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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5974

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (17:32): By way of opening address I will provide a short extract from a speech from Minister Ludwig that is relevant to the committee's proceedings. Before anybody accuses me of plagiarism, yes, this is his and it will match very closely.

The budget provides funding for a range of measures that support the government's ongoing productivity reform agenda within the agriculture portfolio. Along with the highlights of new measures, there are also fiscally responsible savings measures that support the government's commitment to returning the budget to surplus. I can point out some of the highlights of the budget for the portfolio. The 2011-12 budget provides more than $464 million in both new and continued support for a responsible and staged approach to biosecurity and quarantine and its reform. Within the investment the government is providing $425.4 million over the three years from 2012-13 for the continuation of the quarantine border security program for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and for Customs to support frontline biosecurity operations. This budget has allocated $13.7 million in a new spending initiative for the urgent capital works in post-entry quarantine facilities, allowing Australian primary producers to continue accessing the best genetic resources worldwide.

In addition to this $464 million for biosecurity, more funding has been allocated to purchase land and undertake initial scoping and design work to address the need for future post-entry quarantine facilities. This corrects a short-sighted budget decision from the Howard government to sell off post-entry quarantine facilities only to then lease them back. We now have a situation in which the leases are terminating, demonstrating that the policy was never fully considered by the Howard government.

The Gillard government is committed to reforming the biosecurity system in line with the Beale report and its operational recommendations. We will transform the system into one based on a risk management approach. This means allocating resources where the risk is at the border and across the biosecurity continuum. In this budget we have allocated $15.4 million in new money for the Commonwealth's contribution to cost-sharing arrangements for pest and disease management. This includes providing funding for the management of red imported fire ants, Asian honeybees, myrtle rust and Siam weed. The funding is for existing agreements only and does not prevent the government from entering into new commitments to combat other incursions, should they occur.

In the budget the Gillard government will be spending $44.1 million in new funding to extend the drought reform pilot in Western Australia. This is an important next step in the process of reforming the drought support system as well as helping farmers build their productive capacity and adapt to the challenges of climate variability. The $44.1 million in funding will extend the pilot until 30 June 2012 and expand the pilot region to cover the remaining south-west corner of Western Australia. This will allow time to properly test the effectiveness of new policy directions as we move from a crisis management to a risk management approach.

While we prepare for the future, the government will continue to support those farmers who are currently in need. There is an allocation of $21.8 million for exceptional circumstances relief and income subsidy payments for primary producers and small businesses in exceptional circumstances declared regions. In the budget the government has also provided $10.1 million to extend the funding of re-establishment assistance to provide exceptional circumstances exit grants to farmers who wish to sell their farm enterprises and leave the industry and $14.4 million to extend the Transitional Income Support Program, which provides short-term relief to farmers in financial hardship, including but not limited to those coming out of EC declarations. A Labor government established the rural financial counsellors program 25 years ago. This budget continues that Labor initiative.

Unfortunately, a wonderful speech by Senator Ludwig is going to be beaten by time. I will not be able to add anything further, because I know that people will want to ask questions. Given that we have departmental officials here, I hope that members will put on the table as many questions as they want to—jump in again and again—while I get the information that they require. (Time expired)