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Wednesday, 19 June 1996
Page: 1872


Senator TIERNEY(7.26 p.m.) —I rise in this adjournment debate to refer to drought exceptional circumstances in the Upper Hunter. The Senate will recall on many occasions through 1994 and 1995 that I pointed out repeatedly the failure of the former Labor government to address this matter. But it was too little too late. It was almost the end of the drought before they finally gave any assistance at all.

In the other place the other night, the member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, took to revising history on this matter. I think he largely did this to square-off some of his father's failings in this area when he was the member for Hunter. The minister for primary industries has revoked some areas for exceptional circumstances drought, and the rural lands protection board in the Upper Hunter has taken off the areas of Denman, Singleton and Scone but left in Merriwa parts A, B and C.

Joel Fitzgibbon used this adjustment to the coverage of the scheme to evoke unnecessary fear amongst farmers in the Upper Hunter. The speech was a dishonest presentation only telling half the truth. The reality is that Merriwa does stay in under exceptional circumstances. For the other areas—and this is the important point—Commonwealth assistance for eligible farmers will remain for the following six months. This includes drought relief payment for living expenses, interest subsidies of up to 100 per cent and Austudy benefits by the exclusion of on-farm assets from the assets test. The Howard government is providing these benefits to Upper Hunter farmers for a further six months and aid to Merriwa indefinitely.

We recognise that drought recovery is not instantaneous, and our government has set up a special rural task force, announced by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Newman), to address ongoing assistance to farmers when household support ends. What the member for Hunter has said is misleading, and it has created unnecessary anxiety for farmers in the Upper Hunter.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Under sessional order, the time for the debate on the question that the Senate adjourn has elapsed.