Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Treasury Laws Amendment (Supporting Australian Farmers) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise to support the Treasury Laws Amendment (Supporting Australian Farmers) Bill 2018. This drought continues to exact a heavy toll on country communities around Australia, but particularly in central western New South Wales. It's exacting a heavy toll on the farm and on farming families. There is a physical toll attached to this drought—the drudgery of having to get up early, feed stock, check troughs, check stock and check dams. There's the economic toll of worrying about how you're going to be able to feed the flock, or the herd, where you're going to be able to source feed from, how it's going to get there and if there will be enough of it. And then there's a huge mental toll as well. I've seen the toll that it's taken, because I've been travelling around our region and around our farms and farming communities, talking to them and doing anything that I can to help. The toll is being exacted on the farms, but it's also being exacted in the towns as well—through the small businesses, the mechanics, the tyre fitters, the rural suppliers, the fuel distributors and even the grocery outlets.
Despite some recent rain, this drought hasn't broken, and our region is facing a long, hot and, potentially, fiery summer period. We need to be continuing to ramp up drought support as these conditions worsen. At the moment our total drought support package is hitting $1.9 billion. This bill is part of that response. It won't be for every farmer. I have many farmers in my region just focusing on sourcing feed, and not every region in Australia is in drought, but it is a useful measure to assist farmers to get through potentially devastating dry times both at present and in the future. Basically it means that there's an immediate deduction for fodder storage assets first used or installed and ready for use from August 2018, and they can get the tax benefit straightaway. Currently primary producers can deduct the value of fodder storage assets over three years by one-third of the amount in the income year in which the expenditure occurred and one-third in each of the following two income years. Under the new arrangements this will reduce to one year with effect from 19 August. I think it's a valuable measure. It's about getting through this drought but also preparing for the next drought.
As I mentioned, it's part of a suite of measures which the government has introduced, now totalling almost $1.9 billion. The Regional Investment Corporation, which is going to be based in Orange in the Central West, is going to be dealing with $2 billion in concessional loans and $2 billion for national water infrastructure at the concessional loan rate—very welcome in country Australia and a great example of decentralisation. The farm household allowance has just been extended. The asset cap has been lifted to $5 million. That was a big issue with many local farmers. The total payment for a couple is now up to $37,000. This is a substantial measure, which has been well received, designed to put food on the table of farmers and diesel in the ute when there is no income. The paperwork is being simplified, and I encourage the government and all of those agencies involved to keep going on that, because it is a great source of frustration to our local farmers.
The Rural Financial Counselling Service has also been boosted by $5 million in recent times. We need more rural financial counsellors on the ground in the Central Tablelands. I know that help is coming, but we need to ramp that process up, because at the moment the counsellors we have are on the raggedy edge. They are overworked, they have a huge backlog of cases and they need more help and support. There are also a suite of measures to manage weeds and pest animals—very much welcome. There are new measures for weather forecasting. The government has committed a further $36.9 million to 2023 for Great Artesian Basin water security. This funding will help to drought-proof farms and maximise the availability of water. There's more money for water infrastructure and a suite of taxation measures, including the farm management deposits scheme, which has been in place for a while now. That is a very useful resource for farmers, and many farmers are using it.
You also have the instant asset write-off. There's the small business instant asset write-off, which is basically for assets that cost less than $20,000. Anyone can access that if they're in business and have a turnover of less than $10 million, but this measure today goes beyond the $20,000 cap and means that if you want to get a storage silo for your grain or a shed for storing fodder then you can get the tax benefit in the year that you purchase that infrastructure. You also have measures such as income tax averaging, which enables farmers to even out their high- and low-income years. The tax payable over a maximum of five years ensures they don't pay more tax over a number of years than do taxpayers on comparable but steady incomes.
All are valuable measures but, as I've said, we need to keep ramping it up as these conditions worsen. One of the big issues we're facing is sourcing feed and fodder. If we need to release more water from dams in order to irrigate fodder, we need to be doing it. This is an emergency situation. If the Australian government needs to underwrite grain to get it from Western Australia—where they're going to be having a bumper harvest—into the Central West, where there's not much around, then I think we should do it.
We need more rural financial counsellors, as I've said. We need to keep moving our response and ramping it up as these conditions worsen. I was very pleased to see that Major-General Stephen Day is on the ground working hard. I'm meeting him tomorrow to talk through some of these measures.
One of the distinguishing features of country communities is that when the chips are down they come together, and you see this all over our region and all over country Australia. The communities rally and support each other, and the country community spirit has particularly shone through in these dry times. For example, I'll give you just a taste of what the Bathurst RSL club are doing. This club was established in 1928 and has more than 14,000 members. The club is supporting a Buy a Bale in September campaign, kicking things off with a $10,000 donation to the appeal. They've got banners in the club highlighting the appeal so that members can donate every time they purchase a meal. The club has been creative; they've also given away a dollar from every chicken parmigiana sold in their Parma for a Farmer campaign. Deputy Speaker, I would invite you and all members to drop in for a parma for a farmer—