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Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Page: 14157

Ms KEAY (Braddon) (17:54): I think it's pretty unfair, whether we have this banter in this place or outside, where one side says the other doesn't care about farmers or that we don't care about farmers in drought. I think that really needs to stop. I come from a regional area of Tasmania that has suffered significant bushfires because of very dry conditions. I have a very agricultural electorate; some of the members opposite have been to my electorate—not many, but some. My whole state is regional, if you want to look at it that way, and, sadly, a large part of my state has been the victim of bushfires.

I think this is where this Future Drought Fund Bill 2018 is lacking, because it just looks at drought. In previous, recent, years, a lot of my farmers have been dealing with drought conditions, but they've also been dealing with floods. We know what's going on in Northern Queensland, and I think we need to look at a way to assist our farmers that is not just restricted to drought. There is a better way. I think it's absolutely appalling that this government is using the BAF—the Building Australia Fund—to fund something that is quite narrow, because that fund assists infrastructure building in regional communities like mine. These are significant projects which really help regional Australia move; whether it's the high-value product that comes out of our regional economies and regional communities, it's supporting jobs in that way. So there is a better way, and Labor has a better way.

I heard some of the contributions that have been made, and I did feel a little sad when I heard the comments made by the member for Hunter about the most recent years under the previous Minister for Agriculture, the member for New England and about his laziness and incompetence as a minister. I know this from personal experience. When my farmers were going through issues, you couldn't even bear to talk to them because the dairy crisis was so heartwrenching, and I called out to that minister. There were no party politics involved and no strings attached. I invited that minister to come to my state to meet with my farmers. They had been through a drought as well—they were doing it really tough—and that minister at that time ignored my pleas and requests.

I think that's a very bad reflection on him. The member for Hunter can probably talk for days about the incompetence of that minister and where we are now. That minister didn't really lay very good ground to support our farmers over the past few years, and we are where we are now with not a lot actually happening to support them. I have to say that I have more hope for the new agriculture minister. He has been to my state maybe once. He is more than welcome to come to Tasmania, and I have asked him to meet with my farmers—particularly my dairy farmers—to speak with them directly. Again, that is with no strings attached; just come to my state. One of the things that I was once told was that National Party members were not allowed in the state of Tasmania. Well, we have a National Party senator now, and I understand that the National Party has preselected National Party candidates, even against Liberal Party candidates. That is quite extraordinary, to say the least. So I'm sure the new minister for agriculture is more than welcome to come to Tasmania.

What we have seen are a number of policy failures by this government which have had a real consequence at the coalface, where farming families have been struggling through drought, flood and fire, and also that dairy price clawback that we saw in 2016. Those things come with massive financial and human costs, and it just breaks your heart to talk to these farmers. I'd like to take this opportunity to put on the record my tribute to services like Rural Business Tasmania and Rural Alive & Well, who have done so much for farming families, not just in my electorate but across the state of Tasmania.

In many ways, Tasmania is blessed with an abundance of water. We have one per cent of Australia's landmass but, on average, 13 per cent of the rainfall. It doesn't rain every day, but on most days it does in one part of our state. But we do have a problem as to where the rain actually falls. I've said this a number of times, and I don't quite know if people believe me when I say it, but Hobart is actually the second-driest capital city in Australia, outside Perth. The east coast and the Midlands, in the electorate of Lyons, are in the rain shadow, with the majority of rain falling on the west coast and the north-west coast, which is in my electorate; hence we have so many wonderful dams. On the north-west coast, farming is different to what you see in Bourke or Coonamble, but when there is a dry season or successive dry seasons, the dams dry up, the irrigators stop pumping and the consequences are the same for our farmers.

A positive for Tasmanian farmers has been the success of state and federal Labor irrigation projects. I stress that it was Labor who invested in our irrigation projects in Tasmania, which completely transformed agriculture in our state, and even the landscape has been absolutely astonishing. I'll have more to say about the role irrigation plays in Tasmania for our farmers. As I've said, Tasmania's not immune to drought. I'm not sure why, but drought in Tasmania does not seem to fall on the radar of those opposite. Maybe it's because they don't have any Tasmanian representatives in this House; hopefully, it will stay that way, because the Labor representatives here are always supporting our farmers and always talking about what we can do to help them in times of need.

The spring of 2015 was the hottest and driest on record. The dry was followed by, again, bushfires in the summer of 2016, which were then, as I've mentioned, followed by the dairy price clawbacks. And just as night follows day, the drought was broken with the devastating floods of 2016, where, sadly, a few lives were lost in my community. In recent weeks, Tasmanian farmers and also the forestry sector have again been hit with devastating bushfires. Throughout 2015 and 2016, the coalition were nowhere to be seen. During the dairy crisis, as I said, that minister I invited did not come. But we spoke to those farmers and we've continued to speak to those farmers. It's really pleasing today to have the member for Hunter, our shadow agricultural minister, announce support for our dairy farmers with a floor price to make sure they are going to start making money. And that's really, really important.

The member for Hughes and his friend the member for Warringah—I might just point out, there are a number of members on the opposite side whom I'm talking about today—are absolutely non-believers in climate change. I think they may still be debating whether the earth is flat or round. I think there are some sceptics as well on the opposite benches, because it is not something we hear about from them when we are talking about climate change. I'd like to remind those sceptics: when we're seeing these extreme weather events—not just drought but also flood—let's just remember that it's not just about the warming planet; it's about these extreme weather events that really hit our farmers hard.

I want to put on record an article that was published by Wayne Johnston, who is president of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, the TFGA. It was published in last week's edition of Tasmanian Country. It's really important to put this on Hansard. It said:

Fundamentally, one of the key pillars of farming is the weather. We plant to the seasons, we harvest to the seasons, and our success depends upon having reliable and consistent weather patterns.

Anyone farming in Tasmania knows that these fundamentals can no longer be relied upon.

In the past five seasons alone we have seen some of the wettest and the driest and some of the hottest conditions this state has experienced in living memory.

No one farming community in Tasmania is under any illusions about the fact that our climate is changing and the impact on our capacity to produce food is very real.

Accepting climate change has never really been the issue.

It is high time we have some sensible conversations around this issue not only for the present, but for our children and grandchildren's sake.

It does not serve anyone, or the community, for this issue to remain as politicised as it is.

The risks to agriculture alone are significant. Modelling suggests that rainfall patterns and existing seasons will alter.

This alone will directly impact on what we grow and where we grow it.

The biosecurity risks associated with a change in climate are in many ways the most significant. Invasive species such as weeds and animals will find it easier to establish in a warming Tasmanian climate.

And let's not forget the fruit fly issue we had in my electorate in particular; that's because of our warming climate. The TFGA get it that climate change is real. They get it that we will have more extreme weather events. And they get that drought will become more prevalent. It was really pleasing for me to attend the launch of a new group, an alliance that was launched in parliament today, Climate Proofing Australia. It is a conservation and industry led alliance of organisations committed to advancing the role of agribusiness, conservation and natural resource management in Australia's climate change and emissions reduction policy. And it was pleasing that the agricultural minister attended this. The members are the Australian Forest Products Association, Farmers for Climate Action, Greening Australia and the Red Meat Advisory Council. They are concerned about climate change and what it means for our farmers. I think it's important that those opposite really get involved with this organisation if they truly believe they represent farmers. That's a very pleasing initiative that the farming community and other industries are taking.

We do welcome the fact that the government has finally woken up to the need to do more to address drought. But, typically, this bill is smoke and mirrors. On the one hand, the Prime Minister wants to be seen to be doing something, but, on the other, the Future Drought Fund that this bill proposes to establish won't come into effect until the year 2020-21. Farmers could be waiting for over two years for any support to help them adapt and tackle drought. This bill does not address the long-term policy and planning that is needed to assist our farmers and rural communities to manage drought.

This side of the House thinks that we can do better. We've already given bipartisan support to the government to increase the farm asset threshold from $2.6 million to $5 million, to increase the Farm Management Deposits Scheme to $800,000, to increase the farm household allowance extension from three years to four years and to provide additional supplementary farm household allowance payments of up to $12,000 for eligible allowance recipients. Those are just some of the things, and there have been a lot of issues prior to that. We've had to have massive arguments in this place just to get some support for farmers.

Do they think farmers in financial crisis deserve face-to-face support or do they think they should be tied up for hours on end on the phone? That's one of the issues we heard about with the farm household allowance system. The level that these farmers went through was just absolutely ridiculous, and some actually gave up. I've spoken in this place around what that's meant for some of the farmers who were trying to get some assistance, particularly through the dairy crisis. It was just extraordinary.

I want to move now to irrigation projects. I heard the member for New England taking credit for irrigation projects in Tasmania. Seriously! And he had a crack at the member for Lyons, who was sitting in the chamber, saying that he didn't support irrigation. I want to take this House back quite a while. This started under a state Labor government over 10 or 15 years ago, when we started Tasmanian Irrigation. We've had successive irrigation projects rolled out in my state, and they have been funded by Labor. The tranches that were then subsequently funded by this government, which we had to argue for and lobby for—even the state Liberal government had to put pressure on the government to fund them—were all Labor initiatives. For the previous Deputy Prime Minister to say that we don't support irrigation is just utter nonsense, and it's actually quite offensive. It's not just offensive to the Labor members in this place but also offensive to the Labor members of the state parliament, current and former. It's also offensive to the farmers who have invested their own money in those schemes—absolutely offensive! Every single irrigation project that is currently operational in Tasmania is a Labor project, funded and delivered by Labor or planned by Labor.

Those opposite talk up a big game when it comes to droughtproofing through irrigation, but their record in Tasmania has been abysmal. Under this government, we have had almost six years of no action and no vision. We already know that they're not serious about climate change. I really do hope that changes, but I don't have a lot of hope, sadly. They can't agree on an energy policy, for starters. They are also not serious about irrigation in Tasmania, nor are they serious about boosting the productivity of, and value-adding to, the agricultural sector.

Further evidence of the mismanagement of the decisions made by the previous member—there's a lot that he did that was not in the best interests of agriculture at all—is the abolition of the Standing Council on Primary Industries, or SCoPI. SCoPI was the COAG community for agricultural issues and was responsible for progressing the intergovernmental agreement on drought policy reform. It's so important to have that state and Commonwealth relationship. For the minister to abolish that was absolutely a terrible decision. The only people who got hurt in that were our farmers and our agricultural sector. That's something that I know that we will be supporting once we get back into government. I'm not sure which genius thought he could progress national drought policy without working with the states. That's the process to do that. (Time expired)