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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6314

Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-Monaro) (17:55): I thank the members who have preceded me—the member for Hunter and the member for Paterson—who highlighted exactly what this motion is all about: drought conditions. I fully accept what the member for Mallee has said about market improvements for agriculture. I don't disagree with any of that, but we are talking about drought. When I look at drought policy, I see a landscape of five years of waste and abandonment by the coalition government. We conducted a Productivity Commission study that went to the heart of the problem with the exceptional circumstances regime: the efficiency of providing drought support. This is not something we can turn our back on and say, 'The market will see us through this,' because drought conditions are becoming more severe and more frequent. It's not only that; it's the unpredictability of weather systems.

My family has been dairy farming in my region for 170 years. My great-great-grandfather founded the Bega Cheese co-op and was its first chairman. The Dairy Industry Association was absolutely livid about the decentralisation policy under which the APVMA moved to New England, destroying the agency's capability. We've heard Senate evidence that it has been hindered for at least another seven years while it tries to recover from the loss of 30 per cent of its scientists and most of its staff. It was completely unnecessary sabotage of agriculture in an area where we need research to help adapt to drought conditions and climate change. That's where the effort has to be—in the science and assistance that we apply to this issue—and that is exactly what the Productivity Commission highlighted. They said that exceptional circumstances 'do not help farmers improve their self-reliance, preparedness and climate change management'.

We put in place a COAG process involving the setting up of primary industry standing committees and standing councils. They were dismantled by the coalition, so no progress was made on developing a federation-wide approach to drought policy. It was really unfortunate. We've lost so much time—nearly six years now. This adaptation is the real issue. We've heard talk about the Regional Investment Corporation. We're looking at loans to farmers, which they have to pay back. Building on what the member for Mallee's comments underline, what farmers need is self-sufficiency. We need policy platforms that support that.

We talked about export. Another area the coalition destroyed was our regimes around supporting and getting live export on a more sound footing. Our inspector-general regime was one of those matters that were going to give certainty to the supply chain. That has been dismantled by the member for New England. That has put us back to square one. Every time one of these incidents happens with live exports, butchers tell me that the meat market goes through the floor. People stop eating meat when they see these terrible images. They react terribly to these shocking circumstances. That was another mistake. We've also seen what has been happening with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. There are issues there around water efficiency and how that improves the situation of farmers in drought. There are so many issues that our farmers need to start adopting because of drought conditions, such as drip irrigation and the like.

When we're talking about dealing with this challenge of drought and climate change, one of the most important policy initiatives of the previous government was the carbon farming initiative. This was going to allow farmers to diversify their income base and adopt strategies that address climate change. It was also going to help sequester carbon in the landscape and improve the health of soils. We saw what was possible out of that: the long-term answer to some of the techniques of no-till farming, stubble management and the like; improving hydration of the landscape through some of the natural sequence farming theories; and also the wave of regenerative farming options that we're seeing farmers adopt. In my region, we had a fantastic meeting of farmers at Yass recently. In particular, a wonderful farmer down in the Cooma region, Charles Massey, who has a PhD, presented so many great suggestions for regenerative farming. That's what we need to do: have policy that gets behind our farmers to help them adapt. My Monaro Farming Systems crew worked with CSIRO to have a modelling tool for their properties that gives them the ability to plan over a 50-year cycle, using their grass-grow modelling technique.

Sound policy on dealing with climate change and sound policy to make farmers more efficient will see them through droughts of the future. What we're seeing is this government absolutely turning its back on those critical policy areas.