House debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


7:00 pm

Photo of Pat FarmerPat Farmer (Macarthur, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the year 2000, not long after I finished my run around Australia for the Centenary of Federation, a run that took me 191 days, 14,964 kilometres, I received a phone call from John Howard, the then Prime Minister of Australia. Mr Howard asked me whether I would consider a political career. He said, ‘Pat, if you would be prepared to run for the Liberal Party at the next federal election, I will give you my support and the support of cabinet ministers to get great things done for your electorate.’ One thing about Mr Howard was that he knew how to press all the right buttons. He knew how I felt about the people in my electorate and he knew how I felt about actually getting things done. You see, I have this simple philosophy in my life. This philosophy is that opportunities come along—you either take those opportunities or you live on regrets. I have to say that I have absolutely no regrets about anything I have ever done with my life.

That was in 2001, and I have since been here doing just that: serving the people of Macarthur. During my first campaign I remember one journalist saying to me: ‘Pat, you’re an Irish Catholic. You grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney. You’re a motor mechanic by trade, not a lawyer.’ Sorry about that, John. ‘You seem like a typical Labor voter.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am. But, you know what, I am also an athlete, and as an athlete I believe that if I train harder than anybody else I deserve to win.’ And, do you know what, the rewards of hard work are what the Liberal Party stand for. That is what we are all about. It is about reward for effort. Just as Menzies said, we are lifters, not leaders. We support people who are prepared to get off their backsides and make a difference with their lives. It is important to note that hard work and reward for effort can make a real difference to the economic position of this country. It is not just those people who get off their backsides and do something with their lives, but it is most important that we do that when we can so that we can help those people who are less fortunate than ourselves who simply do not have the means or the ability to be able to do that.

This is why we need a good economic management policy, so that we can have money and prosperity to help those Australians that cannot help themselves. We need prosperity to be able to help Australia meet its millennium goal of 0.07 per cent of gross national income so that we can support the poverty stricken people of this world. I believe that Australians are hard workers and what they need more than anything from government is for government to get out of the way—for them to get out of the way and for them to allow businesses to get on with the job of what they do best, without burdening them with bureaucratic bundles of forms and documents. What people need most is government support, not red tape.

I wish to thank all the people that work in this building in all areas that have supported me. I would like to thank the landscapers, the florists, the gym staff, the Comcar drivers, the security staff and everybody else in between. I would especially like to thank my electoral staff, who have worked tirelessly supporting me to help the people of Macarthur. I would like to thank my colleagues on both sides of this House. I want each and everyone of you to know that I admire you and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work side by side with you. At this stage I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the ministers for making the time available on the occasions when I needed to speak with them about issues in my electorate.

I will dearly miss two of my running partners in this place. Of course I will miss everybody but especially my friend Greg Hunt and of course my favourite running partner Tony Abbott. He is the only one who came close to me running up and down Red Hill.

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, outrage!

Photo of Pat FarmerPat Farmer (Macarthur, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, Greg. I acknowledge the negative publicity that I received moving house from Campbelltown to Mosman. This occurred in January, and it was obviously a slow month for the media. The media believed that in order to represent an area you must sleep in that area. Well, they may well be right. This may seem a little strange to everybody here in this House, but I would like to thank the local preselection panel. I would like to thank them for putting the people of Macarthur’s needs first and for making sure that the preselected candidate for the next election lived in the area that they represented. I also believe that this is very important, but from time to time there are moments in my life when I have to represent my family first and foremost, and I make no excuses for putting my family first. I want to make it known to everybody in Macarthur that I wholeheartedly support and acknowledge Russell Matheson, the past Mayor of Campbelltown and Campbelltown councillor, as the best person to represent the people of Macarthur at this point in time. I want it known that they should feel very lucky to have somebody who is prepared to put up their hand and work tirelessly for that community, just as I have done.

Many years ago, when Brooke and Dillon were just little babies, the people of Macarthur banded together to support me through one of the toughest crises in my life, the loss of my wife, Lisa. For this reason, their lives a bond between myself and the people of Macarthur that I cannot expect anybody else to understand. That is why, no matter where I travel on this planet or no matter what I do with my life, I will never forget those people that were there for me when I needed them most. I am the sum of all of you and the influences that you have had on my life.

I made a simple promise to the people of Macarthur that I would bring Canberra to Macarthur and Macarthur to Canberra. The people of Camden, Picton and Campbelltown have had full access to all the ministers and the departmental staff through me, and there have never been so many visits by ministers and prime ministers to Macarthur prior to my election. I have delivered on that promise. I have also delivered close to half a billion dollars worth of infrastructure and services to the people of Macarthur and the surrounding regions.

During my political career, I particularly enjoyed my role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Science and Training, with special responsibilities for high schools, primary schools and transition-to-work programs. I loved working with the teachers and the kids and getting into the schools to motivate the kids. I love this job very, very much and I will never forget this part of my life. Also, I loved delivering the $1.2 billion Investing in Our Schools Program. This program worked directly with schools to deliver what they needed most. Whether it was outdoor learning centres, computers, libraries or classrooms, the program delivered what the schools needed and wanted from the government.

I have spoken on this subject many times in the past but I once again want to draw to the attention of this House, in this my valedictory speech, the need to dispose of Badgerys Creek as an airport site and instead create a business park. My vision for Western Sydney is for the 1,700 hectares of land to become an economic centre, which would allow the peak-hour flow of traffic to be reversed. I believe that 1,000 hectares should be used for job creation and for commercial and industrial land. Further, 350 hectares should be used for quality housing to alleviate the housing crisis in Sydney and another 350 hectares could be used to create the lungs and recreational areas for Penrith, Campbelltown and the whole of south-west Sydney—similar to what Central Park is to New York. The advantage of this vision is that it would finally put an end to the 30-year controversy that has embroiled Badgerys Creek. It will not cost money. In fact, if it were sold with a covenant for job creation, it would fetch around $500 million. This would improve the government’s bottom line and help to pay off the massive debt that it has accumulated.

The people of Western Sydney are spending four hours of their lives each and every single day just travelling to and from work. This is causing many problems with the family unit, including the need for extended childcare times and a reduction in the quality of family life. This can be fixed without any expense to the government. Badgerys Creek is an asset that, at the moment, only feeds and breeds rabbits. This asset has sat there for nearly 30 years and has prevented people in the surrounding areas from doing anything with their homes. It is bureaucracy at its worst. The federal government has said for years, after numerous inquiries, that it is not building a second airport at the Badgerys Creek site, yet the New South Wales state government has not rezoned the surrounding area. The only way to fix the massive congestion in our cities is to create jobs and recreational facilities for people where they live.

It is not just the big issues in Macarthur that are important to me; it is also the individuals who count. There are many people in the area who from time to time have needed my help in assisting them with immigration matters or getting their children into schools in the local area. There was one case in particular of a lady who came to my office. She had just two teeth in her mouth. She had missed a dental appointment earlier that year and consequently was put to the back of the queue. She had waited two years and still had another 12 months to go before she could get something done about her dental situation. She told me that she had not eaten anything solid for over two years. That afternoon I spoke to Sydney South West Area Health Service and arranged for this lady to be fitted with a set of dentures. One month later, this lady came into my office. She had a smile that started at one ear and finished at the other ear. She had tears rolling out of her eyes as she thanked me. I will never, ever forget the look on that lovely old lady’s face. That is what this job is all about.

I found housing for a lady who was living in a car in bushland in Kentlyn, in Campbelltown. She had been attacked several times. As well as her housing dilemma, she suffered from schizophrenia. After several phone calls, we managed to get her medical help and some accommodation. People who are suffering from mental illness need to be supported by the federal government. This is part of our everyday work, and because we want to make a difference to these people’s lives, we get frustrated from time to time because we cannot help. That is when I am reminded of the words of my mother. My mother said to me—I should say, ‘My mom always said to me’ in my best Forrest Gump accent—‘Rome was not built in a day but it was certainly started in one.’ I think it is important that, when we feel disillusioned with this place, we remember those words and get started. We have to take the initial step needed to make a difference to people’s lives.

I want to acknowledge my family and the sacrifices that they have made to support me in this career—in particular, my daughter, Brooke, and my son, Dillon, who are sitting here in the chamber. I want it to be known to everybody that I am incredibly proud of you two. Last year, we spent our holidays in an orphanage in Chang Mai, in Thailand, helping children suffering from AIDS. My daughter, Brooke, read books to the children and helped to feed and clothe the babies, while my son, Dillon, and I repaired playground equipment, worked on buildings and built bikes. The love that they showed these beautiful little children and the absolute desperation they felt about the situation they were in was something that any parent would be proud of.

The year before, I travelled to India, Nepal, Egypt and Peru. I saw firsthand the work that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies does. As I stood in the office of the Red Cross in Cairo with the Secretary-General, Professor Mamdouh Gabr, he took an urgent call. In that instance I saw his jaw drop and his eyes fill with anger as he was told that a school had been bombed in the Gaza Strip. It was a school that was being used by the Red Cross to provide aid to both sides of the front line. He recomposed himself and went about coming up with alternatives to get aid to those areas in the Gaza conflict. Later that night I asked him: ‘How can you possibly help these people who cause so much pain and destruction to others? In some cases, they cause this pain and destruction to people who are close to you.’ He told me: ‘We are the Red Cross-Red Crescent. We cannot do our job any other way.’ The people of the Red Cross go into war zones to brief soldiers on the Geneva convention. They provide a safe haven for people who are destitute. They provide food and shelter in times of cyclones, bushfires, floods, mudslides and tsunamis.

Two-thirds of the world’s population do not have clean, sanitary conditions or fresh drinking water. I have seen firsthand the different levels of poverty in this world. I have visited communities in Cairo where people live in rubbish tips and have to scavenge beside the rats to find something they can sell in order to buy water just to survive. In these same communities I have seen young children take needles from medical syringes. When they have accumulated two kilograms worth of these needles they are paid one Egyptian pound. I met with a lady whose job was to collect plastic. She burnt this plastic waste and used a stick to lift up the molten plastic and put it into a metal tub. When 10 kilograms of solidified plastic had been accumulated she would earn the equivalent of two Egyptian pounds. Her face was covered in soot and her nostrils and ears oozed black ash. One man told me that he can earn two Egyptian pounds for collecting rubbish from the city. If he earns less than that, he has to choose between feeding his donkey and feeding his children. Unfortunately, he is forced to choose the donkey, because it can earn him money the following day, and he and his children go without food that night. I have seen communities in the mountains of Nepal and Peru that are desperately poor, but they have water, and with water they can grow a little grain, feed chickens, boil up food and wash. They can stave off disease. They are poor, but they can survive because they have water.

I have been influenced by these things and so much more in my life. That is why I feel an absolute need to build wells and to raise the money needed to provide clean, sanitary conditions for the women and children of these communities. I encourage all Australians and world citizens to do the same and support me in my next endeavour. On 27 November I will embark on the greatest journey that I could ever possibly imagine. I have set a goal to raise $100 million for this worthwhile endeavour. I will run from the South Pole to the edge of the ice in Argentina, then through South America, the United States of America and Canada, and then on to the North Pole before flying to the United Nations to present my findings—the places I have been, the people I have met and the things I have done along the way. I will run more than 21,000 kilometres through the extremes of every weather condition on this earth.

I have met with every high commissioner and ambassador of the countries I will be running through, and I am proud to say that I have their support and that they strongly support work to improve the lives of the severely poor of this world. I will present to the United Nations at the end of my journey all that I have seen and all that I have done. I will be asking the politicians to take a good, long look at themselves and to ask the question: if one man can do this, what can we all do if we work together as a nation? What can we do to help each and every nation meet the Millennium Development Goals to alleviate the poverty crisis in our own backyards as well as around the world? I ask each and every one of you here in this House: why is it that we can put a man on the moon and yet still two-thirds of the world’s population do not have clean drinking water or clean, sanitary conditions? Throughout my run, using the latest communications technology, I will beam into the boardrooms, the classrooms and the living rooms of people worldwide everything that I see and everything that I do. Hopefully, that will encourage people to follow my journey and to support me.

In finishing, if the people of this House remember nothing of the words that I have ever uttered in this place but they remember this last phrase, then my time here will have been worth while. So I say to each and every one of you that locked within each of us is the ability to achieve great things. I believe that the greatest force on this earth is our will. If we want to do something and we want to do it with all our heart, we can and we will find a way, but if we do not truly want to do it we will simply find an excuse. To all of you here in this House: please find a way to help all of humanity, and please, please, please, no excuses.

7:22 pm

Photo of Gary GrayGary Gray (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to speak in support of the Farm Household Support Amendment (Ancillary Benefits) Bill 2010. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry announced a trial of drought policy reform measures in Perth on 5 May with the Western Australian Minister for Agriculture and Food, Terry Redman MLA. The trial represents a new chapter in a long history of Australian governments grappling with the challenge to farming by a harsh climate. On 6 May in an Australian Financial Review article, National Farmers Federation President David Crombie is quoted as saying that the pilot is a ‘sensible, practical and forward-looking approach that takes account of climate risks and proactively manages them’.

In Western Australia this bill has widespread support. The Western Australian Farmers Federation President, Mike Norton, in a press release on the same day, welcomed the trial and noted, ‘It represents a good opportunity for WA’s farmers.’ WA’s Liberal Mental Health Minister, Dr Graham Jacobs, stated: ‘Difficult times on the farm can be very traumatic, even soul destroying. This bill offers more support to meet the mental health social needs of the farming community.’ Tony Crook, the Nationals’ candidate for O’Connor, stated, ‘I am very proud that Western Australia is at the forefront of a program that could revolutionise the way Australia tackles drought in the future.’ And the WA minister for agriculture, Terry Redman, stated, ‘We need to move to a mindset of being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to tough times in agriculture.’

Western Australia will remain the world leader in agricultural production and continue to grow productive farming industries despite the challenges of climate. As a Western Australian. I am aware of the significance of this bill to the farmers who take the risk to put a crop in. It is a bill that will support farming communities and farming families. In this place we hear a lot about working families. This bill is about farming families.

WA has a strong history of agricultural achievement in challenging conditions. Colonists arrived in WA in 1829 and planted wheat they had brought from England. European farmers recorded their first wheat harvests in WA in 1831. Of course, the wheat had been developed in English conditions and frequently failed to provide reliable and substantial crops. The failure of these first crops was inevitable. In isolated areas such as the Victoria District, at Champion Bay near Geraldton, it was even known that ‘starvation deaths’ followed crop failure—I quote from Sister Mary Albertus Bain. By the end of 1873 it could correctly be claimed that there had been only one good season since 1867. The most promising harvest since that date had that year been attacked again by red dust and almost the entire crop in the district was a failure. Malnutrition, worry and heat gradually took its toll on the district. The greatest number of deaths from 1870 to 1894 was amongst the children, and the most common cause was marasmus—inability to thrive due to a protein deficiency.

Such was the skill of successive generations of farmers in the WA grain belt that from failed crops and starvation has grown a sophisticated, science based, machine driven, satellite guided export industry. The first mechanical harvesting was done with a reaper. Heaps were forked into a thresher and then bagged by hand and shovel. But from the 1920s to the 1960s there was significant improvement in Western Australian grain yields through the use of superphosphate fertiliser and identification and amelioration of deficiencies of trace elements such as zinc, copper and manganese. The benefits were dramatic on the sandy soils that dominate the WA grain belt. The WA grain belt contains some of the driest consistently farmed land in the world. Soils are generally ancient, shallow and naturally infertile. Taken together, these factors create a challenging farming environment, amongst the most difficult in the world.

WA agriculture prides itself on being science based. There can be no better example of science based agriculture anywhere else in the world. Combined with improved farm practices and the advent of wheat varieties better adapted to the Western Australia environment, yields have trended upwards. The 1970s saw the beginning of minimum tillage—that is, seeding into uncultivated land, especially when it had carried a crop in the previous year. From the year 2000, WA has had a run of erratic seasons, with widespread drought and some severe localised frosts in spring downgrading grain quality. The 2003-04 grain harvest, however, heralded a record-breaking 14.7 million tonnes of grain.

WA is Australia’s export state. We export minerals, ore, hydrocarbons—and grain. The WA wheat belt not only supports WA’s food needs but also creates an exportable surplus representing 90 per cent of our total grain production. WA produces the bulk of Australia’s export grain, and an annual crop of 10 million tonnes is usual. Today, Western Australia’s grain is exported to over 20 countries, with major shipments to Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Vietnam and China.

In Western Australia as we speak, many farmers have completed seeding in often very dry conditions. Growing season rainfall is commonly less than 200 millimetres per annum—eight inches in the old scale—in the important period of May to September. So far the 2010 season has had a slow start. Rain has been patchy; however, a good 15 millimetres last week has provided some relief.

In years of severe drought farmers turn to the Commonwealth and state governments for support. Commonwealth assistance evolved in a haphazard way, with states taking the lead on drought policy. In the early 1970s drought was recognised under a joint Commonwealth-state natural disaster relief arrangement. Within two decades that approach was abandoned in favour of stand-alone drought policy separate to natural disaster relief. In 1992 a formal national drought policy to encourage self-reliance for primary producers and protect the nation’s farming sector from an unprecedented climate impact was determined. In 1984 the then agriculture minister, Simon Crean, introduced drought income support payments and interest rate subsidies for farmers within areas defined as facing exceptional circumstances or EC. Exceptional circumstances relief has evolved significantly as successive governments have tried to find the best way to help build more resilient farming communities. Exceptional circumstances support is available for farmers affected by drought events that must not have occurred more than once, on average, every 20 to 25 years. But, with current rainfall uncertainty, few believe the next drought will be a one in 20- to 25-year event. Some farmers have reached the interest rate subsidy limit of $500,000.

Farmers in the most debt receive the most assistance and we fail to recognise good farmers who have made tough business decisions to stay out of debt. Assistance is based on arbitrary lines on a map, meaning that one farmer may be eligible while their neighbour is not. We are getting it wrong. We get it wrong in agriculture when we fail to take hard, pro-business decisions. So I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution that Dr Henry Schapper made to the great agriculture industry of Western Australia through agricultural economics, public policy, farm management and strong business practices in farming. Dr Schapper was an articulate and determined man who recently lost his battle with illness, on 27 April this year. He fought his battle in the same way that he lived.

Debate interrupted.