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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14929

Mr SECKER (6:38 PM) —It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Braddon. I rise today to speak on quite different issues. I speak yet again on two issues which are very important to the irrigators and farmers in my electorate of Barker and which, in spite of many meetings and grievances relating to this subject, still remain unresolved. However, the problem lies not with the federal government but rather with the South Australian Labor government, who refuse to acknowledge the impact of their proposals on irrigators in the lower Murray and on farmers in the upper south-east.

As the coalition and other people who understand the operations of rural Australia are aware, sustainable irrigation and land use is of the utmost importance to regional South Australia. Yet, the state Labor government continue to cost shift and ignore the problem in the hope that it might go away. I tell the Premier, Mike Rann, and the environment minister, John Hill, that it will not go away. The problem will not go away until the landholders gain the proper support from the government to address the root causes of the problem and assist in providing solutions to that problem.

Unlike their state counterpart, this federal coalition government have certainly recognised the importance of the irrigation problems being faced by the lower Murray irrigators in South Australia and the drainage problems being faced by the upper south-east and have already contributed considerable amounts of money. We have been instrumental in providing assistance to farmers in the upper south-east to address the salinity problems faced by irrigators through funding to build drains and undertake other management issues to work towards sustainable grazing practices. Part of this funding also went towards rehabilitating the land and putting in place management practices which will provide long-term viability for continued grazing.

Unfortunately, for the upper south-east farmers, there is still more work which needs to be done. Despite the federal government offering further assistance, the South Australian government are preventing the process from getting under way as they are taking their time to approve the program and are trying to insist on a completely unsustainable program in the upper south-east at a cost that the farmers cannot possibly afford. In the case of the lower Murray irrigators, the problem is even more dire as they wait for the state government to finish procrastinating over how to provide as little financial assistance as possible before work can even commence to resolve the situation.

With regard to the lower Murray irrigation farmers, under the previous state Liberal government, there was a program set up with about $32 million in funding—$16 million from the federal government and $16 million from the state government under the national action plan—and $8 million from the farmers. That is about a 40-40-20 split, which has been the accepted split for farming practices throughout South Australia and, I would suggest, throughout Australia. This government has basically cut its funding by $10 million but is expecting the farmers to increase their funding from $8 million to $18 million. They simply cannot afford it. The irrigators in my electorate just cannot win. Thanks to an eccentric MP who delivered rural irrigators in both our electorates a state government who believe, as I have previously said in this place, that rural South Australia begins at the outskirts of the CBD and stops at the Adelaide Hills, these irrigators are now having to fight for funding to assist them to fix a serious issue which has huge implications for not only the environment but also their livelihood.

The South Australian Labor government have illustrated this indifference for regional South Australia on many occasions since their formation of government by default. We watched as the Premier, Mike Rann, used the drought to play political games and as he waited for as long as possible to apply for exceptional circumstances assistance to be allocated to some of the worst drought-afflicted areas of the country, for the purpose of, one can only assume, saving the state government money. Unfortunately, these farmers must wait until these urban based politicians, who simply have no understanding of, no concern for and no respect for this rural based industry, somehow realise that this is a serious issue which needs to be addressed. It is no wonder that they do not understand this because there is only one member of the Labor Party in South Australia outside the city of Adelaide.

I am worried. I have said all this before. I have been involved in lobbying for action and yet, despite our continual and best efforts, we cannot convince the state government of the seriousness of this issue. The amazing thing is that the state government are simply thumbing their noses at an industry—in this particular case, the lower Murray dairy industry, which is not only a huge employer in regional South Australia but also a major contributor to the state's economy. However, I am pleased to say that this is not so with my federal colleagues. I have held meetings with the federal ministers to ensure that federal assistance continues, and I am pleased to say that my federal colleagues not only remain sympathetic to the plight of these farmers and irrigators but also maintain that whatever can be done at a federal level will continue to be done. Unfortunately, for irrigators in the lower Murray, their plight is worse than that of their south-east equivalents as no corrective work has even begun.

Prior to the last election, the state Liberal government had determined that approximately $40 million would be needed to restructure the irrigation industry and, as I explained, the state government have reduced this quite considerably, down to something like $22 million. As a result, we will not have a scheme that will virtually eliminate run-off of cow manure and fertiliser into the Murray River—a scheme which would have improved the environment of the river and was to be undertaken as a result of this $40 million restructure that the then Liberal state government planned to undertake.

Reducing this run-off is essential to maintaining both the environment and the dairy industry in this region. Despite this, the state Labor government decided to jeopardise the prospects of one of the state's most important industries and cut the allocation of funds to this project and offer only $30 million for the rehabilitation of the region. However, as I have lamented previously in this place, following the initial $10 million funding cut to the program, a further $12 million cut has subsequently been announced, with the state government now only prepared to offer irrigators a measly $18 million to rectify the situation. This is just ludicrous. The state government are prepared to commit only $18 million to rectify the problems faced by an industry that is worth approximately $100 million annually and employs nearly 2,000 rural South Australians. If you do the math, it just does not add up.

What this also means is that effectively farmers are going to have to pay more than half the projected cost of the rehabilitation scheme, which approximates to $8,000 per hectare of work required. It is important to note that the irrigators in the region accept that they have to find a more sustainable way of irrigating their farms. They openly agree that they must meet new water use efficiency and environmental targets, and they are willing to implement changes to make irrigation sustainable. Let us face it, if they cannot irrigate at all, their businesses will sink anyway. The unfortunate thing is that they cannot do it on their own, and one of the major parties who can assist them do not appear willing to listen.

Expecting farmers in a drought affected area to come up with $8,000 per hectare to fix the irrigation problems currently faced is simply not realistic. Already their farm income has become seriously depleted through paying higher feed costs as a result of the drought or purchasing equipment to help them get through the drought. These people do not have a spare $8,000 per hectare to throw about. The state government is putting unrealistic pressure on farmers and in doing so is placing a $100 million industry, which supports around 2,000 South Australian rural families, in serious jeopardy. Most farmers in the region will simply not be able to manage it. Many will leave the industry, resulting in much unemployment and a larger hole in the state's economy.

The state government is playing a dangerous game with the livelihood of many South Australians, which will result in the further degradation of the environment. I am astounded that the state government would not be more forthcoming to support such a valuable industry, particularly when it has the capacity to have such a vast impact on the state's economy. This is exactly why it is such a concern to regional Australia when an urban based Labor government with no regard for the importance of the contribution that can be made by regional Australia takes the reins. (Time expired)