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Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Page: 14155

Mr RICK WILSON (O'Connor) (17:41): It gives me great pride to rise in the House today to support the Future Drought Fund Bill 2018. Before I start I'll just take the member for Lyons up on his comments about the National Party and it being a National Party slush fund. Well, I'm the Liberal member for O'Connor, and I'm very proud to be in the House today with the member for Groom and the member for Farrer, and I follow the member for Grey—all Liberals, all regional Liberals, that support and fight for our communities on a daily basis. Of course, the member for Farrer and the member for Groom would have many constituents in their electorates that are currently being dramatically impacted by the drought. I know that that takes an emotional toll on all of our communities, including on us as the representatives of those communities in this place.

The Future Drought Fund Bill establishes the Future Drought Fund, the Future Drought Fund Special Account and the Agriculture Future Drought Fund Resilience Special Account. The Future Drought Fund includes the Future Drought Fund Special Account, which I've just mentioned. The purpose of the Future Drought Fund (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018 is to make consequential amendments to a number of existing statutes to extend the Future Fund's board's duties to include managing the Future Drought Fund and to allow for amounts to be transferred between the Future Drought Fund and the Future Fund. There are a fair bit of 'future funds' in there. The initial credit to the FDF Special Account will come from the transfer of the balance of Building Australia Fund, which is estimated to be $3.9 billion. The Future Drought Fund is expected to grow to $5 billion over time.

At the drought summit held in Canberra on 26 October 2018, the Prime Minister announced a package of new initiatives for drought relief, recovery and resilience, including the Future Drought Fund. A comprehensive drought response needs to meet the immediate needs of those affected and to also look to the future to ensure that our agriculture sector is prepared and resilient. We can do this. Our government is establishing the Future Drought Fund with this initial allocation of $3.9 billion. The Future Drought Fund will provide a sustainable source of funding for drought resilience works, preparedness and recovery. It's about helping farmers and their communities to prepare to adapt to the impact of drought. Through the fund, the government will draw down $100 million a year for projects, research and infrastructure to support long-term sustainability. This Future Drought Fund represents the latest in a long line of efforts by governments of all political persuasions to address the complex problems of ongoing drought and its social and economic effects.

I am a proud Western Australian, as are you, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough. As such, I want to mention the farmers of my electorate of O'Connor and the farmers across Western Australia generally. We don't have, in Western Australia, the severe droughts that we see occurring on a reasonably, unfortunately, regular basis across the east coast, but we do have pockets within my electorate that have been severely deficient of rainfall this year. But, having said that, we have had a large harvest, the second-largest harvest on record by volume, and, actually, the most valuable harvest ever produced in Western Australia. Western Australian farmers do have, as I said, their difficulties, and certainly in the area around the Gardner River in my electorate there were some farmers who didn't harvest a crop this year. They've experienced the same sort of financial and emotional difficulty that many of our colleagues on the east coast have suffered.

I want to commend our farmers for their innovation. Western Australian farmers have been at the forefront in the development of no-till farming, which is a fantastic innovation which allows more of the available moisture to be used. It protects our soils, and it was developed by a farmer in my electorate—a very dear friend and someone who has made an enormous contribution and was recognised recently at an international science award in New York—Ray Harrington, the president of the shire of Darkan. It was the Harrington knifepoint that was developed in the early 1990s that has basically revolutionised agriculture across Australia. As I say, it is the innovation of the farming community that will ultimately allow us to adapt to what is undoubtedly a drying climate and continue to produce record crops like we saw this year.

The existing measures that this government has introduced to allow people to prepare for drought include instant asset write-offs for fodder storage and water infrastructure. This is very important. Some of this infrastructure can cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is of huge benefit to farm operations to be able to instantly write that off in a year of plenty and be able to invest in important infrastructure to prepare for dry years and receive a tax deduction immediately in a good year where there's a large tax liability on the farm business. I know that that will be very much appreciated.

Farm management deposits have been increased from $400,000 to $800,000 per partner in the business, and most farming operations, certainly across my electorate now, are multimillion-dollar businesses. I think that's an important initiative of the government to increase that threshold so that people can prepare financially for those more difficult years.

Another important initiative of the government was to allow interest earned on farm management deposits to be offset against loans against the farm business, and that's been very welcome where it's been able to be implemented across my electorate. We've also given farmers a hand up rather than a handout by extending the farm household allowance scheme to make sure that they can keep food on their table and maintain their dignity in the most difficult times.

In my electorate of O'Connor, the government announced a $140 million water infrastructure project at the Wellington Dam late last year, which will see large amounts of water made available for the coastal plain and the horticultural areas down there, which is a very important project, particularly in the member for Forrest's electorate. But there's a particularly important scheme in my electorate, the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme. This is based around the southern forests area of Manjimup and Pemberton. It is one of the richest, most fertile and most productive farming areas in, certainly, Western Australia, if not in Australia. They are producing some of the world's best horticultural products, particularly, most recently, avocadoes, which are a very lucrative crop. Unfortunately, in the South West of Western Australia the climate is drying. We've seen around a 30 to 40 per cent drop in rainfall since 1960. The existing farm water infrastructure is struggling to keep up and allow further development.

The Southern Forrest Irrigation Scheme is a project that is around $90 million. That has been funded partly by the owner contributions and partly by a commitment of the previous Western Australian government, which, thankfully, has been maintained up to date by the new Labor government in Western Australia. There is still $39 million that needs to be found to finish this project. I'm certainly hopeful that the Commonwealth government will be able to assist there through our water infrastructure fund, but this is the sort of project that could be funded by the Future Drought Fund. This particular project will droughtproof the southern forests area, and that's particularly important.

Disgracefully, though, I heard today that the state Minister for Regional Development, Alannah MacTiernan, has given the proponents a deadline of June or she will withdraw the state government funding. That is holding a gun to their head, and it is very disappointing. The Commonwealth government granted $1 million late last year for the proponents to complete their planning and complete their approvals—I'm not sure that that process is absolutely finished yet—and yet the state minister is threatening to withdraw the money that has been promised and committed. That is a major blow to those good people down in the southern forests.

The second project that I think would fit very, very neatly into the Future Drought Fund program would be the Ravensthorpe-Esperance barrier fence. This is a 700-kilometre fence that would separate the very productive farmland along that south coastal strip between Ravensthorpe and Esperance from the great western woodlands, where we now have a lot of native animals and vermin that are coming into the agricultural areas and causing a lot of problems. The fence is 700 kilometres long. It will be emu-proof and dog-proof.

The previous Liberal-National government in Western Australia had committed $7 million to this $11 million project. The Ravensthorpe and Esperance shires have contributed $1.5 million. There's still another $2 million needed to complete this project. The environmental approvals have been granted for this project, but they are being appealed. I would like to add that, throughout this process, the Commonwealth has been making contributions of up to $3.5 million for dog control.

I take this opportunity to urge Western Australian Minister MacTiernan to allow the proponents of the barrier fence to get on and start building it. It's going to take three years to construct the fence. In the meantime, we will find the extra $2 million from somewhere to complete the fence. Of course, this would be an ideal project for the Future Drought Fund. When there are drought conditions in the rangelands, feral animals—the camels, the emus and the wild dogs—migrate into the agricultural areas and cause enormous damage.

I say to Minister MacTiernan: please allow the proponents to get building. Let's get 500 kilometres or 600 kilometres of the fence built, and we'll find the money somewhere. Ultimately, the money might come from the Future Drought Fund to complete it. That is the purpose of this fund; it is to make money available to invest in these sorts of projects in between droughts—not while a drought is happening but in between droughts—to prepare the communities and the agricultural sector for the inevitable droughts that will come. We know that. We live in a country of droughts and flooding plains. I would like to conclude by commending this bill to the House.