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Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Page: 8003

Mr JOYCE (New England) (18:56): One of the greatest frustrations we have is that, every time we talk about drought, the Labor Party talk about climate change. I've got no problem with them talking about climate change, but that is hardly what is going to suffice for someone who is doing it so tough. You turn up and give them a sermon about climate change when you know full well there is not a policy in Australia that is actually going to have, by itself, an effect on the climate. It's something that most people find completely galling. You go to a house where they can't afford groceries and they can't keep the dignity of their life and you say, 'What the Australian Labor Party is offering you is no more than a sermon'—a sermon about a belief in how the people of Woolloomooloo or St Kilda have primacy over the future of regional Australia. That is basically it.

In Tamworth we have had, in imperial measurement, which most farmers work by, a little better than four inches of rain. There is another part of the world that has four inches of rain annually: Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. So we are living in a desert environment. It is peculiar, it is unusual and it most likely has a lot to do with the changing climate, but what we have to deal with is the crisis of now. What the Farm Household Allowance does by raising the cap to $5 million in net equity is give more people access to a payment that will keep dignity in their life. It's a payment that will allow them to go to the chemist and pay the chemist bill; it will allow them to pay the grocery bill; it will allow them to keep the phone on. These things are so vitally important.

When the coalition started and I was the minister, only 367 people had access to Farm Household Allowance. Three hundred and sixty-seven people—that is the number that was given to me. By the end, we had over 7,100 people. This again extends the number of people who have access to it. Not only does it do that but, with a further $12,000, it also gives people the capacity to access a lump sum. The challenge of this chamber and one of the greatest issues before our nation at the moment is to come up with a policy debate in this chamber. We heard so many theatrics today. I listened to them. I know we're partly responsible for it and so is the other side. But there is not one person dealing with the drought who thinks that is of relevance to them. They're looking for us to talk about their lives. They're looking for a question time where the questions that go back and forth are about the stringency and the competition of ideas in policy to deal with the drought. That is why, in this nation, there's a disconnect from this crazy boarding school. People see you not talking about them; you're talking about this place. We've got to make sure this drought is the No. 1 issue.

Out there in the public, the people in Sydney—even those in the suburbs—see it as one of the biggest issues for them. They're not affected by the drought, but they are definitely affected by the empathy for people who are in drought and they want to make sure that our nation does the very best for them. They might even gain more respect for us as a body if we made this our focus. In the recent election of Longman, less than 70 per cent voted for the two major parties. So 30 per cent of people basically voted for no-one because they fear we're disconnected. The drought gives us the capacity to get back on the front foot, to do the right thing by people in the country and to make sure that they see us as relevant in their lives. The Farm Household Support Amendment (Temporary Measures) Bill 2018 is part of doing precisely that.

We hear about issues to deal with drought and water storage—drought, by its very essence, is lack of water. Surely one of the fundamental parts of a drought policy would be the construction of large water storages and the facilitation of farms for smaller water infrastructure. We did that in the past with water infrastructure grants, and it was well supported. When we put forward money for the construction of dams, there were two things that worked against us. One, to be quite frank, was that the Labor Party wanted to take basically half the money away. They don't have the vision for this nation.

The other section is the green lobby groups. Every time we try to do something for this nation, a group of people who are predominantly well paid, who have been the beneficiaries of this nation and who are probably well-educated—as a group, the highest income earners in Australia—work against us trying to make this nation a stronger place. Nathan Dam, which in Queensland has been discussed since the 1920s—I think 1928—has 770,000 megalitres. The reason we couldn't get that started for a long time was because of the boggomoss snail. I have great respect for the boggomoss snail, but I believe this was just a mechanism to create a caveat that stands in the proxy for inertia.

In my own electorate, in Tamworth, we went for the extension of Chaffey Dam from 60,000 megalitres to 100,000 megalitres, but there was the Booroolong frog. I was always of the opinion that frogs liked water. I thought if we gave them more water we should have more frogs and happier frogs, but, of course, there was an argument of inertia. On the road between Limbri and Weabonga that goes up in the hills next to where I grew up, the road fell into the creek. It fell into the creek, but for years they could not fix it. You know why? Because of the Booroolong frog. This frog is a threat to our nation. I had a look at its range. Its range is from northern Victoria to southern Queensland. I believe one of the greatest external threats that we have in this nation is the Booroolong frog. It could stop anything. It's part of the green agenda that we have to stand up against if we want this nation to take the next step.

Back to the farm household allowance, these things work together. We have to make sure that during this drought we do our part in assisting farmers. We can't make it rain, but we can create dignity in people's houses. You've got to remember that before the farm household allowance, farmers were not entitled to anything because their asset base was too high. Other people got unemployment benefits, but they got nothing. They literally had no money. This is part of a drought package and so vitally important. It works hand in glove with other things we are doing for the drought. I would like to say to those who are listening to this tonight that there are about a million dollars we are giving to councils in drought areas. It's vitally important.

In the past, to assist with drought, we built dog fences in western Queensland to exclude dogs from the area and to try to get sheep back into these areas, and to give something with a legacy that works into the future. We've also put further money on the table for the GABSI scheme. This is the piping and capping of one of our nation's most vital assets, the Great Artesian Basin. It is so vital that in the past we lost about 95 per cent of the water in bore drains—which is really just an urban ditch—through evaporation and absorption. This is a huge vital saving of that vital asset.

For some of that water—when it comes up, when we do the testing on it—the last time it saw sunlight was millions of years ago. We are taking a water resource from millions of years ago in some instances. It must be treated with respect because we might be taking it from a wetter period of our nation. We have got to be vastly aware. What the Commonwealth is doing as part of this drought package is to make sure that there is further capping of this resource, so it doesn't just flow out and evaporate. It is too valuable for that.

It is not only farmers that find this important; it is also towns. There are many towns, especially in Western Queensland, for whom that's their water supply. I lived for a long time in St George. We lived on water from the Great Artesian Basin. In summer, you had a peculiar circumstance. You would never run out of hot water. You would run out of cold water, because all the water is hot. Actually, in many instances, you turn the hot water system off and run the water into the hot water system for cold water, and the taps worked back to front. If we lost that resource, it would be decimating to so many areas of Australia.

Regarding the farm household allowance, which we are debating tonight, each lump sum payment will be $3,000 per person for members of a couple, and $3,600 in all other circumstances. This means if both members of a couple are receiving the farm household allowance, between 1 September 2018 and 1 June 2019, they will receive $6,000 each or $12,000 per household. In all other circumstances, the amount payable will be $7,200. That's substantial money. It's not enough money to get yourself through the drought, pay for the fodder and basically keep feeding the stock, but it will keep dignity in that house. I want to commend the minister and those in the government who have worked to provide this. The drought is a dynamic situation, and we must always be mindful of what the next step is. What are we going to do? How do we make sure that this national crisis is dealt with as a national crisis?

In concluding tonight, I will say this: during a bushfire, people can come onto your place, they can take your bulldozer and say, 'We need it to fight the bushfire. We are basically requiring it for the bushfire,' and you comply. During a bushfire they say, 'Look, we're going to have to cut your fences to get access to where the fire is.' During a bushfire, they have the capacity and the authority to back-burn through your place, because they've got to put the fire out. During a bushfire basically laws are put aside because of the common sense that in a crisis, you have to deal with it in this form.

One of the graces of being on the backbench is to propose policy that I think we should consider. This is a national crisis, and a national crisis means that basically the laws as they currently stand have to take into account the crisis that we are dealing with. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder holds billions of dollars' worth of water. It holds it for the purpose of watering environmental assets—environmental assets which during the drought would not get water if we had a purely natural environment. Remember: during a drought, many rivers that are actually flowing would be dry because the regulated capacity of dams wouldn't be there. Beside me is the member for Parkes and above him is the Copeton Dam, and then it runs down through the Gwydir River. The Gwydir River wouldn't have water in it if it didn't have regulated flow. It would be bone dry. The Peel River right now would be like an environment similar to Saudi Arabia. It would be bone dry. But it flows. It flows because of regulated water. It flows also because of environmental water.

We have to ask a question. This is a one-in-100-year event and we should be considering that the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder's asset be used for the production of fodder, of lucerne, to finish off crops, to make sure that in the Gwydir Valley we finish up a cotton crop, because amongst other things we use the cotton seed for cattle feed. Down south, we want the water for lucerne. We can get high-protein grain across from Western Australia, but we need a fodder component. If we don't really deal with this as the crisis which it is then we will not be doing the right thing by our nation.

Right now, instead of using lucerne and other fodder from southern Australia, we are using products from the northern parts, from Queensland—Rhodes Grass that comes in from the Lockyer Valley and other products from around Dalby. There is a word of caution with this. Anything that comes from Central Queensland has the potential to come in with Parthenium weed. If we move Parthenium weed onto the black soil of the Liverpool Plains it will take strike and it will work its way across. If we move it into Walgett, in the member for Parkes's electorate, it will create massive problems. The Lockyer Valley also has another problem—fire ants. If we move fire ants around our nation, we will be doing it a great disservice.

In closing, I support the farm household allowance. I have been involved with it in its former iterations. But this is a national crisis. We must treat it as a national crisis and we must be bold enough and brave enough to go forward and use the resources that are at our disposal to deal with it as a national crisis.