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Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Page: 6450


Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (18:00): Have you heard the news today—news of the continued fighting in the Turnbull government's cabinet over the National Energy Guarantee; news that the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, will cross the floor on this issue if he doesn't get his way; news about the Turnbull government's incessant campaign to lock in massive corporate tax cuts for business? We could wind back the calendar a day, a week or a month and revisit the headlines and see this pattern ad nauseam, a pattern where an out-of-touch government puts its political priorities ahead of the interests of ordinary Australians, a pattern where the government is increasingly paralysed by party room dysfunction, a pattern where the Prime Minister's grasp on the leadership becomes more tenuous with each and every Newspoll.

Meanwhile, the people of Australia couldn't really give a toss about most of it. To be frank, they're fed up. They are fed up with the government's obsession with itself, at the expense of all Australians, and fed up with a government that seems to want to serve the top end of town while the rest of us hang out and hang on, desperate to try to pay for clothes and shoes for our children and desperate to try to pay the ever-increasing energy bills. They really just want some leadership and policies.

Nothing could be closer to this than this bill on farm household support. I'm glad that the government has decided to support our farming families and extend the farm household allowance by one year, from three to a maximum of four cumulative years. But I ask why this has taken so long. I spoke in the chamber yesterday about my anger that it has taken Prime Ministers Turnbull and Abbott and agriculture ministers Joyce and Littleproud an unacceptable and indeed unforgiveable amount of time to act on this. I spoke about the great hardships that have been experienced by farming families in my electorate of Paterson for many months. Vegetable farmers were unable to grow crops due to hot and arid conditions, tanks were bone dry and salinity levels in the depleted rivers made irrigation impossible. Beef farmers were forced to handfeed and spend exorbitant amounts of time and money on water cartage to prevent stock deaths due to dehydration. The livelihood of our milk producers in my electorate was further threatened by the unavailability of water, which made sanitation of their dairies almost impossible and really incredibly difficult. Carefully crafted bloodlines of really prized animals were unceremoniously sent to market or to the slaughterhouse because it was financially impossible for farmers to keep them alive.

I remind the honourable members opposite that this situation did not suddenly spring up at the beginning of the month when the Prime Minister decided to conduct the whistlestop selfie tour of the big dry. We have properties and communities in New South Wales and Queensland that have been paralysed by drought for the last seven years. So, while my colleagues and I on this side of the House do not decline to give the Farm Household Support Amendment Bill 2018 a second reading, there are some points that really do need to be made and called out on.

I support the member for Hunter's call for an amendment to the motion that notes the Turnbull government's failure to provide timely and effective legislative amendments to support Australia's farming families and, more broadly, the agricultural sector, because this faffing around is nothing new from this Prime Minister and the cohort he has around him. The Turnbull government has a penchant for selectively pursuing legislation that promotes its political agenda at the expense of everything else. Time and time again, the people of Australia are left waiting for this government to govern.

In my electorate of Paterson, where the community of Williamtown is ground zero in Australia's PFAS contamination nightmare, my constituents have been pleading for nigh on three years for this Prime Minister and the members of his cabinet to do something—to publish their anticipated report, to honour their avowed commitments to release their promised policy and to offer a pathway out of the living nightmare my constituents have been trapped inside since 4 September 2015. Yes, there are critical matters that this government could turn its attention towards. But no; far too much energy is spent pandering to the bloke who's going to throw his toys out of the pram if he doesn't get his way or pandering to the pork-barrelling former minister feathering his own electorate nest. This government has had years to put in place a structure that would have helped these farmers, right now, to make a living. It could have provided advice and support for those who aim to droughtproof their operations over the long term. It could have helped farming families make that difficult call about whether they can or cannot make a quid out of farming, given the changed market conditions and ever more volatile climatic extremes, and it could have offered pathways and retraining for people who choose to leave the land. The government could have used the SCoPI process to put these supports in place. It could have done this some time ago and it did not, and that is a disgrace. And now our farming families are meant to rejoice that the government has seen fit to extend household assistance for a further 12 months. Yes, it is something but, as I said yesterday, it's nowhere near enough. It's a small sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

Our farming families are an important part of Australia's agricultural landscape and the fabric of our nation. Elsewhere in our agricultural sector we have primary producers and those who rely on them stuck in limbo waiting for the government to act. My electorate of Paterson is home to beef farmers, dairy farmers, fishers, prawners and oyster growers. They work incredibly hard, and times have been tough. I've spoken before in the House to share the plight of my constituents, who suffered through the driest season in 80 years—stock farmers who were forced to sell or face exorbitant hand-feeding costs. Even water came at a premium in terms of both time and cartage, and, if the tanks weren't dry, as I mentioned earlier, the salinity levels in the river were as high as some farmers had ever seen them. Vegetable farmers just watched entire crops fail.

In the face of the uncontrollable challenges of climate and weather, we owe it to our farming families to appropriately support their industry and, in turn, their livelihoods. We should be turning our brightest agricultural minds to this and saying, 'How can we make this better for those people who work so hard every day and who really have been the best in the world?' It is completely unacceptable that the Turnbull government continues to fail Australian farmers and agricultural industries through legislative delays. Right now, Prime Minister Turnbull and the members opposite have amassed quite a stockpile of outstanding bills while they attempt to ram home their own agenda. This is patently not good enough. The people of Australia are looking to Prime Minister Turnbull and his government to do precisely that: govern in the interests of those who saw fit to elect them. Instead they wait and they wait and they wait some more. I might just add that I find it particularly disappointing that members of the National Party always talk about being agrarian socialists, say that they just want to do the best by the bush, and say that they want to support the agricultural sectors—well, I think that they've put their hands up and stood on the wrong side of the House in many votes and particularly—

Mr Katter: They are not agrarian socialists. They are definitely not. I am!

Ms SWANSON: I will take that interjection: perhaps you are, but we could do with some more of those. The Turnbull government has made a considered choice to prioritise parliamentary business ahead of our farmers and agricultural industries. It seems to find all the time and press releases and media opportunities in the world to promote the corporate tax cuts for big business, yet this parliament is headed for a six-week-long break at the end of this sitting, and critical legislation will need to wait until August to be even considered—such as the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Operational Efficiency) Bill, also known as agvet chemicals legislation.

This innocuous-sounding piece of legislation is actually tied up with the infamous APVMA, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, where we saw the member for New England relocate a government authority to his own electorate in a case of blatant pork-barrelling. The agvet bill involves minor amendments, mostly technical, that should assist with streamlining APVMA operations. But it should be no surprise that, after the debacle of its forced relocation, APVMA is now on life support—its current financial position is reportedly untenable, as is its technological infrastructure. So not only are industry stakeholders waiting to have the agvet bill passed; the Prime Minister has decided that APVMA is in need of a governance board, which, of course, will require an amendment to the bill in the Senate. What does that mean for our constituents? It actually means more waiting, because a former minister of the Turnbull government put his own interests ahead of the country's.

There are a number of other examples of this government prioritising its political game-playing ahead of our farmers and the agricultural industry. There was the decision to pull the Export Legislation Amendment (Live-stock) Bill, and the Export Control Bill has been lost in transit since it was briefly debated in the Senate earlier this year. And, in a matter very much in the interests of my constituents in Paterson, there is the Biosecurity Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018.

I first met Sue and Rob Hamilton when their family prawning operation was shut down in 2015 when the RAAF Base Williamtown PFAS scandal broke out. That's right: we had professional prawners whose businesses were closed. The Hamiltons and other commercial fishers working Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove were stripped of their livelihoods when it was discovered that firefighting chemicals PFOS and PFOA had leeched from the base into the waterways of our community. This is an absolute reality. Fishing bans lasted 12 months. This took a toll on many families like the Hamiltons and other fishers in Paterson. The Hamiltons battled through, however, and returned to the water and their industry.

Sue contacted me again in October last year to raise her concerns about the prevalence of white spot syndrome, a virus that is imported in green prawns. Importation of the prawns had been suspended following an outbreak of the virus in commercial prawn farms in Queensland and then around the wild prawns in Logan River and Moreton Bay. It had spread. Sue reached out to me after the then Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, lifted the suspension on the importation of green prawns into Australia. Sue was concerned because white spot is a massive deal. It leads to a highly lethal and contagious viral infection. Outbreaks have been known to wipe out the entire populations of prawn farms in days. The virus is not dangerous to humans and it is killed when the prawn is cooked, but the Aussie tradition of putting a green prawn on a hook and throwing a line in puts our waterways and our seafood industry at risk. Sue and her husband, Rob, still reeling from the year-long PFAS shutdown of their family business, were incensed by the biosecurity issues that remained in play even after the importation ban was lifted. And it's no wonder: the situation was and is nonsensical.

As a matter of fact, the failings highlighted by Sue and Rob were exposed in 2016, two years ago, and legislation to shore up those biosecurity failings and breaches is still yet to pass this parliament. We have a precedent where imported prawns infected Australian wild prawns and prawn farms. The Australian wild prawning areas and prawn farms were slapped with a ban. Meanwhile, the ban on the very source of white spot, the imported green prawns, was lifted. In what universe does that make sense?

We must have a system that is able to respond quickly to biosecurity failings and breaches. This is why the government must prioritise legislation that will strengthen our biosecurity system. This bill was introduced into the House in March this year and received Labor's support. That was three months ago, and that's a lot of water under the bridge—metaphorically and literally.

Three months, however, pales in comparison to the length of time our farming families have waited for the government to take any meaningful action towards long-term drought reform. More than four years ago, Labor supported the government's Farm Household Support Bill. This was the product of a 2013 Standing Committee on Primary Industries—otherwise known as SCoPI—meeting which continued to commit to the previous Labor government's commitment to provide a new, nationally agreed approach to drought. It's now 2018. The intergovernmental agreement on drought reform, of which farm household support is part, will expire on 1 July this year. That is literally days away, yet our farming families wait for a plan that is fit for the future. The Prime Minister and his colleagues must park their self-interests and put the ordinary folk of Australia ahead of the select few at the top end of town. We must insist that this government that seems increasingly out of touch put the interests of ordinary Australians front and centre.