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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6088

Senator McLUCAS (3:14 PM) —I too rise to take note of the answer given by Senator Ian Macdonald to Senator O'Brien's earlier question on the drought and to bring to the attention of the chamber the fact that Queensland farmers, like farmers in Bourke and Brewarrina and other parts of New South Wales, are facing the hardships of drought.

On 29 October, the Queensland Minister for Primary Industries, Henry Palaszczuk, announced that an exceptional circumstances application had been lodged with the federal government on behalf of drought stricken producers in Peak Downs shire and parts of the Emerald shire in Central Queensland. In contrast to the inaction—and I mean inaction—of Minister Truss, Queensland's primary industries minister, Mr Palaszczuk, has formed a dedicated unit within the Queensland Department of Primary Industries which is providing help with exceptional circumstances applications for emergency drought assistance. The DPI will also be allocating additional staff to work in this area, particularly as conditions worsen and further exceptional circumstances applications are required. These Queensland applications give Mr Truss and this government an opportunity to show that they have some care and understanding for drought stricken families, care that I must say has not been shown to families in Bourke and Brewarrina.

Under reforms agreed to by the states— but being held up by Minister Truss—exceptional circumstances applications would be assessed in four weeks. This would mean that the farmers of Peak Downs shire and Emerald shire could potentially see assistance arriving on 26 November. However, the people of Bourke and Brewarrina have been waiting 63 days for their assessment. Based on this form, the farmers of Peak Downs shire and Emerald shire will be waiting until the end of December, after Christmas, before they see any help from the Howard government. I do note that only 24 farmers from Bourke and Brewarrina have as yet received exceptional circumstances assistance—$40,000 is not much to boost their economy in what is, as we have heard, the worst drought in 100 years.

Senator Ian Macdonald told us earlier that, like the farmers of Bourke and Brewarrina, the farmers of Peak Downs and Emerald shires could start to receive emergency income support once a prima facie case for exceptional circumstance had been made— or, as the minister put it in his answer, once an application has been received from the state. The same promise was put to the people of Bourke and Brewarrina on 19 September, but Mr Truss bungled the administration so badly that the application forms did not even exist until halfway through October. That is a long wait for an application form when you have got mounting household bills, no money, no income and dry paddocks.

But we know that Mr Truss pulled exactly the same trick on sugar cane farmers when he promised them immediate assistance on 25 September only to have Labor reveal on 9 October that no money had reached needy cane farming families because no application form existed and because Centrelink staff had not been briefed or advised by the responsible minister, Mr Truss. I hope that this time Mr Truss will have a quiet word, as Senator Ian Macdonald suggested, with Senator Vanstone and have arrangements in place for delivering payments to the farmers of Peak Downs and Emerald shires through Centrelink.

I would also urge farmers in those areas to call the minister's office—or my office—if they are having trouble getting their payments from Centrelink. I also call on Mr Truss to ensure that these farming families are not left facing Christmas with no cash— to ensure assessment of the Peak Downs and Emerald shires exceptional circumstances application within four weeks. In today's Courier-Mail, Mr Truss said that 30 to 40 per cent of all farming families in Australia— 52,000 families—will be needing financial assistance due to this drought. I hope that all of those people get in a timely fashion the assistance they deserve.