House debates

Monday, 22 July 2019


Future Drought Fund Bill 2019; Second Reading

8:09 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to support the Future Drought Fund Bill 2019. Drought relief and dealing with the devastating effects of drought is the top priority of our electorate of Calare in the Central West of New South Wales. Backing our agricultural sector is vital for Australia's economic future and vital for Australia's food security. This bill is all about backing the future of agriculture in Australia. It will help build resilience in the farming sector. It will help farmers recover from drought but also build preparedness and resilience for future droughts. It will grow to be a $5 billion fund with $100 million drawn down every year.

Because this bill is so important to the future of agriculture in this country, I am astounded that the opposition continues to oppose it. They are playing politics with it. We have heard from the farming organisations, like the NFF, and we have heard from local farmers. They want this bill passed into law, and they want the politics taken out of it. I ask those opposite: haven't you learnt anything from the recent federal election? You can dress it up anyway you like, but at the end of the day you are opposing drought relief for stressed farmers all over New South Wales and all over Australia.

The opposition went to the last poll opposing drought relief for farmers. They opposed decentralisation, like moving the Regional Investment Corporation to Orange; opposed concessional loans to farmers and opposed water infrastructure for farmers. They went along with the ACTU's proposal to scrap, abolish and dismantle the working holiday visa scheme. They tried to steal the retirement savings from retired farmers and retirees all over Australia. All of it was rejected at the polls. This government took this policy to the polls. It was the policy of building this Future Drought Fund to help prepare our farmers and country communities for future drought. There is a mandate for it, and it should be respected by the opposition.

I think the issue here is that those opposite have been playing to the inner Green constituency. They have lost focus on what they are here for and who they are supposed to be representing. They have betrayed working families, they have betrayed farmers, they have betrayed miners and they have betrayed workers, retirees and aspirational investors. In fact, they have offended and betrayed just about everyone in the regions in some way. They insulted country communities by opposing this bill before the election and they insult country communities now by their continued opposition to it and the playing of petty politics. If you want an example of pretty politics, you only have to look at the amendments moved by the member for Hunter. So juvenile are they in nature that it says everything that you need to know about the opposition and the fact that they have learnt nothing from this election. The member for Hunter should know better after what happened in his seat. Those opposite have insulted country communities. They have insulted farming communities, farmers and businesses all over country Australia. They continue to do that now by their opposition to and the playing of petty politics with such an important issue.

In my inaugural speech, I spoke about the great divide between the city and the bush, which exists in so many ways. The opposition continues to feed that great divide and the ignorance of what lies beyond the Great Dividing Range. Their opposition to this bill sends the message that that side of politics doesn't support farmers or drought relief. It sends a terrible message to the rest of Australia, and it feeds the ignorance. It feeds the great divide. It feeds the ignorance that nourishes the vegan activists and the farm invasions.

I remember when this bill came before the House in February that it was the member for Hunter who told farmers all over Australia that they needed to be surfing the currents of activism. Again, that was a betrayal of the people of the bush. That is evidence that those opposite have lost focus of who they are supposed to be representing and what they are supposed to be doing here. People in country Australia want results. They need help. They need relief from this drought. I say to those opposite: stop playing the petty politics, lift the debate and support this bill. Let's do something together.

The sad reality is that there are huge numbers of people who live in cities and have no idea where their food comes from. They think that produce just magically appears on the shelves of supermarkets, and little thought is given to the hard work of those who put it there and make it happen. This is a time when the whole parliament needs to unite on such a vital national issue. We all need to be standing with farmers in a united, national show of support. Yet, when given the opportunity, those opposite insult country communities. Make no mistake, they can rationalise it anyway they want. They can try to dress it up any way they want. But, at the end of the day, they are opposing drought support for drought-stricken farmers and drought-stricken country communities.

There are a huge number of good things happening in country Australia, even though these are very difficult times. There are community groups pulling together. There are people passing the hat around. Just one example is the Rotary Club of Rylstone-Kandos. That club has been taking donations from Rotary Clubs from all over New South Wales. For example, they've taken thousands of dollars from the Rotary Club of Newcastle Enterprise, the club from Walacia-Mulgoa Valley and the Rotary Club of Ku-ring-gai. They've taken community donations. They've raised $12,000 themselves. The Rotary Club of Rylstone-Kandos have worked with the Rotary Club of Mudgee to distribute this aid right across drought-stricken communities in their area. They've helped purchase household items and water deliveries. They've given vouchers to families through the local schools, for groceries and fuel.

I just wanted to acknowledge the Rotary Club of Rylstone-Kandos and community groups all over Australia who are pulling together in a show of community unity. I want to quickly mention the president, Klaus Keck; the vice president, David Fuller; Amanda Roach; Graham Jose; the Treasurer, Gary Oakes; the district governor, David Roach; Greg Bennett; and Wendy Williams. This is not unique. This is what's happening all over country Australia. (Quorum formed) I am glad that episode is being broadcast to the people of Australia, because I want them to know and hear and see the petty politics which is being played with this most vital of national issues. Country Australia is watching. Country Australia is listening. And they've had a gutful of it. This is a time when the nation should be uniting.

I was talking about the resilience of our country communities and how they're coming together. I draw the House's attention to the Lions Clubs of our district in Australia. There is Lions Club district 201N4 and their drought appeal. Anne Jones, the disaster alert chair, has been instrumental in raising money from all over Australia and the world. As of 30 June this year $1.3 million has been raised—they live just outside of Wellington—along with $700,000 worth of household items distributed through the local Lions Clubs. Her husband, Peter Perry, works with her and helps. They've had great support from the Wellington and Geurie Lions Club, including Christine Hardy and Karen McHale. Well done to all Lions involved. It's a great example of our communities pulling together. Compare such great community support—overwhelming community support and a desire to get our country communities through this drought—with the petty party politics which we've seen displayed on this bill in this House tonight. It's appalling. The national drought relief effort stands at over $7 billion. It is the largest drought relief effort in Australia's history. My fear is that this drought is going to continue for some years yet, so we need to prepare ourselves for that possibility and the possibility that the worst is yet to come. The Future Drought Fund is important because it helps prepare for the continuing effects of this drought and also future droughts. Drought support will need to be ramped up as conditions continue to deteriorate.

Again, I call on the opposition to put aside the petty, partisan politics and start backing our farmers and backing the bush. Stop playing the petty procedural games that have dogged this debate all afternoon and into the night. Our country communities want this bill passed. We need relief for farmers. The farmers are saying so and our farmers organisations are saying so, yet those opposite continue to try to block it with this petty, partisan political game playing. They should be better than that. This is a moment when our parliament should be better than that, but they are not rising to the occasion. Instead, we get these nonsensical and juvenile amendments put forward by the member for Hunter after he received a massive slap in the face from his own electorate. We've seen a very clear message sent from country communities and communities all over Australia—city and country—that those policies have been rejected. There is a mandate for this legislation and this fund. I commend it to the House, and I urge all members to get behind it and start supporting country Australia and farmers all over our great nation.


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