Wednesday, 24 October 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Will the minister explain why the government believes in supporting our farmers? What is the government doing to act on that belief, by providing support, assistance and market opportunities to food and fibre producers?
I thank the honourable member for his question. He understands the importance of agriculture and the challenges that we are facing currently with drought. It's important to understand that, while there has been some good rain in eastern parts of the country, some parts have missed out. So it's important that this government continues on this journey of ensuring we support our primary producers.
On Friday we'll bring together the stakeholders to ensure that we have a policy fit for the future. We've put over $1. 8 billion on the table already. But it's important that we coordinate that with state agencies, who have the responsibility of looking after animal welfare. It's the federal government's responsibility to look after the farmer welfare. We have done that, and we are making sure that we continue to do that not only for farmers but also for those small regional communities that support them.
We've increased the amount of farm household assistance to $37,626. It's important to understand that that doesn't just go to household expenses; it also goes into the shops—the butcher and the baker—in those small towns, keeping people employed. We've put more rural financial counsellors on the ground, an extra 39, to complement the 116 that are already there. They are real jobs in regional communities—putting dollars into those communities. We've invested a further $1 million into each drought shire to ensure that councils can invest in projects and use local businesses to procure local resources to keep those local economies going. It's not just farmers who hurt in this; small business also hurt in this. It's important that we understand that, unless we have a policy that goes right through the economy within these small local communities, they all suffer.
So it's important that we continue on that journey and invest for the future. We are investing in the future in water infrastructure. There's been $2.5 billion put on the table, with $500 million of that being spent to build eight nation-building projects—to build not only resilience and preparedness for drought but also greater productivity and profitability for our farming sector. It's important that we have these nation-building projects to ensure that agriculture goes to the next level, to take advantage of the trade agreements that we've put in place. We invested $313 million in this year's budget to protect our biosecurity, to keep our green, clean image, to make sure that our farmers get the returns that they deserve.
But the biggest investment that this government has made since the drought has been declared is the additional money invested in our farmers' mental welfare. We have invested a further $11.4 million in programs to be run on the ground, to sit around farmers' kitchen tables to help them through. We've made sure that the Medicare rebate has been extended for them to be able to sit in the sanctity of their own home and ask for help.
And I say—I plead—to every primary producer, to every person who is in regional or rural Australia or to any Australian: you should never feel ashamed to ask for help. We live in a great country, and you should always be prepared to ask for that help. I say to each and every one of us: reach out to someone we know and ask, 'Are you okay?'