House debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Constituency Statements


4:18 pm

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to tell you about Gary. I've known Gary for a long time. He's a good, down-to-earth bloke with a big heart. He has known his share of joy and sadness, and he is now one of Rural Aid's counsellors working with those on the land to offer support to those whose lives have been decimated by the drought we're currently in. Gary is not one for melodrama, yet he describes the situation on the land at the moment as being absolutely tragic and says the suicide rate is off the charts. Even if it rains tomorrow, he warns, it will take the land at least two years to recover from this massive dry. Even more frightening is his ominous observation that every Australian drought is broken by a flood. He has warned that, while the land will take two years to heal, the trauma and the psychological injuries suffered by our farmers and their families at this time will take far longer to overcome.

We know that much of our nation's food bowl is at the moment a dust bowl. We know that stock are dying in droves. We know that farms are crumbling. We know that, for many, hope has gone. This is where Gary and his employer, Rural Aid, come in. Last week I spoke in praise of the 9,000-resident community of Medowie, which raised $70,000 for Rural Aid. This charity has been doing incredible work in a multitude of drought relief related areas—water, hay, food, counselling, farm visits, farm stays and even a farm army of volunteers who come in and do mechanical work, repairs, fencing or whatever needs to be done.

All around us charities, members of our broader community, businesses and big corporations are digging deep to help our farmers, but what about us here in parliament? I think the Prime Minister needs to have a good hard look at his government's response to this dire situation. It galls me to hear the former agriculture minister, the member for New England, spouting from the back bench, 'What are we doing to help our farmers?' He had five years to help our farmers and he did nought.

The Turnbull government has committed $12,000 in assistance. This shouldn't come in two payments; it should come as one lump sum, as we've suggested. Those farmers need that help now. The $1.8 billion support package announced to much fanfare on the weekend, unfortunately, doesn't stand up well to scrutiny. Opposition leader Bill Shorten has suggested that Prime Minister Turnbull draw on the $700 million it stands to reap in penalties accrued by the Commonwealth Bank. Wouldn't it be great to divert those funds to our farmers, many of whom have suffered greatly at the hands of our banks? More importantly, we need a government that's prepared to lead, not play the sorts of charades it has today.