Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (14:29): My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources around the dairy support program. Minister, there are over 100 dairy farm families who live in the valleys of the Kiewa, Upper Murray, Mitta Mitta, Ovens and King rivers. Up to 60 per cent, it is reported, are in need of assistance and 20 per cent are desperate. The government's emergency dairy support package promised a process of fast tracking household support allowances. But farmers in these valleys are reporting a delay of up to 20 weeks to get assistance. Will the Deputy Prime Minister please commit to holding a roundtable, preferably in my electorate, to review the process, to increase staff on the ground and to allocate additional resources to clear the backlog?
Mr JOYCE (New England—Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (14:29): I thank the honourable member for her question and acknowledge the work that she does in making sure that we all do our very best to look after dairy farmers through this crisis. The coalition strongly support Australia's 6,100 dairy farmers and in so doing we have made it our goal that we get a better return through the farm gate. I am encouraged by the recent step up in prices in the dairy industry. Although they are starting from a low base, they show some promise that things are starting to turn around.
The government developed the $579 million Dairy Support Package to assist farmers affected by the decisions of Murray Goulburn and Fonterra to retrospectively reduce farmgate prices. The coalition's Dairy Support Package includes $555 million in dairy recovery concessional loans, with 10-year terms and an interest-only rate for five years. As at 4 November, $35.5 million in dairy recovery loans had been approved in Victoria for 67 farmers in the dairy industry, plus a further $9.9 million in offers had been made to a further 17 farmers. Last week I announced that interest rates for dairy farmers who have already taken out these loans—currently at 2.66 per cent—will be falling to 2.07 per cent on 1 February 2017, making them the cheapest rates I can think of in rural Australia. A new round of dairy recovery concessional loans commenced on 1 November 2016 and these are at 2.47 per cent. Furthermore, we note that—
The SPEAKER: The minister will resume his seat for a second. The member for Indi, on a point of order.
Ms McGowan: I was just getting to relevance really. We were asking about a round table and more resources to fast-track it.
The SPEAKER: The question had a—
Honourable members interjecting—
The SPEAKER: No. Members will not interject while I am addressing the House. The member for Bendigo will leave under standing order 94(a).
The member for Bendigo then left the chamber.
The SPEAKER: I listened very carefully to the member for Indi's question. It had a preamble that asked about the Dairy Support Program. The minister has got three minutes. He is perfectly in order. There is nothing in the standing orders that says he has to come to a particular part of a long question when a member would wish. The Deputy Prime Minister is completely in order.
Mr JOYCE: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. We have also put $2 million for a milk commodity price index and $20 million towards the Macalister irrigation district upgrade. There is also $900,000 for Dairy Australia's Tactics for Tight Times program. You have asked for a round table. I have today committed that Senator Bridget McKenzie will conduct a round table in your area, so specifically dealing with the issue that is of concern to you.
I might note that the Labor Party back in 2009, when prices were lower than they are today, offered nothing to dairy farmers. They did nothing. They generally do that because rather than help solve a problem they try to exacerbate the problem. The current classic example of exacerbating a problem is what they are doing with the backpacker tax. They cannot help it. When the former AWU member, who is supposed to be looking after Australian workers—
Honourable members interjecting—
Mr JOYCE: Turn around and look here. You do not have to look at your friends. If you do not want to face up to the music, if you are afraid of what you are doing to Australian workers, just keep staring at the member for Sydney. If you cannot face the Australian people then turn your back on them.
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