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Tuesday, 3 December 2019
Page: 6762


Mr DRUM (NichollsChief Nationals Whip) (13:10): I look forward to these amendments to the Farm Household Support Amendment (Relief Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2019 that have been put forward by the government in relation to the farm household allowance making its way through the parliament. These amendments are further refinements of farm household allowance and effectively come in four sets of amendments. The first of those sets is to provide a rate of farm household allowance that is not varied by a person's income, effectively making it so that if you are eligible for one dollar then you are eligible for the full amount. The second is to simplify the asset test and effectively take onboard the value that many farmers have—the value of their water—and make sure that it doesn't preclude farmers from having access to farm household allowance.

A series of ministerial rules have been prescribed against somebody who is set to receive farm household allowance. Again, that financial assessment will not be pushing people away from the farm household support that they are currently eligible for. And the fourth set of amendments is simply to strengthen the management approach to better support farm household allowance recipients through periods of financial difficulty, with an amount to $10,000 to extend the amount of activity supplement to include travel and accommodation costs for eligible activities, provided that the costs are reasonable as determined by the secretary.

The member for Hunter has effectively taken every opportunity to complain and whinge and bellyache about the changes that we continually bring to this place in relation to the worsening of the drought. Quite simply, that is exactly the way I think a responsible government should treat this worsening drought. If the drought starts to bite, the government starts to act. If the drought persists, the government pushes harder. If the drought continues to bite, even harder, the government goes away and comes back with a new set of support mechanisms that are going to enable their farmers to work their way through the drought. The drought bites differently in different regions, so the government reacts with different proposals in each of those different regions. Many of these drought assistances are simply rolled out through regulations, through a grant program. Other support mechanisms need to be put through the House as changes to legislation.

I also want to pull up the member for Hunter, because he spent an awfully large amount of his 30 minutes talking about those farming families who are going to be coming off farm household allowance, as they have reached the four-year maximum. He was effectively telling the House, telling Australia, that those farmers are going to have to wait until the middle of next year. I will take this opportunity to say that the member for Hunter is wrong.

Mr Fitzgibbon: I didn't say that. Future drought fund, I said, not that.

Mr DRUM: I think you'll find that you said that money will not be available for those families until the middle of next year. So, if you've been waiting for four years and you have effectively just come off farm household allowance—saying that they're going to have to wait six months for their supplement payments, that is not true. Those support payments will be available in a couple of weeks. So I think we need to have an opportunity for them—

Mr Fitzgibbon: They were taken off six months ago!

Mr DRUM: The member for Hunter will have an opportunity to come into the House and correct what he has said, once he has gone away and read his transcript. He can then come back into—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): The member for Hunter, on a point of order?

Mr Fitzgibbon: The member is misleading the House. I did not say that. I said they were cut off on 30 June and they have been waiting six months for the payment.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Nicholls has the call.

Mr DRUM: Thank you. The way that the government has reacted to this current drought is very sensible, very reasonable, and these new sets of amendments are simply the way a responsible government should continue to act. The Labor Party needs to have a very strong think about the way it is handling itself in this drought. To bring up a drought water policy on the edge of an election will make most farmers in a drought's life go through more pain, go through more doubt, about the future of their business. But introducing a policy that included mainly buybacks in the water policies on the eve of an election is something that was incredibly painful for people looking at a very tough period.

We all know that water buybacks are the most dangerous and destructive of all policies, and to have the then shadow water minister pushing a policy that was going to see more and more water purchased out of agriculture and returned to the environment is exactly why we have 3,000 protesters in Canberra today. They are calling on the politicians in this House to, effectively, see things through their eyes as opposed to seeing things through the eyes of the environmental watering purposes.

The Labor Party need to have a really strong look at this. If the Labor Party want to stand up in this House and say they're ready to take a bipartisan view to this, how about they come on board with some of the views that we have in relation to water policy? Look at the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the damage it is causing agriculture. Why don't the Labor Party put their hands up and say, 'We are happy to come and support the government if it's looking to change the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and some of the opportunities within that'? But they won't do that.

Mr Fitzgibbon: I take a point of order under standing order 66(a) and suggest the member might take a question from me, because if he's prepared to indicate what policy change he wants under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan we'll be happy to consider it. Which policy change would the member like?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Does the member for Nicholls take the intervention?

Mr DRUM: I'm not going to take questions while I'm in my presentation. But I'm happy to sit down with the Labor Party at any stage and put forward changes to make agriculture the beneficiary of some of the environmental water we have.

We have 450 gigalitres, still hanging around the necks of our farmers, referred to as the '450 upwater'. We have dodgy science based around the Lower Lakes of South Australia. We have a whole range of opportunities for changes to improve the lot of our farmers. At the moment, our farmers are being asked to carry the losses associated with the running of the rivers. They're commonly referred to as conveyancing losses. This is coming out of the allocation that is annually available to our farmers. But the environment bears none of these conveyancing losses. When the environment is asked to help agriculture, their answer is generally a flat no.

We have to look at this in a serious manner. This is a Labor Party in opposition calling for a floor price in the dairy industry as a way of helping those farmers who are going through very tough times, when they know in their heart of hearts that a floor price in the dairy industry cannot work, when they know that the dairy industry itself is not calling for a floor price—because the dairy industry itself knows that a floor price in the dairy industry cannot work.

This is what the Labor Party are doing, with a whole series of what we would generally refer to as hoaxes, right throughout the whole industry. How can you set a floor price in the dairy industry that is above the cost of milk production? How can you do that? It's impossible to do it because every farming business produces milk at a different cost. They have different levels of debt. They have different access to water. They have different sized herds. They have different feed systems. And on it goes. From farmer 1 to farmer 2 to farmer 3 to farmer 4, they will all be producing milk at a different price. They'll be producing different-quality milk and getting different prices for their milk throughout the sector. The Labor Party, with this hoax, are effectively saying that they're going to fix this with the flick of a wrist—they're going to put in place a floor price that's going to be across the price of production. They know it is wrong. They know it is false. They know it simply cannot work. But they're happy to keep perpetuating this throughout the whole sector. They must understand that the dairy industry are not calling for this.

However, what we're here today to talk about is the farm household allowance. My first intensive look at this was after the milk price collapsed in 2016 and many farmers were being asked by their processors to go into a repayment plan of anywhere from $50,000 to several hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay back what were called clawbacks once the floor price crashed—on the back of, firstly, Murray Goulburn and, secondly, Fonterra following them. There was a collapse in the price of milk, one of only three times in the history of milk pricing when the price actually went backwards, and it went dramatically backwards. That caused an enormous amount of pain and anguish throughout the dairy industry, and many farmers have been on the back foot ever since then.

This is a really, really tough time, and many of the farmers who went through that clawback process had not got their heads above water when they were hit with this drought. Prices for water are spiking up to $600 and beyond on the temporary market, and many farmers are simply not able to compete at that price. Dairy farmers have always had to be in a market against horticulture and fruit, and now they're finding themselves in a market against other commodities that can pay considerably more.

This is a very, very serious issue. The government is doing whatever it can to help in relation to putting food on the table for our families, ensuring that they can pay a few household bills, trying to give them the dignity of an existence. It is not enabling them to supplement their farming business in any way, but it is at least enabling them to put some food on the table, pay some household bills, get the kids off to school and make sure that they can live that modest life around the household while they go through the trials and tribulations of their farming business as the drought worsens. I think the government is acting in a very responsible manner. These changes will enable these farming families to stay in the industry at a greater rate. They will ensure that the farmers coming off farm household allowance can receive this once-off supplementary payment on the way out in a timely fashion. We get whingeing, complaining and bellyaching from the opposition. Sometimes they just need to come along and say: 'We support these measures. The government is doing the right thing with this, and we all support this.'