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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11863

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (4:49 PM) —I rise in the adjournment debate tonight to talk about the drought that has been ravaging so much of Australia and, in particular, the effects that it is having on my electorate of Maranoa. I have lived in western Queensland all my life. I have seen droughts come and I have seen droughts break, but I have never seen one that has extended well into the second year and well past Christmas before there were some signs of a break in the season, even of a patchy nature. That was the situation as we returned to this parliament almost two weeks ago. In western Queensland and so many parts of southern Queensland in my electorate, there had just not been any relief at all from the relentless nature of the drought.

The farmers and graziers have had to deal with rising costs of fodder. Day by day, as they went out to try and keep stock alive, they knew that one day it would rain—but it was only hope that was keeping them going as they went out each day to try to keep their core breeding flocks and herds alive. Water was becoming a critical issue for many of them. Many of them, with all dams dried up and underground water unavailable to them, were in fact carting water in to their livestock operations. The horticultural people as well were being affected in the south-east corner of my electorate, around Stanthorpe and the Granite Belt, and they too are feeling the effects of the prolonged drought. Of course, this is having an effect not only on the incomes of those farmers but also on the towns that depend so much on the income that is generated and the wealth that is created by the farm community in my electorate.

I want to put on record my thanks to AgForce in Queensland, because they have been largely responsible for putting together an application on behalf of the communities in western Queensland and other parts of Queensland. They have been doing the work that the state Labor government should have been doing in Queensland, quite frankly. I think the Labor minister up there just abdicated his position as the minister responsible, and it has been left to the industry organisation to put these applications together. I want to thank the members of AgForce, from the president right through to the staff, because they have been outstanding with the limited resources they have. They should not have had to do this sort of work because the state government and the Department of Primary Industries have, under the minister's direction, not been doing their work.

This government recognises that we have to get behind our farmers in this time of severe drought. The exceptional circumstances provisions that were announced by the minister over the last couple of weeks, and the interim EC provisions that were announced prior to Christmas, were certainly welcomed by the farming and grazing communities out there. The extension of exceptional circumstances drought support to small businesses that have been affected by this exceptional drought is something that is certainly going to go a long way towards helping them. I was in Blackall on 26 January, Australia Day, in the west of my electorate. An operator came up to me and said that they had not had an income since September of last year because their business is dependent on the work that they can get from the pastoral properties near Blackall. A mustering operation was back 40 per cent in the last six months. That sort of work is not being done up there at the moment, so those people are also being affected by this drought. Of course, the extension of the exceptional circumstances provision to the small business sector has certainly been welcomed by them.

Finally, there has been some relief rain in the electorate this week. I guess the irony of all this is that in some parts of the Tambo shire there has been some exceptional rain, up to 14 and 15 inches, and people have been out there in helicopters this week shooting livestock which were weakened by the drought and were bogged down in the mud. That is the tragedy of so much of rural Australia. I know that we have to be behind these people in the recovery phase because they, too, after feeding stock for so long are out there having to now destroy stock because they have been bogged in the mud after this exceptional cold rain. I am sure you, Mr Speaker, would understand the effect that that would have on livestock after the prolonged drought that we have had.