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Farmhand appeal.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

STATEMENT BY THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON SIMON CREAN MP

Farmhand Appeal

The Howard Government should match dollar for dollar the proceeds raised this year by the Farmhand Foundation for direct drought relief for families.

The drought is having a devastating impact on many parts of rural Australia, and I applaud the organisers of the Farmhouse Foundation for their efforts to raise awareness and assist their fellow Australians in their time of need.

In 1994, the Keating Government matched the Farmhand appeal dollar for dollar, ultimately doubling the $10 million donated by generous Australian.

Having now seen the impact of the drought first-hand at Waratah station near Brewarrina yesterday and another property near Condobolin today, it is clear the need today is just as great, if not more so, than it was in 1994. As such, I would urge the Howard Government to repeat the Keating Government’s 1994 gesture.

Peter Costello’s arrogant dismissal of the impact of the drought on the economy, and John Howard’s tardy reaction, is adding to the hardship in regional communities.

Labor recognises the plight of the farmers in areas like Brewarrina, Bourke and Condobolin, and has been calling since July for Federal action to help those in greatest need.

If the Howard Government had not shirked its responsibilities and finalised the new drought-relief arrangements, we would have seen Federal drought relief being signed off here in Condobolin today.

Under the reform measures agreed to by the States, the Federal Government would be required to turn around Exceptional Circumstances (EC) applications within a month.

New South Wales lodged an application for drought assistance for Bourke and Brewarrina on 10 September. But four weeks later, this community has no news about its progress.

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On 6 September, John Howard promised that his Government would immediately assess any drought-relief funding application to make sure those families in need don't have to wait a moment longer than necessary for help.

John Howard must immediately complete the Government’s assessment of Bourke-Brewarrina EC applications and to guarantee that those lodged in November will be assessed within four weeks.

Between 1989 and 1994, Labor built an entire new approach to drought mitigation.

As Primary Industries Minister, I didn’t pass the buck for drought relief to the States, and neither should the Howard Government. I developed a National Drought Strategy at a time when seven out of eight State and Territory Governments were in conservative hands.

This Government has failed to build on the solid foundations of the National Drought Strategy developed by Labor. Worse, they have undermined key aspects of Labor’s strategy.

John Howard has allowed funding for the Drought Investment Allowance and the Climate Variability in Agriculture Program to dry up. Both programs helped farmers to invest in drought mitigation and manage climate risks.

It is time the Howard Government worked with the States to help our drought-stricken regions.

CONDOBOLIN 10 OCTOBER 2002