Drought Bill amendments pass in Parliament
Posted February 21, 2019
The Government will spend an important $100 million a year in rural communities on long-term drought prevention. Cathy's amendments, passed in Parliament today will ensure the operation of the fund is more transparent, the expenditure is accountable to the Parliament and good governance is followed.
Colleagues, while I support the intent of the Future Drought Fund Bill 2018, I feel that we could make it better. The amendments I move today will ensure that the operation of the fund is more transparent, the minister is accountable to the parliament for expenditure, and good governance and proper processes are followed. The amendments pick up the concerns raised by the scrutiny of bills committee and by the Senate committee inquiry into the bill, and include improvements suggested by the National Farmers' Federation. As part of the Senate committee inquiry, the NFF raised concerns that the future plan and expenditure must incorporate the views of drought and related issue experts. The NFF recommended that the bill be amended to establish a future drought fund consultative committee. I agree.
Amendments (1) to (7) will create a future drought fund consultative committee. This committee will have five members, selected for their expertise or experience in drought resilience, climate risk, agricultural industry, rural and regional community leadership and resilience, rural and regional development, applied research, agricultural extension and economics. The appointments will be for four years with a maximum of eight years in total. There is a requirement for a balance of gender, knowledge and skills among members of the committee. The committee will have a role in providing advice to the minister at two stages: during the development, consultation and drafting of the funding plan, and during the design of arrangements and grant processes delivered on the funding plan. The amendments will mean that we will have some assurance that views of drought and related issue experts will influence the draft plan and implementation.
Amendment (5) will also extend the consultation period on the draft plan from 28 days to 42 days, or six weeks, to ensure regional communities have an opportunity to have a say. The Productivity Commission will review the drought funding plan. Under the current bill, the funding plan is to be reviewed every four years, but there's no mechanism to review the plan's effectiveness. There's no independent review of processes to improve drought resilience or effectiveness. Amendments (4) and (6) will require the Productivity Commission to review the plan before the plan is renewed, and the report is to be circulated as part of the consultation for the next plan. The review will occur as part of each four-year renewal cycle, and the Productivity Commission will be asked to review the effectiveness of the fund, having regard to economic, social and, really importantly, environmental outcomes. This is an important amendment that will provide transparency about the way the $100 million a year is spent.
There are other accountability and transparency amendments. Amendment (3) will make the funding plan a disallowable instrument, which will give the parliament an opportunity to hold the minister accountable to proper processes. Amendments (9) and (10) will require the minister to table the terms of reference and final report of the 10-yearly review of the operation of the act, providing parliament with the opportunity to review and debate the report. After passing this bill, the only point where the parliament could have had a chance to review the effectiveness of the fund would be to review the plan after 10 years of operation. But, as the bill is drafted, this report is not required to be tabled in parliament.
Colleagues, I want to say how important this money is: $100 million a year to be spent in our rural communities on long-term drought prevention. I've been absolutely delighted to work with the minister, to work with his staff, to work with Jeremy—can I name you, Jeremy? It's been a fantastic effort on this. As this is my last speech in parliament on a topic of such importance, I will say that in the six years I've been here this is the only time that the government has accepted my amendments. So, I feel like I'm leaving on a real high point, and I just want to say to the government: at long last, sense has prevailed! Listening to the crossbench gives you such dividends, because I think together we have got a much, much, much better piece of legislation.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Claydon ): The question is that the amendments be agreed to. I give the call to the member for Hunter.