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Monday, 17 September 2018
Page: 9218


Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (11:27): I rise today to speak to the motion moved by the member for New England. The member for New England, the Morrison government's drought envoy, is finally talking about farmers in the drought. As I flew in to Canberra this morning via Dubbo, I got another look at just how dry it is. Unfortunately, I didn't get time to call in and have a cup of tea with my in-laws who are living out there. But I'll tell you what: Dubbo, and everything west of there, is just so dry and doing it so tough.

In this motion, he's trying to convince us that there's really nothing to see here; prices are up; things are good. It's just not the case. Our farmers are not doing great, and many of them aren't even doing okay. If the member for New England was talking to the farmers in his community as I do to those in mine, I'm sure he'd know that. Sadly, I've had cause to speak many times in this place about the drought and how it's affecting farmers in my community. Even after days of rain, there is no hope on the horizon that, on many of our state's farms, this year's crop will be sown, let alone harvested, or that their stock will be fed or watered. On many, stock, especially prized breeding stock, are being sold off.

The member for New England's motion is more about self-congratulation, sadly, than recognising the critical contribution the agricultural industry makes to Australia's economy. While the figures quoted in this motion are encouraging for some, they come at the desperate expense of others—a fact that the newly-minted Prime Minister was quick to point out in a recent tweet. What is lacking in the member for New England's motion is hope—hope that this new Morrison government has recognised the dire situation affecting farmers across our great nation; hope that the Morrison government's new drought envoy knows what's happening in his own electorate; hope that the inadequacy of this government's response to the biggest crisis faced by many of our farmers in the last 20 years, and, for some, 80 years, will be actually be really addressed. Our farming communities need more than platitudes to get them through this crisis, and the member for New England's government has been sitting on its hands for the last five years while our farmers have been drowning in debt or forced off their land.

I'm sure the member for New England would have us all believe that his government is doing wonderful things for farmers and as much as it can, but I would say: it's too little, too late. Let's talk about farm household support. A recent amendment, supported by Labor, extended this payment beyond its original expiry date earlier this year. The honourable member for Hunter will tell you, in no uncertain terms, that this payment has been botched from the start. There are more questions than answers around time frames, amounts paid and the hurdles that time-poor farmers need to overcome to receive a payment that may barely scratch the surface, a payment meted out to eligible farmers as if they aren't responsible enough to receive it all at once. Seriously, they should have been given that money as a lump sum. Labor has been criticising the government for the past four years in relation to the way farmers access these types of support payments. This payment is undersubscribed, and no wonder, given that our concerns have fallen on deaf National and Liberal Party ears. This is the coalition government's flagship policy but it ignores Australia's changing climate and puts a bandaid on the suffering of drought-affected farmers—and, importantly, the communities that support them, because drought doesn't just affect the farm but affects everyone who relies on the farm.

Long-term drought reform, which was led by Labor in government, has not been progressed. The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison, ATM, government doesn't give out enough in support of our farmers. There has been no meaningful reform. Drought reform must include a suite of measures designed to bring about meaningful change and significant support for workers and their families. The member for New England, who is in the chamber, has a little wry smile and is having a bit of a chuckle about this, but it is so serious. We need this support for our agricultural sector.

I have no hesitation in echoing support for the agricultural industry. The member for New England calls for it in this motion, and I think it's vital. We need to back in our farmers and those who support and work hard with farmers. We need to keep food on the table for Australian families. I understand the sacrifices dairy farmers, for example, make—working 365 days a year to ensure the cows are brought in and milked twice a day—in providing fresh milk for our cereal. And I see the grief on the faces of our livestock farmers. I know them well. They've had to sell or destroy many of their animals, some among them fantastic breeders. But what the member for New England and the Morrison government fail to understand is that all of the recognition and praise in the world will not bring certainty to a sector that is right now staring into a policy void. (Time expired)