Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Colleagues, today I would like to draw your attention to a notice that is on the Notice Paper in my name about the dairy industry and accessing farm household support. We have got a real problem. It needs real solutions, and we need a long-term plan for Australian agriculture. However, I would like to begin by acknowledging the work of the minister's office, the departmental staff in Human Services and Agriculture and Water Resources, and the ministerial advisers to Minister Joyce and Minister Tudge for their willingness to come halfway, to come to my office to meet with me and work together on a solution. Public servants: thank you. We really appreciate the effort that you are making.
Let me talk to the problem. In my electorate of Indi in north-east Victoria, I have approximately 120 dairy farmers and I am advised that between 50 and 60 of them are currently facing significant difficulties, because of the changes in the payment system and the dairy industry troubles; and that 20 per cent of them are in severe need. The answer to many of them is to go to Human Services—Centrelink—work with their rural financial counsellors, fill in the forms and apply for household assistance. I have to say: the stories that are coming across my desk are very sad, and who knows why?
That is why today's meeting with the public servants was so important. People's applications have gone missing. They have been unable to get the detail that they need in the time that they need. And it has been extraordinarily difficult for some dairy farmers to actually jump the hoops to get the support they need. As a consequence, they are without money. We all know what it means in any community in the lead-up to Christmas when the school year is finishing and you have got no money. It is bad enough at any time, but it is particularly bad at this time of year.
So what I am bringing today on behalf of my constituents of north-east Victoria is a plea for speedy action to resolve the issues that we are facing and to actually look at how we can change the system that makes it so complex in times of great need for farming families to access the support that they need. I understand there are problems; I understand it is complex, but I also know that we are clever enough to sort through this and put in place a system that works right across Australia when we have times of great financial hardship, whether it be in agriculture or in manufacturing. So today, for the constituents in the dairy industry and for all the dairy and agricultural farmers in north-east Victoria and in Australia, I would like to let you know that you have a strong advocate in me, a very effective advocate, someone who is able to come and work with all sides of parliament and in a really productive way with the departments to resolve the issues that we face.