Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Page: 14176


Mr GEE (CalareAssistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) (19:06): I rise to support the Future Drought Fund Bill 2018, a very important piece of legislation. I support it because it's all about backing our agricultural sector. The Future Drought Fund helps build resilience in the farm sector. It will help the sector prepare for drought and it will help it recover from drought. We know that droughts are going to come again, and this helps preparedness and readiness. It provides an additional credit of $3.9 billion, which will grow until it reaches $5 billion. Then, from 1 July 2020, the government will draw down $100 million per year to invest in drought resilience projects.

This fund looks to the future of agriculture. In this country, we need to ask ourselves: do we back agriculture or don't we? On this side of the House, the answer is yes, we back agriculture. We support its future and we want it to build and continue to be that key plank of the Australian economy, because, if you think back just a year or two ago to when the Australian economy was struggling a little bit, it was agriculture that got us through. It powered this nation through a very difficult time. If we want a viable farm sector, then we have to back it, and we have to back it to the hilt. That's why this Future Drought Fund and the Future Drought Fund Bill are so important.

I was very disturbed when I heard the member for Hunter say in this House earlier that the opposition wasn't going to back it. It was an extraordinary thing for him to say. But perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised, because in that speech I'm pretty sure I heard him say that we should be surfing the waves of activism. That's what he said. I thought, 'What a ridiculous piece of blather that was, saying to our farmers who are struggling with drought: "Surf the waves of activism!"' In a very difficult time, that's not what they want to hear from their elected representatives in this place. But I guess, with respect to the member for Hunter, and the opposition generally, we shouldn't really be too surprised, when you consider that they're going to strip the retirement savings of 6,500 Calare retirees, including farmers. And, as I've been around this electorate, it's quite clear that the retirees who are going to be affected are not fat cats. These are people you see in your local Lions Club and in Men's Sheds. They are going to lose thousands of dollars. Many of them would not be what you'd call traditional coalition voters, either. But they're not happy, and farmers are amongst those who are going to be hit.

Look at the opposition's approach to decentralisation. We've had some extraordinary decentralisation success stories in this state and in this nation, none more so than the decentralisation of the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries to Orange. And recently we had another part of that success story, with the Regional Investment Corporation, which is soon to have its official opening. It's going to bring 25 to 30 jobs to an area which has been hit by drought, the central west of New South Wales. Everyone in our region gets a shot at those jobs. The Regional Investment Corporation is providing concessional loans to farmers; it's providing funding for water infrastructure projects. These are the types of things that governments—governments of all political persuasions—should be doing. Yet what has the member for Hunter pledged to do? He's pledged to tear it apart and dismantle it. On his side of the House, they profess, at times, to be the champions of government jobs. Yet, when we get a few more jobs in our neck of the woods, they want to rip them out and take them away and shut down a brand-new decentralised department.

I guess it's no wonder that the member for Hunter is often called the shadow minister for recentralisation, because he wants to undo all the decentralisation work of this government. I think if there's one thing that people do understand out in the bush, Deputy Speaker Hastie, as you would well know, it's the value of jobs and the value of decentralisation. So, when the member for Hunter tries to put everything back to Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra, that gets people's backs up. And it also gets their backs up when not only the member for Hunter but the Labor candidates in the field profess to be the friends of farmers. They say, 'We support farmers, even though we want them to surf the waves of activism,' whatever that blather means. But when they go around our communities and say, 'We support farmers in drought,' they can't explain to the farmers why the Regional Investment Corporation, and the jobs it brings to our area, is going to be, potentially, torn down if they take over the government benches. They can't explain to farmers why they're not supporting initiatives like the Future Drought Fund. They can't explain it.

Here's another good example: the recent union proposal to dismantle the working holiday visa scheme. In our neck of the woods, we've got a good little orchard industry and we're trying to expand it. We've been working hard to give them better opportunities for export and we've just had some great wins in terms of getting export access around Asia for our stone-fruit growers. But the sad truth is that in order to harvest those crops they rely on backpackers to do it. Years ago, you could get Australian workers to do it, but—and I've seen it over the last few years, slowly but surely—unfortunately, fewer Australians want to work. So we've just announced the three-year working holiday visa scheme, yet there is a union proposal, again, to tear it apart—to wreck it. Under this ACTU proposal, they would abolish years 2 and 3 and severely curtail the numbers under year 1. What will that mean? It will mean that fruit will rot on trees and vines, and vegetables will rot in paddocks around the country. But they don't seem to be able to front up to the farmers and explain to them why this is happening. They gloss over it with motherhood statements or slogans like 'Don't worry about it; just get out there and surf the waves of activism.' It's an insult. The way they treat the farm sector is an insult.

If I look around my local area, I see so many people working so hard to bring relief to our farmers. This drought has been awful and it's still going on. I look around our local area and I see heroes who are out there working hard, bringing relief to their fellow Australians—people like Anne Jones and Peter Perry, who are from the Geurie Lions Club, just out of Wellington. The Geurie Lions are working with the Wellington Lions to bring a huge amount of relief to our farmers through Lions International. Anne and Peter have a property called Old Station, which is located at Gollan. Anne and Peter have distributed more than 4,685 bales of hay to 554 farming families since July last year. It's an extraordinary effort.

Along with the hay, farmers in need have also received donations of 427 food hampers, 840 stock lick blocks, over 5,000 containers of soft drinks and water, over 500 personal care items, 484 dog food packages and 573 Lions Christmas cakes. This is what our country communities are made of: when the chips are down, one of the great things about country Australia is that we look out for each other, we care for each other and we pass the hat around. In 2011, Anne was Disaster Relief Director for the Lions Club overseeing the distribution of funds to those impacted by the Warrumbungles fire and then again during the Forbes floods in 2016. It's community members like Anne that our country communities rely on.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the Kandos Rylstone Men's Shed raised $1,300 for a farm charity. The funds were raised through a raffle which was well supported by the local community. First prize was a 49-inch TV donated by a local businessman who wanted to remain anonymous. To John Medcalf, who is the president, Fred Hoy, the secretary, and Robert Holmes, the vice-president, and the entire team, I'd like to say thank you for your efforts. These are smaller country communities who are doing great things to help their fellow Australians.

The Gulgong Red Cross raised an incredible $900 for the Australian Red Cross Drought Appeal through a street stall on a single day. I met Helen Oakley at the show just a few days ago, and she pointed out that Gulgong has been a member of the Red Cross for 105 years. I think she's been a member for 36. So well done to President Helen and her team, Secretary Bonnie Denning and Treasurer Benison Rodd. We certainly appreciate all of the work that you're doing out there for our country communities.

I was at Lithgow for Australia Day, and they had a dunk tank at the aquatic centre. Kymberley Wilson organised the dunk tank. It was a great way to cool off. I did have a turn on the dunk tank. About $300 was raised. Again, these are country communities coming together to help their fellow Australians. Kymberley was ably assisted by Abby Wilson and Melissa McManus. These are the salt-of-the-earth people our country communities rely on. I mentioned those examples because they are examples of our communities coming together. They are just some of the many that I could talk about.

While our country communities are coming together to battle the drought, so too should our national representatives. They really should be coming together and working together to support initiatives like the Future Drought Fund—but they are not. I think it's a very disappointing thing that you would have the member for Hunter blindly walk into this place and tell our farmers that they should be surfing the waves of activism, while trying to destroy yet another key piece of legislation that will help people on the land, people in the bush, who desperately need it at the moment.

The choices are very clear as we head towards this next election. Do you support farmers or don't you? Do you stand with growth and prosperity in country areas or don't you? As I've said many times, it's all very well and good for the member for Hunter to kick around this place in RM Williams boots, but you've got to do more than that. There's got to be more substance to it. You can't do that and have the heart of a socks-and-sandals man—you just cannot do that. But, with legislation like this, I think our farm sector can be assured that those on this side of the House are backing them, and they are backing them with billions of dollars. This drought relief effort is now the biggest in Australia's history, and we are not out of it yet. More is probably going to be needed if the rains don't come. We're going to have to back them again, and on this side of the House we will be there for them when they need us, and we will back them.

Already my colleagues are discussing ways in which we can continue the help if the rains don't come. As I said, the choices are very clear. Those on this side of the House stand with agriculture, and those on that side of the House do not, and I think it's a very disappointing thing. But rest assured that farmers know who's backing them—they know who is backing up the talk with legislation and, most importantly, funding like this. Together we will get through this drought, and the opposition needs to get on board.