Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Treasury Laws Amendment (Supporting Australian Farmers) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I'm very pleased to rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Supporting Australian Farmers) Bill 2018. I've said repeatedly in this House that I believe I'm the only dairy farmer in this place with a family and a business that's still actively dairy farming, and one that's passionately committed to our farmers in this nation and very keen to speak on their behalf at any given opportunity.
The government has acted to support our farmers during this period of drought. Those of us who are farmers live by the weather, and we have no control over it. There are times when life gets really tough for those of us who live and work on the land. There is no doubt that we love our dirt, we love the grass and we love the water, and we know how essential it is for those of us who farm. In my part of the world we fortunately have access to some irrigation systems fed by a series of dams in the hills. These dams are critical to the long-term future of the region, and I'm very pleased to see that the federal government is investing in securing and improving those water supplies in the Myalup-Wellington project. This underpins that the opportunity for all of us, basically, is water and the quality of our soils and how we manage our land.
I think around 90-plus per cent of our farming land is family owned. It's really a great testament to them—their passion and commitment for their land and their farms—and that they know to pass it on to a future generation in better condition, perhaps, than it was when they inherited it. That's a great passion that the farmers I meet have, and they do it particularly well. Often they make really challenging decisions that affect their bottom lines, about how they manage their property, their water supplies and their fertiliser. They're constantly having to improve, and they always are doing more with less—less land, less water and less fertiliser. Yet look at what we contribute to the Australian economy and how many people around the world we feed. That's a great tribute and a great testament to the efforts of our Australian farmers.
I am always proud to rise in this place and stand up for our farmers, to actually represent them. I don't want to see what we saw so many years ago with Labor, when they shut down the live cattle export trade overnight, and the damage that that brought to an industry, to individual people and to Indonesia itself. How important those cattle supplies and the live trade are. So when I look at the measures in this bill and I see the efforts around fodder storage assets—including the fact that a farmer has now an incentive through the tax system to be able to write off that asset purchase or the installation, whether it's silos or whether it's sheds or bins—and we talk about how we as farmers future-proof ourselves against the constant changes. In all my years as a farmer, I've seen constant change. Whether it's in rainfall or whether it's in weather patterns, it's been a period of constant change, and I suspect that will continue. When you look at your own individual business you have to make decisions about how you're going to manage that constant change. When I look at our irrigation system in the hills, there are years when we have not received a full allocation—in fact, we've received far less—and we still have to manage our farms and our businesses.
The farmers make those decisions on-farm. They decide what paddocks they might dry off. They decide what extra cost they have to go to—whether they're going to produce additional silage or hay, and whether they actually have to feed more bales to their animals to get through that period. Those are the decisions we make on a daily basis.
So this measure that the government is applying gives those that are constructing additional fodder storage an opportunity to write it off over one single year. This is in addition to the $20,000 instant asset write-off for the eligible small businesses, which is being extended further, yet again. The $20,000 instant asset write-off is really valuable, and it's being used extensively by small businesses—not just farming businesses but right across the board. I'm a great supporter of it and, with my colleagues, fought hard for these measures for small businesses—and of course our farmers are small businesses. This is a practical measure that allows farmers to make really good decisions in their businesses.
Some of those decisions are around managing their actual land. Around 96 per cent of farmers are members of landcare groups. These are the practical groups that make a difference on the ground on individual properties and in whole areas. Farmers work with catchment councils. There are a whole lot of groups that work together through our landcare movement to get improved outcomes on each individual property and for the farmers involved. It can be to do with water sources and water resources, it can be to do with fertiliser use or it can be around how they manage their business more broadly. We've seen no-till and low-till practices come out of Western Australia. These are all very important parts of how farmers individually make great decisions in their businesses, because the future of their business and future generations relies on the great decisions they're making today, and they do it on a daily basis.
I've said before in this House that we take for granted the quality of the food that we have available to us in this nation. I think the access to quality food has been brought into very sharp relief with what we've seen recently in relation to strawberries. I've been to other countries where the quality of the food is not what it is in Australia. I look at my own area in the South West of Western Australian, and we produce some of the best quality food in the world right there. I am inordinately proud of the people who produce it, often in really extreme circumstances. Some of our local climatic conditions can be extreme, but we still keep producing. We still keep making it available for people to walk into a supermarket or their local market or wherever they buy their products. As I say, Australians have basically never been hungry. When you go to other countries in the world that, during war years, have gone hungry, they place an extraordinary value on their farmers and the food that they consume. That's something that we've never had to think about too much in Australia. It's when we have a situation, such as we have with the strawberries, that brings that into sharp relief that people are immediately made very aware of the immediate impact on those businesses of simply not being able to sell their products.
I was really pleased this morning, when I was at a breakfast for GPs with the Minister for Health, that he took up to the podium a wonderful Australian strawberry and said he wanted to encourage people to cut and consume local strawberries. The minister has just entered the House. Minister, on behalf of every strawberry farmer in Australia, thank you for you what did this morning. It is a very important message to get out to people: to cut strawberries but not cut them out. I think that's a really simple message.
We see the volume of strawberries that are being dumped. I have heard of one group of over 100 people who've lost their jobs. That's the reality for those of us who live and work in rural regional Australia who are farmers. That's how direct it is. In small communities, the loss of 100 jobs has an enormous impact on every small business. So every time there's an issue, whether it's drought or a situation such as the one we're seeing with the strawberries, there is a loss of income.
The other issue that bothers me greatly is the impact on our international reputation. I hope the law takes absolutely full effect on the people who are doing this. This is having an enormous impact on our reputation as a clean, green producer of high-quality products, worldwide. That reputation is something that we as the farmers in this country have worked so hard for so many years to create. Often, historically, we've had to compete with countries that have significant tariff protection. It's only with the free trade agreements that this government has worked on and delivered that some of those barriers are starting to be, have been and will continue to be removed. But, historically, as farmers, we've often felt as though we've had to work with one hand tied behind our back because of the tariffs that were applied and the concessions that were available to farmers in other parts of the world. We have to compete, and we do compete very well, because we have some of the most efficient producers in the world. Not only are they efficient but they produce absolutely top-quality produce. And they will continue to do that no matter the challenges they face.
I'm really pleased to see the Rural Financial Counselling Service is available to our drought-stricken farmers. I'm encouraging every farmer to take advantage of that. Sit down with these people. There are a whole lot of things happening in your family. There are a whole lot of things happening in your business. There are a lot of things happening in, and impacts on, your community, and no-one is immune. Community service organisations; emergency services, often staffed by volunteers; local volunteers; local farmers; local people and local business people are all affected when we have a drought like we're having. They're also affected when we get a crisis like we're having with the strawberry farmers. There's going to be less money in the small local communities—in community service organisations and community sporting clubs. And that's not going to be overcome overnight either. The impacts of that are like dropping a stone into a bucket of water—the ripples continue. There will be businesses that may not survive this. As I said, the impacts are significant, and I want the full impact of the law to be visited upon those who are perpetrating this. It's having a much greater impact than people actually understand. It's having a direct impact on the ground with our farmers and with the pickers, the planters and the packers.
In Australia, as I said, the farmers produce some of the best-quality food in the world. I can say to the Australian people that we'll keep doing that. My dairy farmers are going to keep producing some of the best-quality milk in the world for you. They're going to continue to produce amazing products for you. I know that once the strawberry growers get back into full production, you'll be buying the most wonderful Australian produced strawberries. Whether it's in the horticultural sector, the food sector or the fibre sector, what everybody needs to know is that every farmer goes out there every day to do their job the best way they, and often it's under really tough circumstances. There are times when the market does not return the sorts of profits that were expected and demanded in other parts of our economy. But our farmers keen producing. And they produce extraordinary products. Look at the food that we take for granted when we walk into a supermarket. As I've said frequently, I look at some of the prices that are being paid in the supermarket—I'll touch on the $1 milk—and see that the market is demanding more and paying more for water than it is for milk. It's in the hands of our consumers. Make a great choice and buy a branded product—a branded product that you know pays more for that product so that our farmers, in the broader sense, are able to keep producing the products that we all take for granted.
Every farmer in Australia, as I've said previously, works constantly. They are very, very technology savvy. They are constantly innovating and improving. They don't sit back. Most of their information now is coming electronically. They're doing amazing work, and they rely on their technology. I'm really pleased with the mobile phone black spot tower rollout that we've been so strongly supporting and putting the funding into. This has made a huge difference to small businesses, which are, of course, our farming businesses. It gives them access and opportunities. They can be sitting in a tractor—the hay season is not far away, and I am really sorry that in New South Wales it's going to be a challenging hay season because they won't be able to grow the crops that they need for the next 12 months. It's not just this last 12 months that's affected by drought. Look at the feedstocks ahead. I want to thank every one of the farmers and organisations in Western Australia and around Australia who have contributed and are contributing fodder into New South Wales. They know that this is pushing up the prices for the rest of the farmers locally, but they're still doing it to support their fellow farmers. I thank and congratulate everyone who is doing that, and I say to the farmers affected by drought: 'Hang in there, and use your rural financial counselling services as well.'