Drought policy needed
Posted September 17, 2018
Cathy has called on the government to commit to drought policy, fix problems in the system and deliver better for Australia's farming communities.
Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (11:47): Member for New England, thank you for bringing this debate to the House. Clearly, drought is really important but I want to talk today about policy, opportunity and investment. I particularly want to bring to the House some examples of the wonderful investment happening in my electorate of Indi. In preparing my speech today I went back to the white paper, which the member for New England, in his initial stages, developed. Thank you for doing it. I went looking for what government policy was on the drought. I have to say, I think we're left with an opportunity now to review this white paper and see what we could do if we put our minds to a comprehensive, inclusive policy about how we could think about drought.
I'll give an example. I come to this topic with a long history in agripolitics not only as a farmer myself but with Australian Women in Agriculture, and all the lobbying we did in the 1990s and then in any business working with farming women. Communities are really important to me. When I read this white paper and see what it says about communities and their role to help agricultural businesses through drought, I'm really disappointed to see the handpassing that happens. The Commonwealth recognises that state governments, local government and community organisations are best placed to identify and be responsible for local economic impacts. While that's true, I think it's of benefit if the Commonwealth provides an overarching policy that enables those community groups and local government to rise up. In this white paper an investment of $35 million was made for the drought communities program.
So, to the special envoy on drought: I'm wondering if we could go back now and have a report to parliament on how those $35 million were used? Did they really help the communities involved, to make them drought-prepared? The initial bit of work that I did, from my perspective, said no. So I think this current drought is an excellent opportunity to go back now and review this document—to see, after four-and-a-half years: how well did it prepare us? I think we could learn a lot from it.
In the second part of my talk today, I'd like to talk briefly about one of the opportunities that exists and to call on the government to think about how it might actually do what it's doing but perhaps do it better. The specific example I'd like to bring to the attention of the special envoy on drought is: what's currently happening with funding for natural resource management. Not only have we been talking about the impact of the drought on farming families and farming businesses; it has a huge impact on our communities and how they work on NRM and Landcare projects. Recently, the government put out a tender for Landcare projects, and—not only in my community of Albury-Wodonga but, I know, across wider Australia—there has been a lot of criticism about this particular way of doing it. I would ask the special envoy on drought to talk to his colleague the Minister for the Environment and see if he can sort out some of the problems with the NRM money.
At a state level, the funding level for projects that started on 1 July 2018 has been heavily cut. Regions were expecting a cut of 20 per cent. However, it has been a 37 per cent cut across New South Wales and closer to 40 per cent in Victoria. I also hear that the regions in Tassie and Queensland have missed out entirely. So funding for NRM and Landcare is a really easy way that the government can actually input money quickly and really effectively and leave a long-term legacy in our communities.
There will be projects that start on 1 July 2019. However, all the projects under NLP1 finished on 30 June 2018. This leaves a huge funding gap for this financial year. This means that staff with jobs in regions are successful with funding for stage 2 but don't have the middle bit for now and that we have to re-recruit people for 2019. So it is really poor planning on behalf of the government. There is a huge amount of opportunity that we could take now to fix up some of the problems in the system and deliver better.
My final comment to the member for New England is: could we talk about language? I'm a single woman farmer. I run my own farm. Most of the people who work in agriculture are farming businesses; they are farm families; it's very rare that there's one of me. So could we talk about 'farm family businesses' and talk about all the units of the farm family business—the production side, the business side, the family side and the caring side, and come up with policies that encompass all of us together.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Bird ): I thank the member. The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the date for the next sitting.