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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19229

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (3:08 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Has the minister seen recent reports concerning state based drought payments? How do these payments, Minister, compare with the Australian government's continuing assistance package to drought affected farm families and small businesses?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the honourable member for Maranoa for the question. I know he will be pleased to know that the farmers in the Stanthorpe and Inglewood area in his own electorate are amongst those who have recently been declared eligible for exceptional circumstances. He has lobbied long and hard on behalf of those farmers. He has had to battle, like many other Queensland farmers, with state applications from a government that could not care less about the plight of farmers.

In fact, the Queensland government was not even prepared to involve itself in the preparation of applications up until it was shamed into it a few months ago. The agricultural organisations in that state have had to take the task upon themselves and people like AgForce have had to do the work. But at last these farmers are now to receive benefits along with quite a large number of other Australian farmers. In fact, 65 per cent of the landmass of Australia—the agricultural areas—is now covered by exceptional circumstances or interim assistance. So the Commonwealth is making a deep and significant commitment to drought assistance. As I mentioned to the House earlier in the week, around $1 billion is committed to provide support for farmers at the present time.

That contrasts very sharply with the efforts of the state governments. I have noticed lately, on a number of occasions, state governments telling everybody about their achievements. The Queensland minister boasted about having provided $4.8 million in assistance to Queensland farmers through the state subsidy scheme—a mere $4.8 million. The Commonwealth takes only three days to provide that amount of assistance to Australian farmers, and that is all that the Queensland government has been able to manage for its producers for the drought. Its effort is indeed shameful.

In the Victorian rural press, there was boasting from the Victorian government that it is giving close to $50 million worth of assistance. I have often given credit to the Victorian government for doing more than other states. Indeed, Victoria has spent more than all the other states put together. However, as far as the Victorian state Labor government is concerned, the drought was over as soon as the election was over. So this amount is also its total expenditure, because it does not believe there is any drought in Victoria any more—except that it keeps lodging applications with the Commonwealth for exceptional circumstances. There is not a drought there that is bad enough for the Victorian government to offer any assistance, but it keeps demanding that the Commonwealth do more and more. Frankly, that kind of hypocritical approach brings no credit on that government whatsoever.

But it is worse than that. Many of these state governments are not only providing paltry help to farmers in need and withdrawing what little assistance they have got but also, in most instances, imposing new taxes and charges on drought stricken farmers—at a time when they can least afford it. The Treasurer has often spoken about the 300 increased taxes in the last Victorian state budget; many of those fall heavily on farmers. A recent report in Queensland has spoken about over 800 new taxes and tax rises that the Queensland government has introduced since the arrival of Premier Beattie on the scene, and many of those are particularly targeted at farmers. Now the state government has introduced a new charge for farmers moving their cattle from one property to another, and so drought stricken farmers are affected by a new tax when they want to move their stock. There are increased freight rates for moving precious hay and fodder to drought stricken areas. What about their incredible new tax on farm dams? Farm dams, many of which are stone empty in the drought, are now subject to a new Queensland government tax. Not only are they providing no assistance; they are eroding the value of the billion dollars worth of assistance that the Commonwealth is providing to farmers. That is not the kind of partnership we need in these sorts of circumstances. Never once have I heard a member opposite bring to task their state government for the lousy performance it has put up in this drought.

If that has not added insult to injury, a real shudder went around the farms of Australia when farmers heard that Labor was going to abolish the excise rebate, the diesel fuel rebate, for the mining industry—abolishing the rebate for miners. The real concern is that, if they can do it to miners, the next call will be farmers; next time there is a spending spree by Labor, farmers will lose the diesel fuel rebate as well. Labor has no commitment to farmers; Labor in state governments has demonstrated it—and here in the federal House it has been just as bad.