| September 26, 2018

Treasury Laws Amendment (Supporting Australian Farmers) Bill 2018

The Treasury Laws Amendment (Supporting Australian Farmers) Bill 2018 is an important bill to have the opportunity to talk to, because we all know that the drought is cutting right throughout regional Australia right now. I must admit, though, I find it difficult to sit here in silence when the Labor Party come in here and start espousing the values of the Labor Party and what they're doing to try and help our farmers. What they do and what they say they will do in government is quite scary and it spreads a lot of fear through the farmers in my area of Murray.

I don't come to the parliament and profess to be an expert on the union movement. I don't understand how these new workers in the Melbourne infrastructure projects that the government is going to build are going to get $50 an hour, and $100 an hour for Sunday work. The average labourer is going to pick up $150,000 a year from Daniel Andrews. The taxpayers in Victoria are going to have to pay for that. I don't understand how the union movement works. I imagine the Labor Party have full expertise on how the union movement works. But to have the Labor Party turn up here and tell us that they are the party for the farmers, I find that a little bit of a stretch too far. I talk to the leaders of my area and I watch Labor Party policy. There is no support for agriculture from within the Labor Party's leadership.

It starts first and foremost with water policy. We know very clearly that, when it comes to setting water policy in place that is going to enable irrigators right up and down the Murray-Darling Basin to afford to grow their produce in an efficient and profitable manner, the Labor Party, along with the Greens, are the biggest opponents to those two million people that live along the Murray-Darling Basin. They are the ones who are going to make water so expensive that, effectively, we're not going to be able to grow the produce that we have been able to grow for as long as we can remember. It is the Labor Party who are going to make sure that even more water is taken out of the consumptive irrigators' pool and put into the environment, effectively creating a tipping point. We have these Labor Party people who come in here and talk about agriculture and who have no idea what their water policies are going to do to agriculture. And, yet, they still maintain that somehow they are miraculously on the side of farmers. It is just a joke. They don't understand exactly how directly their cutting policies are going to hurt people in the irrigation areas of the Murray-Darling Basin.

We understand that this drought makes the debate around water policy even more succinct and heightened to another degree again. So we have to put in place now the policies that are going to effectively help farmers today, as best as we possibly can, and help them through this time. In my patch right now, farmers are making the incredibly heartbreaking decision to maybe cut their crops for hay. Some farmers will be saying, 'No, there is enough in them that we will give them the chance to get further spring rains so that we'll be able to get the crops through and be able to harvest them around Christmas time.' But this decision is being made right now, right throughout southern New South Wales and Victoria. When you have to make that decision to cut your crop for hay, it's heartbreaking. It means that your profits in that particular crop are going to be less. You'll get your money back, plus a little bit. Ultimately it's all going to depend on the price of fodder.

To deal with this, this bill is putting in place an accounting procedure that's going to make it much more attractive for people to prepare for storage of fodder into the future. So, as has been said throughout the debate this morning, the ability for farmers to increase the numbers of bunkers for silage and the numbers of silos and various bins around farms that are going to help them store their grain won't be used to help people through this drought as much as it will be used for future dry periods right throughout Australia. We've already seen the instant asset write-off have an enormous impact on a whole range of businesses, not just farming businesses. The instant asset write-off has been able to create a real opportunity for many people in small business to further invest in their business and have that offset against their tax. It's become very, very important.

We've also seen the outcomes of some of the measures that we currently have in place, not just for the drought. Before I first came into the federal parliament, we had the milk crisis. We had processors that were offering a price that was unsustainable and then, all of a sudden, they had to make an announcement and come clean and then start clawing that money back out of dairy farmers. They had paid them at a price that was unsustainable. We saw the farm household allowance ramped up at that stage to enable more and more farmers to gain access to it. Under the government and Minister Littleproud's watch during this drought period, we've seen that farm household allowance increased to $37,000, with the new additional money being paid over two instalments. We've also seen a reduction in the amount of paperwork that is needed for mums and dads and individuals to be able to get onto the farm household allowance. We have also seen an enormous uptake in the number of people who have been able to access low-interest loans. Again, these are things that are tangible and have been able to assist farmers as they go through this incredibly tough period.

Right now, the government has Major General Stephen Day working as the Drought Coordinator. There are a whole raft of people out there in the community who are trying to assist in any way they possibly can. I bumped into a great mate of mine, Kevin Sheedy, recently. He was trying to work out with the Essendon Football Club and some of their supporters how they could move into the market and buy hay for the farmers of the Riverina and throughout New South Wales. When you've got people whose hearts are right behind the farmers and right behind the agriculture sector, you need someone like Major General Stephen Day, who can get all these different actors in the industry coordinated so that we can actually get the best bang for our buck.

Barnaby Joyce has now been appointed as the drought envoy. You've heard some of the figures. Thousands and thousands of tonnes of grain are being accessed in Western Australia and brought over to the eastern seaboard by Barnaby Joyce and his connections. Again, they are trying to source the produce from various parts of Australia where we actually have grain and fodder, and bring it over to the eastern states where the ravaging of the drought is worst. But, again, we need special people out there who understand what's really going on and who also understand the difficulty of bringing that produce over to the East. We also argued as hard and as fiercely as we possibly could with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder about whether they had the capacity to release more water into the market, to lower the price of that water so that it could have found its way to the fodder producers three weeks ago, who would then have been in a good position to grow the lucerne that we were looking for.

It's good to see that we've got both Minister Littleproud and Barnaby Joyce from this place bringing together the drought packages and drought assistance. We've also got Major General Stephen Day as the overall coordinator and the Prime Minister and the Treasurer putting in place financial bills like this that are going to assist farmers to make the investments that they need so that they can be better prepared for future droughts. This is a horrible situation that exists in our regions at the moment, and it's probably going to get worse as we move into the summer months. We need a government that is going to be receptive—in the way that the government is already—but it's a reality that we are also probably going to need more and more assistance in the months to come.

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