise today to note the role of women in Australian agriculture, women doing the triple shift of housework, farm work and off-farm work as well as holding families and communities together. I note the theme of World Rural Women's Day this year is `Poverty is Everybody's Business: Education and Training, a key for poverty eradication'. I think it is very pertinent to the role of rural women and these times. Women in all walks of life play a key role as teachers and nurturers of the young. This is especially true in remote Australia, where for instance many rural women are called upon to augment the activities of the School of the Air by being study master, motivator, school counsellor and tuckshop to their sons and daughters.

The theme of poverty is perhaps also pertinent at this time in Australian rural history, a time when some farming families are in the grip of the worst drought for possibly 100 years and when still others are battling not only drought but also low world sugar prices and corrupted markets. Margaret Alston, the Director of the Centre for Rural Social Research, told the recent Fenner conference that farm poverty is a real part of agriculture. According to Professor Alston, 15 farming families leave their properties every week as they can no longer justify working 60 hours a week for a wage that in some cases is as little as $10,000 a year.

These are especially difficult times in rural Australia. Such times call for leadership from government and, more particularly, in this instance leadership from the federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Farming families in crisis need the security of knowing that their immediate needs can be taken care of, that food can be placed on the table until their circumstances improve. Probably more importantly, they also need to know that there is a future for Australian agriculture and that the government not only has a plan but is capable of implementing that plan. Unfortunately for Australian farming families, they face not only the perils of drought and the vagaries of world commodity prices but also the ineptitude of the minister and an uncaring government.

There are a number of comments about particular difficulties and the reason they are attributable to the action, or inaction, of this minister which in other circumstances I would be making in relation to this motion. I would in other circumstances be raising issues such as the mismanagement of the US beef quota, the implications of the failure to deliver on promises made by the minister for urgently needed assistance for the sugar industry and for drought affected farmers in, for example, western New South Wales. I choose not to do so today on the basis of the tenor of the debate taking place.

In the face of unkind elements, fluctuating commodity prices, this citycentric federal government and the ineptitude of the minister, we really must take off our hats to anyone who is prepared to stay on the land, trying to feed the nation, trying to earn export dollars for the country, trying to create regional employment and trying to raise a family.

Senator Ferguson —When were you on the land?

Senator O'BRIEN —Senator Ferguson, I live on a bit of land. When were you last on it? On this day we particularly remember and commemorate the role of rural women in all these endeavours. I should like to pay a particular tribute to a dairy farmer in East Gippsland named Mary Salce. She is the founding president of the Foundation for Australian Agricultural Women. Mary has been involved in agriculture for around 30 years, during which time her knowledge of and commitment to family farming have grown. Her interests and commitment, however, are broader than her own farming operation. Mary cares about opportunities for women producers, and there is no firmer evidence of that than the movement she founded and the work it undertakes. Mary is to be particularly congratulated on this day for her commitment to rural women.

Question agreed to.