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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6089

Senator FERRIS (3:19 PM) — Can I say how pleased I am to have the opportunity to speak on the subject of the drought, since I came into question time today straight from a meeting with Dr Wendy Craik on this very subject—Dr Wendy Craik is the chair of the government body which deals with drought—and also from meeting with three members of a leading women's community organisation which has representation across the drought affected regions of this country. I was able to discuss this matter with Dr Craik just an hour and a half ago, and I was reassured by her that there are measures in place to process the Peak Downs application in a speedy and timely fashion. In fact, that application was received only on 30 October this year. Five more applications are expected this week and, because of the dreadful circumstances in country Australia at present, another 15 applications are expected by the end of January. There are measures in place to ensure that these applications—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Hill and Senator Ludwig, give Senator Ferris a go.

Senator FERRIS —will be processed in a timely fashion. I can assure Senator McLucas and Senator O'Brien—and I must say that I am very glad to hear that they are as concerned about the drought as I and others on this side of the chamber are—that those applications will be processed and that arrangements are in place for extra staff to be made available for the processing.

I want to tell the chamber this afternoon of the real difficulty of the three women I spoke of. They drove to Canberra especially to meet with a group of backbenchers who are particularly concerned about the practical difficulties on the ground, not only on the farms of those areas but also in the towns, with the harvesting contractors, who will have no financial assistance this year. We heard about one contractor who currently employs 17 people. He has had to let those people go, and he himself has taken a wage paying job because of the drought. We are also interested in the support services in the regional towns. Let me tell you what these women told us today. I fortunately brought my notes into the Senate, and I am able to quote from these women themselves.

One of these women, who has lived on the land for 47 years, said that her biggest problem was not with the federal government's assistance but with Bob Carr's bureaucratic red tape. I refer not only to the length of time that is being taken by the states to process these applications with the pasture protection boards but also to the other structural difficulties facing farm families. For example, this woman and her family made an application for some form of water assistance. I believe it involved sinking a bore. This is apparently something that the New South Wales government has been encouraging farmers in water-strapped areas to do. They submitted their application in August, as was suggested, and guess what? The New South Wales government has not approved it as yet. She is now concerned that they will run out of water on the property before Bob Carr's bureaucratic red tape allows her issue to be dealt with.

I could refer also to the difficulty they face with other state government applications, and the nonsense that has been put about on the ground, particularly in New South Wales, when the federal government put in advertisements to tell people how to apply for different measures to assist them in the drought. These people then find that Bob Carr's representatives tell them that they are not applicable to them. They are genuinely concerned about the bureaucratic buck-passing from New South Wales to the federal government. I suggest that those opposite, instead of coming in here and criticising our measures, should look to their own— (Time expired)