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Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Page: 7993

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (18:10): I support the passage of this Farm Household Support Amendment (Temporary Measures) Bill 2018 bill that will provide some relief to Australia's farmers. Australians are no strangers to drought. We've seen it before and undoubtedly we'll see it again. However, the severity of recent droughts—with the millennium drought etched firmly in our memories and the current drought on the eastern seaboard one of the worst on record—is having a devastating effect on our farmers.

This bill allows more farmers to apply for the farm household allowance and provides those farmers with two lump sum payments worth up to $3,600 each. While this provides some small immediate relief, the government still needs to address the biggest issues facing Australia's agricultural sector—climate change, energy costs and, I would also say, dealing with the banks. The first to feel the real impact of climate change are our farmers. The fact that the government continues to be so bitterly divided on energy and climate change policy and yet claims to be addressing farmers' concerns is deeply frustrating for the agricultural sector, a sector which contributes $60 billion to Australia's economy every year.

One-off payments to farmers will not prevent future droughts and will not address the systemic, surrounding skyrocketing power prices. I call upon the government to show real leadership and not just pay lip-service to the incredibly difficult challenges Australia's agricultural sector are facing. I also call on the government to address the unconscionable lending practices by banks to small primary-production businesses. Primary producers are so often at the mercy of factors far beyond their control. Family farmers hope to make profits over a multi-year cycle, using good years and what we're seeing now as bad years to build their financial buffer, to see them through the bad. These primary producers are capital rich and income poor, and their ability to pay their creditors is reliant upon long-term profit cycles.

Banks are not always accommodating to the challenges faced by farmers, and we've seen that with the royal commission. They often only give the minimum notice for sudden and unilateral variations to loan agreements. Revaluations of assets are undertaken during downturns, when asset prices are at their lowest, and as a means to call in the loan and force the farmer off the loan book. Earlier this year I introduced the Banking Amendment (Rural Finance Reform) Bill 2018, which took a reasoned and measured approach to levelling the field between the lender and the lendee. And now that I'm fortunate enough to be back in my role I'll be seeking to re-table that bill. The government has refused to even debate the bill let alone put it to a vote. How can you call yourself the party for farmers if you are not going to address the inequity that lies between bankers and farmers?

The government's proposals in this bill are long overdue and they will provide assistance to farmers in the short-term. Lifting farm asset tests from $2.55 million to $5 million will allow more farmers to access the farm household allowance, providing them with up to $16,000 per year in income support. It is support that I know farmers don't want to take, but if they need money we must provide it for them. The two lump-sum payments, each worth up to $3,600, will provide immediate relief with rising bills, but lowering power prices would provide so much more real and long-term assistance. And that's what we're talking about—long-term assistance on energy prices, on climate change and on banking behaviour.

I support the passage of this legislation. The measures will provide some short-term relief for Australia's farmers, and that is important. More important is the government standing up for rural Australia and meaningfully addressing the real issues that are forcing families that have worked on the land for generations to sell their farms.