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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5065

Rural Assistance

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (14:16): My question is to the Treasurer. Can he advise when the $420 million crisis assistance package was made available to the states and why Queensland is still prevaricating whilst cattlemen shoot dying cattle and suffer the trauma of pending foreclosures? Given we are now five months into the crisis and there is still no significant action from Queensland, can he redirect the $420 million to a reconstruction fund, thus facilitating farm access to government interest rates of three per cent?

Mr SWAN (LilleyDeputy Prime Minister and Treasurer) (14:16): I thank the member for Kennedy for this very important question, because we do have a crisis in our northern cattle industry. We have an enormous amount of stress, high levels of debt and problems with valuations in parts of our rural sector right across the country, not just in North Queensland but also in the dairy industry in parts of Victoria and also in Western Australia. This is a very serious issue that the government takes seriously, which is why we did this fund late in April with a package of $420 million in concessional loans for farmers.

What we see here are viable farms impacted upon on the one hand by a high dollar and on the other by revaluations. Of course, this has put them under an enormous amount of stress. The government has put forward in good faith a package of $420 million in concessional loans. But to effectively deliver this we do require the cooperation of the states. They have the infrastructure at the local level to deliver this. They have the apparatus to deliver it and to work on the ground. I thought we would get that. I thought we would get it quickly, given the amount of stress in parts of the rural sector. So, frankly, I have been shocked by the failure of the states to come to the party. We are asking them to take on the administrative costs, so we are putting forward this package in good faith. It is urgently needed for a whole group of farmers who are viable in the long term but are impacted very badly by levels of debt and the value of the dollar in the short term. I have been shocked by the failure of the states to come on board, because this money should be flowing right now. I would urge all of the states to come on board, in good faith, to work with the Commonwealth in the interests of our rural producers.

The member for Kennedy asked me whether we could consider creating some new organisation to do this if we do not get the cooperation of the states. I say that that would certainly involve too much delay. This matter is urgent. So in the first instance the federal government's preference is to work in a cooperative way with the state governments to get the finance to these rural producers who desperately need it. We will continue to do that in good faith.