Monday, 3 June 2013
Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry Committee; Report
On behalf of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry I present the committee's report on the inquiry into the National Rural Advisory Council annual report 2011-12 together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.
In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.
by leave—The council, commonly referred to as NRAC, is an independent body providing advice to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry on matters including rural adjustment, regional issues, training, exceptional circumstances applications and the extension of the exceptional circumstances declarations.
In 2011-12 one of the NRAC's core responsibilities was the review of the exceptional circumstances declarations that would expire that year. They included declarations in the Murray River and Lower Lakes Corridor, Bundarra and the Eurobodalla regions. The NRAC's determination was that these declarations did not need renewal. Australia was deemed drought-free for the first time in a decade. Following this, the NRAC was tasked with a program of policy development work within the agriculture sector. This included assessment of the multiperil crop insurance and the Farm Management Deposits Scheme, aimed at reducing volatility in farm incomes over the longer term and agriculture employers workforce planning capacities.
To reflect this shift in its focus, the committee recommended that the NRAC's competition be monitored to ensure that its membership adequately reflected the skills needed to deliver high-quality outcomes for its current work program. In parallel with the NRAC's work, a process has been undertaken by the Council of Australian Government's Standing Council on Primary Industries to examine drought assistance reform. This was born in part by the 2008 declaration of that body stating that exceptional circumstances declarations were no longer an effective mechanism for managing drought assistance, and that the focus would be better placed on better planning and preparation for times of hardship.
In examining the shape of a future effective policy, the council commissioned economic, social and climatic assessments aimed at examining how the current national drought policy affected farming families and communities. Armed with the results of these assessments, a trial of new measures was conducted in Western Australia over 2010-2011. A review of this trial made a range of recommendations to provide a more robust future policy. Broadly, those included income and social support, strategic farm business planning and ongoing access to the Farm Management Deposits Scheme and other taxation incentives.
Moving on from the trial, the Standing Council on Primary Industries entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement on National Drought Program Reform in May this year. The agreement centres on five key areas: a farm household support payment; promoting farm management deposits and other taxation matters; a national approach to farm business training; a coordinated and collaborative approach to division of social support and services; and tools and technologies to inform farmer decision-making.
An early part of these reforms has included the announcement of a farm financing package, aimed at providing assistance to agribusiness. At the time of this report formal agreements between the Commonwealth, states and territories had not been reached, nor had relevant legislation been enacted to enable the elements of the package to commence. The committee recommends that those agreements and legislation be finalised as soon as possible to ensure that assistance flows to farmers and communities by the planned commencement date of 1 July 2013. The committee also recommended that the agreements be implemented and the full package of drought reform be completed so that it could be commenced no later than the agreed date of 1 July 2014.
I would like to thank the representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the National Rural Advisory Council who appeared before the committee's public hearing. Their assistance in clarifying a range of matters for the committee proved invaluable in the development of the report. I hope that the committee's recommendations and the significant effort of all levels of government in developing a package of drought assistance reforms concludes with a positive outcome for farming families and communities throughout Australia.
by leave—I think it is extremely important as we discuss this report this morning that we note we have the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in the chamber here with us, because I would like to support the comments by the chair on our committee's investigations of this report. I would also like to thank the secretariat, who are with us today in the chamber as well, for their work on this.
All members of the committee, from all sides of parliament, were unanimous in the recommendations they put forward. I would like to read the two recommendations which I think are incredibly relevant to Australian farming today. Recommendation 2 states:
Given that regions across Australia are once again experiencing drought conditions, the Committee calls on the Australian Government, States and Territories to finalise the Farm Finance Package so that it can be implemented by 1 July 2013.
Recommendation 3 states:
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, through the Council of Australian Governments’ Standing Committee on Primary Industries, ensures that the complete new package of drought reform measures is agreed and implemented by the stated target date of 1 July 2014.
There are conditions across the country at the moment which are placing huge stresses on our farmers, whether they be in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales or Victoria—both the northern parts of Victoria and my electorate in the south-west part of Victoria.
We need the federal government and the states to work cooperatively to get the farm finance package concluded by 1 July 2013. We also have to ensure that the further reform of how drought assistance is provided to our farmers is finalised by 1 July 2014. I call on the federal government and the states and territories to please understand the need, in particular, to give assistance to our farmers immediately. There is a real need out there in our communities, and I call on the federal, state and territory governments to sit down and get the farm financing package concluded. I understand that the interest rate subsidy has been decided at 4½ per cent. We need to get the rest of the details agreed, and we need to get help to these farmers who are doing it very, very tough at the moment.