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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5291

Senator O'BRIEN (3:13 PM) —I note that there are a lot of things that could be said about what Senator Campbell has just said—and no doubt that will be debated, particularly when we debate just how this government has mismanaged the sale and lease-back of Commonwealth properties. I understand that, for one property alone, it is costing the Commonwealth an additional $95 million.

But what I want to talk about today is the answer that Senator Vanstone gave me. It is very interesting that, in her supplementary answer after question time, she indicated that she had been advised that Mr Truss was not responsible for allocating any blame to Centrelink for nonpayment of the exceptional circumstances relief that Mr Truss promised on 19 September would be delivered immediately, would be immediately available to farmers in western New South Wales in the area which is most drought affected. I think I said that he repeated that in the House on the 25th. It was actually on 24 September that he repeated that assistance was now available, but it was discovered that, as of 9 October, no relief had been paid because no-one could get a form to apply for it. The suggestion is that no blame had been attributed to Senator Vanstone's department, but if you look at the media coverage of Mr Truss's response to the revelation by New South Wales MLA Mr Tony Kelly that no relief had been paid, ABC Rural News on that day said:

Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss says the administrative problems have been resolved and assistance forms are now available online.

The administrative problems are allegedly those that existed in Centrelink. The AAP wire early in the morning of 9 October quoted Mr Truss's spokesman as saying:

There had been delays in the payments through Centrelink but the minister had promised the money would be backdated. Our department hands it over to Centrelink to administer the exceptional circumstances relief payments. There appears to have been some delay.

If that is not a statement that the delay was attributable to Centrelink then I do not know what is. The fact of the matter is that Minister Truss has made an exceptional mess of the national exceptional circumstances program and it is disappointing that the Minister for Family and Community Services has now been drawn into Mr Truss's mess, but I suppose that is not surprising given her problems with family payments. Unfortunately it is not Mr Truss who has to bear the consequence of this problem; it is the Australian farm families who have been affected. As I said, he made a very clear and deliberate promise on 19 September to make exceptional circumstances relief immediately available to farmers in western New South Wales. On 19 September he said:

... welfare payments will be available to the eligible producers amongst the 471 farmers covered by that particular application, and they will be available immediately.

This is a clear demonstration of this government's commitment to do what it possibly can to help make the exceptional circumstances arrangements work much better.

The only thing he was right about there was that the broken promises this government makes to farmers are an example of its commitment to them. He was not content to make the promise and not keep it, he had to repeat it on 24 September. Both answers were to dorothy dix questions from the member for Parkes. They were not impromptu off-the-cuff responses in debate; he prepared those comments. If he thinks it is bad enough to make promises to parliament and not keep them I can assure him that in my discussions with farmers in western New South Wales and my experience from listening to the radio and talkback, so far as you can see in drought circumstances— (Time expired)