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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8533

Ms KEAY (Braddon) (18:45): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter raised by the member for Calare. I notice the member's focus is on drought as no doubt his community and many others are struggling through some very terrible circumstances, but I have to ask some questions.

Where was this government when Tasmania was in the was in the grip of its worst drought in history between 2015 and 2016? Where was this government while farmers were coping with—and are still coping with—the ongoing $1 milk price war between the supermarkets? Where was this government when the milk price was slashed by Murray Goulburn and Fonterra, causing a dairy crisis in May 2016? Where was this government when the June 2016 floods in Tasmania devastated not only our dairy farmers but the entire agriculture industry in my region? I see the member for Calare congratulates the Prime Minister and others for the touring drought affected areas, which is always a positive thing, but why did the coalition leadership not visit my state and talk to our farmers as they were hit with one crisis after another? I correct myself: they only visited our state during elections. I wrote to the former Deputy Prime Minister, not during an election, and asked him to visit Tasmania to meet our farmers, and, in particular, our dairy farmers. However, he failed to acknowledge this request. The offer still stands for the current Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, and I have spoken to him directly on this.

Why did this government not act on extending Farm Household Assistance in 2016? Even today in my electorate I'm advised that there are up to 24 farming families still receiving Farm Household Assistance from the 2016 dairy crisis and other farming related issues. Other families have now come off household assistance, but I am sure they would have appreciated that extra bit of assistance that this government is now providing—had they only acted two years earlier. This side of the Chamber supports measures to increase farm household assistance to farmers in financial crisis. To put it simply: this scheme is a dog's breakfast.

In 2016 when farmers cash flows were in crisis, they faced long delays in having their applications processed. They were desperately in need of help. Many were living off food vouchers and receiving other community support. The IT program processing the claims was not fit for purpose. My office had to intervene to help a Circular Head couple get access to this assistance after they had waited over three months for any help. Even after this family received their household assistance, the problems continued, as, after 12 months, they were cut off due to a glitch in the system. Again, my office had to intervene.

Rural Business Tasmania, in a recent submission to this government, states the following:

We believe the Farm Household Allowance has potential to be a successful output of the IGA but that the delivery mechanism needs further review.

Issues over the life of the FHA included: telephone 132316—the person phoning may have to wait up to an hour or longer to gain a Helpline support person

Complexity of the application process (including number of forms)

Delay in outcome (in some cases up to 10 weeks) and clarity of requests for further information can provide frustration.

Many families have experienced all of the above. Rural Business Tasmania succinctly summed up the issue further in their submission when they stated this question: 'What can be improved?' Their answer was: 'The Farm Household Allowance and concessional loan processes.'

When it comes to delivering farm household assistance, Labor knows it can and must be done better. This government has gutted Centrelink, contributing to the delays in accessing the farm household allowance. Labor will rebuild Centrelink by employing an additional 1,200 properly trained full-time staff. In my electorate of Braddon 50 Department of Human Services officers will be employed, with some given the specific responsibility of visiting regional communities as outreach. Many of these don't have access to reliable internet, thanks to this government, and many want to talk to people face to face to avoid the long, long wait on the phone. Unlike those opposite, who talk up a big game of supporting farmers, Labor will take practical steps to support the sector, to ensure farmers receive the support they deserve when crisis hits. And just maybe the member for Calare could say sorry on behalf of his government for ignoring Tasmanian farmers in their hour of need.