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Thursday, 31 August 2000
Page: 17081

Senator ABETZ (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (1:28 PM) —Mr Acting Deputy President, in common with you I look forward to further instalments of Senator Woodley's travelogue and I am sure that we will all be, if not the wiser, better informed as a result of future contributions by the honourable senator.

I thank senators for their cooperation in this debate. This bill extends the successful Retirement Assistance for Farmers Scheme for a further nine months. For the record, I point out that 1,724 farmers and their partners have in fact been assisted under this scheme. It has enabled them to pass the farm to the next generation, continuing the tradition of the family farm. The number of farmers assisted so far is close to the target of 2,100, which I understand was the figure referred to during the second reading speech when this legislation was introduced.

Furthermore, there are a further 165 applicants that have been pre-assessed as eligible if they choose to go ahead. It should be remembered that this scheme is, in fact, demand driven. I understand that the figure of 10,000 may have been obtained from a media release that mentioned a preliminary review of ABARE farm survey data that suggested that as many as 10,000 farms could potentially meet the eligibility criteria for this measure. That figure has now been bandied around as somehow meaning that, of necessity, 10,000 would take it up. The simple fact is that that is what the ABARE figures indicated. When we introduced the legislation, we talked about a figure of 2,100.

Senator Woodley and Senator Forshaw undoubtedly know that this is a demand driven scheme. Also, Senator Woodley would be very well aware of the cultural difficulties for farmers in actually moving off the land or saying that they are going to retire from farming. Farmers have great emotional attachment to their properties, and the thought of giving up farming is a great emotional adjustment that some of them have made and others have not found themselves able to make. As a result, I think it is a bit unfair to try to criticise the scheme because of the quite understandable emotional attachment of many farmers to their property.

As I indicated, the bill does not change the eligibility criteria in any other way. I think there is acceptance around the chamber that, as part of our AAA package, this was a good initiative. We can argue around the boundaries, but in general terms there is support for it. I thank honourable senators for their cooperation with this legislation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.