| August 23, 2018

Farm Household Support Amendment (Temporary Measures) Bill 2018

 I will be talking to the original bill itself, without the amendment. Listening intently to the shadow minister, you would think he doesn't realise that we are already doing an awful lot of carbon sequestration programs right throughout regional Australia. We have carbon sequestration projects in my seat of Murray, right throughout the seat of Parkes, right throughout the seat of New England and up into Maranoa. We have carbon sequestration projects either being implemented at the moment, being done right now, building up the carbon within the soil, or in the planning stages of being done. We have over $2 billion on the table to increase this drought resistance capacity that the shadow minister thinks is his primary policy. He thinks he is going to actually be able to somehow or other make these farmers more resilient against these droughts. If it were that simple, we would already be doing it. In fact, we are doing that aspect of it.

People denigrate the member for New England for his endeavours in trying to build water infrastructure in the shape of dams, but anybody with half an interest in this issue would be aware that it was the Queensland government's—and only the Queensland government's—refusal to come to the party on dam infrastructure that has held up those particular projects. That money from the federal government has been on the table for a couple of years now; we simply have a Labor government in Queensland that is not interested in that type of infrastructure.

Right now we have hundreds if not thousands of farmers throughout regional Australia who are working on their own carbon sequestration projects, planting the right pastures, working on their water irrigation patterns to gain the greatest benefit they can to grow the most amount of feed they can and taking advantage of the over $2 billion that's on the table for carbon farming. It's an amazing project that we have going now. The challenge goes out to the shadow minister for agriculture to state his case as to whether or not he's going to be there for farmers. He seems to be talking about how the fact that we have to keep going back to farm household allowance somehow means that farm household allowance is a failed program. I don't think that's the case. I don't think many governments in Australia—either the state or federal governments—saw the milk crisis coming.

People would like to think that we had the ability to forecast an oversupply on the world milk market. When those milk companies started to drop the price dramatically and then asked for this clawback, it was an enormous hit to the dairy industry here in Australia. Within a week, Barnaby Joyce was in the Goulburn Valley offering farm household allowance and lower interest rates in that 2016 period. Most of those farmers found themselves to the tune of around $50,000 better off with that assistance—up to around $30,000 on interest rate assistance on a million-dollar property and up to about $24,000 in assistance with a farm household allowance. This bill is going to increase that $24,000 up to around $37,000 with a couple of one-off payments. That's going to be very much appreciated by these families who, in these times of crises, need to put food on the table.

The Labor Party need to be able to state very clearly if they think these types of policies are the right way to go, whether it be for a commodity that hits its value floor, which is what happened with the milk crisis of 2016, or whether it be for a drought, which we're seeing now. These measures are occasionally implemented for any disaster, whether that be fire or flood or, predominantly, drought. Occasionally it can be these various commodities that, without any blame being sheeted home to the agricultural sector, find themselves in a state of disaster. This is what happened with the milk crisis in 2016.

Minister Littleproud, Prime Minister Turnbull and Deputy Prime Minister McCormack have been on the front foot again with a range of packages that increase the farm household allowance and the time lines that are available. In the first tranche of changes, we moved that time line out for an additional year to allow farmers who are already on the supplement to have an extension. That was something that's been very well received. We see now an increase in the threshold. Previously $2.6 million in assets was the threshold. That's now been pushed out to $5 million. I agree with the shadow minister that to many people that sounds like a lot of asset to have, but you have to understand the nature of farming. It's a very real proposition that you could be asset rich but not even have enough money to buy the groceries that a normal family would need. By taking the asset threshold out to $5 million, it's going to be very well-received in our families that are facing that hardship. We understand that those farmers who have little or no access to cash are going to need this type of assistance. It will give them the breathing room that they need to be able to adapt to change. They won't have to sell their assets, as has currently been the practice of trying to put food on the table. Often, when you have to sell assets in times of drought, you sell for way below the market price for whatever that asset be. Whether it be stock or machinery, you sell for way below the value—for much less than it's worth. Obviously, if it does happen to be stock, the problem is that you then have to go back and restock at a price that's way in excess of what you've been able to achieve in times of drought. What we're hoping is that this supplement will enable families to resist those practices, because we know how tough it is on those families when it happens.

We also note the proposed farm household allowance supplement will be payable to all farm household allowance recipients in addition to existing payments. These two lump sum payments will be in addition to existing payments. It will be $3,000 per person for a member of a couple, if you happen to be in a couple, and $3,600 for all other circumstances for individuals. That means, if both members of a couple are receiving the farm household allowance between 1 September 2018 and 1 July 2019, they will receive $6,000 each or $12,000 extra per household. We think this is incredibly important. We are also urging farmers who find themselves in this situation to not self-assess. We understand that, especially with the low-interest facilities that are available and because of the need to take assets as surety for the loans that have been allowed, there is a lot of paperwork that needs to be done. Assets—not just on-farm assets but also off-farm assets—have to be accrued. We need to be very, very diligent because we're dealing with taxpayers' money. There is a lot of paperwork with this. Sometimes it has been seen that farmers have self-assessed and seen that they are not eligible. However, with an extra $5 million going into the Rural Financial Counselling Service, we would like to see farmers who think they might be eligible to use that counselling service so that they can get the help that they need and so that the assessment can be done without the emotion and trauma of going through a drought and also having to try and see if they are eligible to receive this additional assistance.

The government cannot make it rain—we can't—but we can be there for the farmers when they need us. We don't know when the next drought is going to come. We don't know when the next commodity crisis is going to hit one of our industries. I know that many of our pork farmers right now are going through an oversupply of pork, forcing them into some very perilous financial situations. We don't know how bad that situation is going to get, but, at the moment, we know it's serious. We know that people in the pear industry are struggling to find markets where they can receive payment for their pears that is above the cost of production. These problems are going to be ongoing. It's hard to know about these issues in advance. What we need is a government that understands agriculture and that will be there for those people when they need it, in times of crisis. As the previous member, Mr Fitzgibbon, said, we rely on the agriculture sector to feed us. There's no more honourable or more important industry than the industry that feeds us, so we need to make sure that, as a government, we're there for them. Under the member for New England we were, and under the member for Maranoa we are. We understand that at the core of what the National Party believes in is supporting our farming industries, both in good times and bad. Right now, with the drought hitting a large part of Australia, it's a tough time and we need to be there for them. The amendments we've brought forward into the parliament are going to help us support our farming industry through this tough time.

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