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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1092

Senator HANSON (Queensland) (13:04): I think it's great to have the Farm Household Support Amendment Bill 2019 to help the farming sector. Farmers are the backbone of this country and have gone through many hardships over more than 100-plus years since the country first started farming. We've seen a lot of farmers leave the farming sector. About 20 years ago we had about 125,000 farmers. We are down to around 85,000 to 90,000 farmers at the moment. Because of our extreme weather conditions in this country, we face drought quite often, which affects the farming sector and their families. Just recently in Queensland, we've had the floods. I went up to Julia Creek. I saw the devastation that was created through that, with cattle dead in the corner. They estimate it could have been anything up to around 700,000-plus cattle that actually were killed through that flooding and through the freezing weather conditions afterwards.

Farmers that I have met from travelling around quite extensively over the years and having met the farming sectors—very proud people—would be the last to actually line up wanting a helping hand. They are the backbone and the true salt of this nation. When I went on the Burrumbuttock Hay Run—I have been on it three times—through drought conditions, in Northern Queensland, we travelled from the borders of New South Wales on a couple of hundred trucks carrying the hay to the farmers. Along the way to the destination and when we arrived, people were lining the streets, waving the trucks on. You could see how pleased they were that these people gave up their time to deliver hay to the farming sector. The queue of cars and trailers—whatever they could pick their hay up on—was kilometres long. I watched some of the old codgers, as they call them, and the farming families. They were so grateful for that helping hand. Some, who would never have queued up to get some hay to feed their animals unless they really had to, had tears running down their cheeks because of gratitude.

This would be no different to the gratitude of receiving a few dollars. That's all it is; it's really just a few dollars. Have a look at the payments that they will be receiving. For a single aged under 22 with no dependant children, you're looking at $462. 20. There's an energy supplement of $7 included in that. A partner aged under 22 with dependant children is $507.60 with the energy supplement of $7.70. Let me say that, as of 14 June 2019 more than 11,900 people had received the farming assistance since it was introduced. And there were 6,892 people receiving the farm assistance as at 14 June 2019. Now, remember I said to you that the farming sector is about 85,000 to 90,000 farmers in the country so there are not a whole lot of people that are actually out there collecting it. The estimated actual expenditure providing for the farming assistance packages was $163.4 million, but this was estimated to decrease to $59.7 million in 2019-20.

This money is basically only equivalent to Newstart. For people to receive this, to meet the FHA income tax, the claimant must have income below the cut-off point for Newstart allowance or youth allowance—whichever applies. The cut-off point is the point at which a person's Newstart allowance rate is reduced to zero under the Newstart allowance income test. The current income test cut-off for a single Newstart allowance recipient with no children is $1,069.84 per fortnight. For the partner recipient with no children, it is $979 each. So they are going to change the assets test as well. It is going to go from $2.6 million, basically, up to $5 million. I agree with that; so it should be. A farm can be anything from thousands of acres to a few hundred acres, and the house and land is taken in as an asset. That's going to be exempt. But the land value, apart from that, can actually drive up the price of the assets. Then there is farm machinery. As we know, you could be looking at at least $150,000 or $250,000 for a decent tractor or similar farming equipment, like harvesters. These pieces of equipment that they have to buy can cost in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars. So raising it to $5 million is not unreasonable.

I think that this needs to be changed to take into consideration those farmers who have water licences. Those water licences, especially in time of drought, can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars—only when in drought. When do these people in the farming sector need that assistance? In times of drought. So, if they hold a water licence, that is going to put them beyond the assets test for being able to get that assistance. If they have to sell their water licence to meet that test, when there are good times, when they can farm, they won't have their water licence. Their farming is going to be destroyed. They won't be able to farm without the water licence. That needs to be taken into consideration. I hope the minister does look at this to extend the assets test to possibly include the water licences, which will be worth a lot of money at the time when they will need that assistance. Other assets that need to be considered include, of course, the cattle or any stock that they may have. It doesn't take much on a farm, especially with the land value, to bring the value up to $5 million. I don't think we're paying out a lot of money. If you have a look at other Australians that receive pensions or Newstart, they can be living in million-dollar mansions on Sydney Harbour or in Melbourne—and I'm not denying them that; that's their home. Because they don't have land around it, their property is worth millions of dollars; yet, if it's a farming sector, we only take out their house and 2½ acres.

In some areas, a lot of these farming properties have been held by families and handed down for generations, and the families can't get assistance because of the asset value of the land. Yet, a lot of places won't allow owners to subdivide or sell off that land so that they can provide for themselves, so they're forced to leave their homes and their communities. I think that needs to be taken into consideration. Some people can't get their healthcare card, and I think that isn't fair. A lot of those in the farming sector cannot get assistance or pensions or healthcare cards because of the price of their properties, and sometimes these properties are worth less than those belonging to people who live in Sydney, Melbourne or even Brisbane, yet those people get those benefits because that's their home. It's the land value that drives up the price.

I need to point out how important it is to assist these people at times, and I know it's not a great sum of money. One story was relayed to me about a family that went through tough times through the droughts. The family had loaded up the cattle to take them to the market. The young boy, who was only 17, loaded up the cattle and was going to take them to market, but they were assessed as being too poor. He had to unload the cattle because they couldn't be transported and taken away through the drought. That same young boy sat around the table with his parents and said he needed a new pair of boots. They said, 'You know we haven't got the money for the boots.' I think it was just the tipping point for that young fellow, because he went around the back of the shed that night and took his own life. This is the devastation that is happening out there. People are actually taking their own lives. They are too proud to ask for a helping hand. The neighbours and the police keep an eye on them. Sometimes we need to look past all these tests.

Another thing here in the bill—I'll just go to the point made here—is that they can only apply for this over a three- or four-year period. Why are we putting a time limit on this? They can only claim this Newstart allowance for three to four years. I can take you to Mount Isa. As I said, I went on the Burrumbuttock hay run. They were facing drought for eight years. The whole of New South Wales, I think, just recently was declared a drought state. Most of Queensland is in drought. We're putting restrictions on them. Do we put restrictions an all other Australians—that they can only claim Newstart for a matter of three or four years? Do we put restrictions on pensioners—that they can only claim it for a few years? I'm sorry, it's not right. I don't agree with this.

In principle, I do think the bill is necessary to support our farming sector, but I don't believe it's been well thought out. This is bandaiding again. This is more legislation that is only bandaiding without really going to the heart of the problem on how to deal with it and what's fair and just for all Australians. I hope the government does look at this. I'm of the opinion that they can actually look at the regulation, including the water licences. Have a really good look at this and at what you can do to improve this bill a little bit to better assist the farming sector. I know they won't be lining up. They are the backbone of this nation. They work extremely hard, but sometimes they need that helping hand. Make sure it's a decent helping hand to ensure that they will be there for the long term, because we need our farmers to provide the food for our nation, and the exports we get from our farming sector keep this country afloat. They do pay their taxes and they work damn hard. I think they are the ones we need to actually stand behind and support. Let's look at this bill and see where we can improve it a little bit to help all Australians.