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Wednesday, 30 May 2018
Page: 5097

Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (19:23): I want to pick up where the shadow minister for agriculture—the member for Hunter—left off in asking the minister about the intergovernmental agreement that was signed between the Commonwealth and New South Wales in 2013, particularly the point about managing drought assistance. To give the minister some understanding, I represent the fair City of Maitland, which has a very rich history in agriculture. It was the food bowl of New South Wales for many years. As my late father said, 'That dirt would grow babies.' It is rich, alluvial, Hunter floodplain ground.

We are seeing a drought in the Hunter like never seen before. It is terrible. The Maitland saleyards, which are a major part of our local economy, are currently putting cattle through at $350 less per head than this time last year. And we have farmers now shooting. That is not what you want. They're worried about losing their breeding stock. It is dire in the Hunter. But the thing that is most dire is that our farmers locally have absolutely lost confidence in this government and what it is going to do for them. In 2013, the government removed exceptional circumstances and said there would be a plan in concert with the COAG agreement with the states, that we would look towards drought-proofing for the future, that we would look towards upskilling our farmers, giving them some tools. When we knew that more droughts would be coming in the future, SCoPI was put in place. Now that has all been torn asunder. Nothing has happened. The previous minister for agriculture abrogated his responsibility. That plan winds up very shortly. There's been nothing done to replace it, and farmers in my electorate of Paterson are absolutely desperate. Not only are they facing the day-to-day trials and hardships of drought; they're now saying, 'We've been left.' This was signed in 2013. Not a dot has been done, and they want to know what's going to be on offer to give them a hand into the future. So, minister, I'd like you to tell me how that's progressing.

One of the matters that was raised was that we would have the Regional Investment Corporation that would administer loans to the agricultural sector in general, not just the drought stricken areas. That organisation, as I understand it, is due to commence its responsibilities on 1 July. No staff have been advertised for yet. There is no CEO. How are these loans going to be administered if this hasn't even occurred at this very late stage? I would very much like some detail on what is going on there. I would like some detail on SCoPI and how we are going to move the agriculture sector forward more broadly. In very specific terms, how are we going to face down things like the drought that we are seeing in my part of the world?

Can I just say, I talk to a lot of people in my area about agriculture and they really have felt completely abandoned. I know that our recent agriculture minister is fairly new, and he has been pretty busy doing a lot of stuff in relation to live export. I know that has probably taken up a lot of his time. But food production and maintenance of the breeding herd in areas such as mine are absolutely critical to agriculture. What is going on with that intergovernmental agreement? What is the way forward? There is no more exceptional circumstances. What's going to replace it and how are we going to help farmers who are absolutely desperate at the moment? How are we going to help them to put food on their tables?

There is also the Household Assistance Package. As the shadow agriculture minister pointed out, that's wrapping up. You put a three-year time frame on it, but the drought is still going—in fact, it's worse than ever in Paterson and the Hunter. How are we going to on a practical level assist people? With an eye to the horizon in agriculture and the technologies that are in place, how are we going to turn things around in the agriculture sector? In my seat of Paterson but also more broadly across the country, it really is very dire.