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Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Page: 7989

Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-Monaro) (17:54): I rise to support the second reading amendment to the Farm Households Support Amendment (Temporary Measures) Bill 2018 from my good friend and colleague the shadow minister for agriculture, the member for Hunter, and salute his work in getting out there and listening to our farmers and being part of our Country Labor caucus. I'd also like to acknowledge my colleague the member for Malley. He's one of the few members in this place who does actually have a connection with farming as opposed to being a journalist, an accountant, a banker or what we call in New South Wales a Pitt Street farmer. As always, he made some valuable observations from the coalface, as we might say. I support this amendment because we believe that the farmers need a single up-front payment option. We call on the government to remove that two-part payment period to ensure that farmers aren't missing out on the supplementary payment due to the complexities of the application process.

We support this bill. We will pass it. If we can also get this amendment, we'll be very happy with that. We should have bipartisan approaches to helping our farmers. I think we always do, by and large. I'm going to offer here today not political partisanship but some constructive criticism and suggestions, because this is part of that broader story of the conditions that are facing our farmers now. Like the member for Malley, my family have been dairy farming in the Bega Valley for over 170 years now. My great-great-grandfather founded the Bega Cheese Co-op and was the first chairman. Dairy farming requires a much-better-quality pasture than a lot of other country, where you can do marginal grazing and the like, so dairy farmers are doing it really tough. I was privileged to spend time in the agricultural and water portfolios when we were in government. I went up and down the Murray-Darling Basin, looking at the struggling farmers during that time. It is heartbreaking to see them having to go through this again. We all know the mental health issues that farmers go through in this environment.

The point of distinction for me is I'm not accepting any more that there's any kind of argument we can enter into about climate change. We have to convince some of the blockers on the other side of this chamber to get out of the way because we need to aggressively take on this climate change issue. We have to be able to prevent further catastrophic climate change. We can't see another two-degree increase. That should be a matter of bipartisan approach. I can't understand why it isn't. In every other significant OECD country, you get the conservative side of politics completely aligned with the progressive side. Angela Merkel, David Cameron, John Key, Theresa May and even Arnold Schwarzenegger are all over this. I don't get why we can't agree, particularly using the power of the market. I would've thought members opposite would embrace that. That was the potential that our farmers had. Under the clean energy future package that we were able to put in a government, the power of that market and the investment would have flowed to farmers.

We've heard about the Carbon Farming Initiative that we introduced. I know some of the measures of that have been preserved by the government, but not enough power is getting behind that investment. Agriculture takes up 53 per cent of the Australian landscape. The opportunity that farmers in agriculture offer for large-scale carbon sequestration in this country is huge. Apart from that, we know that getting carbon back into the soil is going to help restore its health. Over the two centuries that we've been here, we've been doing a lot of damage to soil health. There's no doubt about it. Laying on too much phosphate, pesticides and other things has definitely drawn down on the carbon store that we have in soils and eroded a lot of our landscape.

We have great farmers out there who are politically neutral—they're not wheeling any barrow for any side of politics—who are doing great stuff in trying to push us forward. We have some great Nuffield scholars who have introduced techniques of stubble management, no-till farming and the like. You also have people like Tony Coote at the Mulloon Creek Natural Farms co-op out near Bungendore doing a lot of great stuff on absorbing and implementing the theories of natural sequence farming to rehydrate the landscape and slow down water through the landscape. If we're able to adopt those techniques then there's going to be no need for dams. As the member mentioned, in the kind of environment that we're seeing, with extreme weather and long periods of dry weather and then heavy falls, dams are not helping a hell of a lot. I must point out that we have to have health in our rivers and natural flushing flows through our rivers. Our fishers really depend on the health of the estuaries. I know only too well that in my region our fishers and oyster growers have to have a healthy river environment. Damming is not the answer to all of this. It gets back to, at the end of the day, better techniques in farming and that includes, as they're doing at Mulloon farms, slowing water down through the landscape and enabling the soil to retain that water much more effectively.

We've also heard mention by the shadow minister of Charles Massy. He's a tremendous bloke. He's one of the Monaro farmers. He's got a PhD from the ANU and a BSC as well. He's an expert on what he's implementing on his farm. He terms it 'regenerative farming techniques', and it's working. He's getting carbon back in his soil—it's helping to sequester carbon—and he's making his property much more productive. He can show you a slide which is quite dramatic. It shows his fence line, and the difference between his property and the property next door is stark. He's trying to sell the techniques to other farmers. That's where the critical emphasis has to be now. We have to get the communication going. Fortunately, in our high country, the Monaro farmers, in the millennial drought, finally got together and formed Monaro Farming Systems. Through that, they were able to team up with the CSIRO to develop a computer modelling tool that will help them plan for a 50-year cycle on their properties to manage pastures and herds properly. That is also a great mental health prop as well. There is something to grab onto. Bringing them together in that aggregation also helped them to talk to each other and pass on scientific tips and farming techniques. This is what we've got to take countrywide: enable the farmers to aggregate and adopt the best science out there but also to take advantage of the proper carbon system that allows the investment that needs to flow to those farms. Under our Carbon Farming Initiative, for example, we were looking to enable farmers to aggregate, reforest parts of their properties, have a broker to manage that process and diversify the income on their farms. This is another thing we have to do: ensure resilience in farms by diversifying their incomes. Certainly, our Clean Energy Future package was helping in doing that.

In my region, forestry industry is a huge part of what we do. It's one of the largest forestry industry components in certainly any electorate in the state of New South Wales. More is needed and more can be provided to a growing sector of the economy for us. The busy pulp mill in Tumut wants to double in size and expand. They need another million tonnes of resources to do that. The Dongwha-TASCO sawmill near Bombala would like to expand into particle board manufacturing. Again, they need more resources. So I really welcome the shadow minister's announcement that he's committed to a review, with a view to modifying the water restrictions on the plantation investment strategies under the Carbon Farming Initiative. That's important because, normally with plantation resources, you'll only get a return on that at either a 10-year or a 25-year time line. But, with the Carbon Farming Initiative, you can have investors getting a return on their investment through the whole life of the forestry and plantation development and investment. I really welcome that. That's the sort of thing we need. We need aggressive action on climate change to save farmers from catastrophic climate change, but we also need to enable investment to flow into diversifying their farms.

All of this was going to happen under the processes we established when we were in government. We looked at the exceptional circumstances regime and said, 'This is no longer exceptional circumstances. This is the world now.' We also knew from that, and I knew from my own experience, that inefficient farmers had their inefficiency covered up by the exceptional circumstances regime. You also had artificial lines on maps where a farmer on one side would say the Eurobodalla Shire was not getting the support a farmer in the Bega Valley Shire was getting. That was just arbitrary silliness. We took the exceptional circumstances regime to the Productivity Commission and had it reviewed and they came up with suggestions on how we could move forward in developing a regime that would actually empower farmers to deal with farming over the long term through dire circumstances. Following that, we set up the intergovernmental process, the COAG process and the Standing Council on Primary Industries to help develop and implement that strategy. But, unfortunately, the member for New England, who became the Minister for Agriculture, dismantled that whole SCoPI process under COAG, so we no longer had the implementation of those longer term drought reform measures. That's really very, very sad, and we have to get those mechanisms put back in place to make sure our farmers can be assisted and empowered in adopting those techniques that will help them to survive well into the future.

Obviously, what we're still seeing missing from the government's policies is the restoration of that COAG drought policy reform process, action to help farmers adapt to climate change, and also giving farmers immediate access to this $12,000. It's also a bit disingenuous to claim this dollar value of the drought response by factoring in the capital value of loans when we know that these farmers are going to have to pay this back. Really, a loan approach to this is just no help right now. These farmers are not going to qualify for these loans. They're not going to be able to pay them back right now. The other thing that we've heard mentioned that is hurting them so badly is the denuding of human services—the 2,500 staff who have gone from Centrelink, who were our frontline warriors in getting together with farmers and getting together with communities suffering from the effects of disasters and extreme weather events.

Just look around you. In my own region we've had the earliest beginning to a fire season we've seen. Already there have been three homes lost near Bemboka, the Yankee Gap fire, off the back of what we saw was a late season fire tragedy in Tathra. We lost nearly 70 homes there. There was a great uniting across the chamber to respond to that crisis, but we need to raise the sights here. Look up. What's going on around the world right now? It is just smashing us in the face what's happening. There has got to be more urgency in doing something about this. We can no longer sit by and pretend that the science and the evidence isn't there.

For example, the Climate Council has said that by 2030 we are going to need double the number of firefighters. With these overlapping fire seasons that we are seeing now, there is a real problem with the sharing of air assets between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. We're fighting fires here, and California is still burning—and Sweden et cetera. So we are now going to have to revisit the issue of how we manage air asset support for fires. We might have to acquire our own capacity for a year-round threat. This is what we're being confronted with and what needs to be addressed by more serious national policy.

What I'm also very concerned about—and I particularly want to finish on this—is that we've seen the drought community's program announcement, the extension of that $75 million in funding. We've seen a list of about 60 eligible councils published today, and each of those councils will be getting $1 million of support for things like employing local contractors, undertaking repairs and maintenance, upgrading and building new community facilities, holding events and undertaking drought relief activities and the possible carting of potable water. I've got a list of all the New South Wales councils that are benefitting from this program. I have six councils in my electorate, which is 41,000 square kilometres—in the top 15 in this chamber. Did Queanbeyan-Palerang Council get support? No. Yass Valley? No. Snowy Valley Council? No. Snowy Monaro? No. Bega Valley? No. Eurobodalla? No. Every single one of the six councils in my region received absolutely no help under this program, and I can tell you the mayors are really angry. They think this looks terribly like a political decision. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here—I'm sure it wasn't—but I cannot see for the life of me how my six councils have been overlooked in this assistance, because they are hurting. They are red on the map; they are all red. They are all drought-declared and they all have farmers who are really doing it tough.

I'm not going to sit by and tolerate that. I call on the member for Groom to please revisit this, because those mayors are going to come knocking on his door and demand their inclusion. So let's take this opportunity to perhaps remedy what might have been an oversight—I give all the benefit of the doubt here. But those six councils of mine need this help and they need it now. They should have been included on that list in the first place, if you just looked at the drought-affected map.

So let's make this a bipartisan approach to dealing with this crisis. Let's accept the second reading amendment that my colleague has proposed to make this more effective, in the immediate assistance the farmers need. But let's get serious, let's get real, about the true story behind all of this—effective policy on climate change—and not the circus we've seen over these last 10 years of climate change wars. It's got to end.