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Thursday, 16 October 2008
Page: 6290

Senator COLBECK (7:09 PM) —I would like to speak briefly this evening on a visit to Tasmania by the coalition rural and regional affairs policy committee, who were in Tasmania last Wednesday to look through some of the drought affected areas in south-eastern Tasmania. The first place that we visited was Bothwell and the Clyde River irrigators. The Clyde River irrigators were in Canberra a couple of weeks ago because they are in real strife. Not only are the Clyde River and the irrigators who work on that river in trouble but even the township of Bothwell is under the threat of running out of water.

They have been seeking an emergency water release from the Commonwealth government and they came here to see Minister Garrett. They got a meeting with one of Minister Garrett’s staff but did not get to see Minister Garrett, even though they thought they had an appointment with him. At the same time they met with our rural and regional affairs policy committee and it was that meeting which triggered the visit to Tasmania. By coincidence, when we arrived in Bothwell, we received word that Minister Garrett was also in Tasmania. He was not there to meet the farmers from Bothwell and the Clyde River but was there to make an announcement about some new fish species. Again the farmers from the Clyde River catchment were extremely disappointed that they had missed out on an opportunity, despite their invitation to Minister Garrett to come and see them.

There was one thing that did come out of the visit which we were all very pleased about. We received a phone call from David Llewellyn, the Tasmanian Minister for Primary Industries and Water, the day after the visit to say that he was going to make an application for that emergency water release. The Tasmanian government had not yet made the application, and it is not as if these farmers are wasteful. Last year they received an emergency release of 2,000 megalitres for domestic and stock use. They only used 1,500 but they were not allowed to access the remaining 500 megalitres without a new application which, unfortunately, the Tasmanian government had not made at that stage. My understanding is that the application was lodged with Minister Garrett this week. So we can only hope that Minister Garrett does not go missing again in respect of these farmers in the Clyde River catchment, because they are in desperate need of that emergency water release.

Our next visit was to a little town called Levendale, which is under enormous pressure for a number of reasons. It is also in the middle of the drought area in the south-east of Tasmania. There are several areas in Tassie that are affected by drought at the moment. There is the south-east, which is EC declared, and the north-east in the seat of Bass and Flinders Island, which are really doing it tough. We have had some communication with people on the island over the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately they too are not receiving the sorts of responses that they would like to receive from their local members. The member for Bass has been written to by one person on Flinders Island 15 times. There have been 15 letters from the Flinders Island constituent and there has been only one reply.

Down in the south-east, where they are really doing it tough, I spoke to a woman who came in to see us and spoke to the committee. She told me that they had had over 11,000 sheep on their property and they had reduced that number down to fewer than 2,000. They had had to destroy all this year’s lambs—2,000 had to be put down. They had kept 200 for breeding purposes and the only way that her husband could justify it was because he was saving his breeding ewes. It is really a tragic situation. And there are many more stories like that. I have assisted one farmer on agistment for his last 45 breeding ewes. That is how tough it is. Again he has had a very disappointing response. One lady from the region rang the member for Lyons, Mr Adams, to come and talk to some of the community. All she got was a questioning of her political motives, of which there are none. She was just trying to get her local member to come down and have a chat to some of the people who are doing it really tough. That is all that she was about. It is a very disappointing perspective.

But the local community are really pulling together. They are working extraordinarily hard and all they are looking for is support from their state and federal governments. Unfortunately, the state government has no drought plan. The TFGA, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, has put together a very good policy which calls on the Tasmanian Premier to bring the matter into his department and coordinate the whole process. There are a lot of good things happening in that neck of the woods but they are not being coordinated and, unfortunately, we cannot convince the Tasmanian government to pull them into a coordinated approach and get the best benefit out of all the things that are available.