House debates

Monday, 10 September 2018

Questions without Notice


2:16 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to ask the first question from this side of the chamber of our new Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister update the House—

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You might learn something. Will the Prime Minister update the House on how the government is helping farmers and rural communities to cope with the devastating effects of drought?

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Grey for his question. In the north-west pastoral zone in South Australia, we know they are experiencing drought. We know the drought is in New South Wales. We know the drought has been for many years in Queensland. We know that it's in Victoria. This is a national problem. It's a national challenge. It's one of the reasons we've appointed the special envoy, the member for New England, to be working as part of a team with Major General Day to coordinate our drought response and recovery program.

One of the first things I did was to go firsthand with the Deputy Prime Minister to those drought-affected areas of western Queensland. While it is true there is frustration, while it is true that I found exhaustion and while it is true also that I found disappointment in those that I've met as I've spoken to those affected by drought not just on the farms but in the towns as well, I tell you the other thing I found. It is hope. There is real hope about where we are going ahead as a country when it comes to dealing with the drought. I was shown by Steve Tully with his wife Annabel a picture of pasture land with grass up to your knees just 2½ years ago. That is what they believe will return.

They haven't given up in terms of what they've been doing over this period of time, and Australians haven't given up on them either. That's why Jack Berne from Freshwater public school started Fiver for a Farmer. That's why the kids from St Patrick's Parish School in Albury were busking in the street to show their solidarity with rural communities all around in this country. It is because in this country we look after our mates, and we are looking after our farmers and the rural towns.

Now, the challenge is great and there's no one single answer. There are many responses that need to be co-ordinated at state and local level and at a Commonwealth level. Major General Stephen Day has been put in charge of a joint agency task force to coordinate the Commonwealth's response, not unlike the joint agency task force that was formed back in 2013 called Operation Sovereign Borders. It is a similar approach, bringing together all agencies of government under a single command to ensure the help gets where it needs to get to and that response is coordinated in the way it needs to be.

That joint agency task force has already been stood up, and the reports coming back to me from Major General Day are that the story is uneven. It's different in different parts of the country. Some people are doing better than we may have expected, but many are doing worse. On top of that, the generosity that has been provided by charitable organisations all around the country is working, but it needs to be better targeted. Major General Day has a simple plan: he's going to listen, he's going to plan and he's going to act. That's what we're doing to coordinate our response to the drought to ensure the feed gets where it needs to, to ensure the assistance gets to the farmers where it's needed and to ensure we keep those towns alive to recover.