House debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Grievance Debate


11:14 am

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to use this grievance debate to discuss some of the fantastic initiatives the Morrison government is spearheading to support our regional, remote and rural communities in WA who are doing it tough through drought. I contrast this with the callous disregard and lack of action by the Western Australia Labor government. Drought wreaks havoc on regional communities, often for prolonged periods of time, and brings with it uncertainty, despair, financial hardship and a blow to community spirit. Our Drought response, resilience and preparedness plan sets the framework to help our farmers and rural communities prepare for drought and manage its effects into the future. Our plan is focused on three themes: immediate action for those in drought, support for the wider communities affected by drought, and long-term resilience and preparedness.

We all have a role to play in dealing with drought. This includes all levels of government, industry, individual farmers and businesses. To this end, the On-farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme is an excellent program that provides rebates of up to 25 per cent of eligible infrastructure costs for on-farm water, capped at $25,000. This scheme helps farmers keep livestock watered and permanent plantings alive during drought. It means our farmers are more productive and better prepared for the inevitable drought in years to come. The rebate has justifiably been popular because the infrastructure it supports provides enduring and ongoing benefits. This includes new bores, better dams and pipes to move the water around farms to where stock need it. A total of 941 rebates have been approved in Western Australia, totalling $3.76 million. Unfortunately, there remains, to this day, 411 applications which have not yet been paid out. Despite the scheme being oversubscribed, the Western Australian government, who administer the scheme on behalf of the federal government, continue to approve and accept applications.

My office has been inundated with calls from farmers who are already doing it tough and have invested significantly to make their properties more drought-resilient, only to find there is no money left in the fund. I have campaigned strongly for a further allocation towards this excellent scheme. I was very pleased when the minister for water, Keith Pitt, allocated an extra $50 million to the scheme in early October. This will take the federal government contribution to $100 million in total. As mentioned, combating drought needs a multipronged approach by all levels of government, as well as farmers and business. So we call on the state governments to match the federal government contribution, dollar for dollar, to support our WA farmers. To this day, the WA government has refused to get on board and provide this matching funding. In fact, they have done absolutely nothing to support our farmers suffering drought in any area. It's an absolute disgrace. To add insult to injury, I recently discovered that the WA Department of Water charged the federal government half a million dollars just to administer the scheme, which is a slap in the face to farmers doing it tough.

It's extremely frustrating to see the federal government invest further funds into drought support schemes while the state government continue to show their complete indifference. We invested $140 million in combating salinity in the Wellington Dam, the second-largest surface-water catchment in Western Australia. This $400 million project has now been shelved because the state government hasn't been able to negotiate the appropriate commercial agreements. The Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme in Manjimup had $40 million in federal funding injected into it, but it has now become bogged down in the state bureaucracy. I will continue to work with the Southern Forests Irrigation Co-operative to ensure this vital project goes ahead, but it concerns me that our state governments don't seem to be as interested as I am.

My good friend David Dwyer has been preselected as the Liberal candidate for Roe. As a rural accountant of many years standing, he has a very good understanding of the issues facing our rural communities. He and I met recently with farmers in Lake Grace to discuss his plans for drought mitigation in that part of my electorate. I was pleased to hear he is working closely with shadow minister David Honey to establish water policies leading up to the state election which will support our drought affected farmers. I was able to discuss with David the policies that comprise our $8 billion worth of drought assistance measures aimed at supporting farmers, including the Drought Communities Program. This program supports communities in the most drought affected regions in Australia, 20 shires of which are located in my electorate of O'Connor. Communities of less than 1,000 people receive $500,000 and communities with larger populations receive $1 million to get local infrastructure projects and other drought relief activities off the ground. The Morrison government is here for our rural and regional communities that are doing it tough through drought and will support them for as long as it takes.

In the minutes that I have remaining, I want to talk about another issue which is particularly important to the farmers in my electorate, and that is the live export trade. Just this week, we heard that Qatar has withdrawn its subsidy on the import of chilled meat—chilled mutton, in particular. This will have a huge impact on Hillside Meat Processors in the town of Narrogin in my electorate. They supply around about 12½ thousand sheep per week to the air freight trade. These are lightweight sheep. The alternative market for those sheep is the live export trade. Unfortunately, the West Australian Labor Minister for Agriculture, Alannah MacTiernan, has been a vehement opponent and critic of the live export trade. Several years ago, when we had an unfortunate incident in the Middle East, in Qatar, the Minister for Agriculture in Western Australia was gleefully telling farmers the live export trade was finished and we needed to find plan B.

The fact that Qatar are no longer subsidising chilled meat imports means their reliance on live export will only increase. So while Western Australia farmers have lost that chilled meat trade, the live export trade is only going to increase in importance and value. I say to the Western Australia Minister for Agriculture, Ms MacTiernan: what is your plan C? Because plan B is not working out all that well at this stage. I want to reiterate my support for the live export trade. It is a critical part of the meat trade out of Western Australia and it deserves the support of governments at all levels.

I also want to draw attention to the fact that the Saudi Arabian market is the largest live export market in the world. They import up to eight million animals a year from mostly Black Sea and North African countries, which do not have anything like the animal welfare protocols that the countries we export our sheep to have. The Saudi Arabian market is ready to be opened. The Australian government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi government to allow that trade to recommence. At the moment, we are just working through some of those protocols. Unfortunately, our own Department of Agriculture at the federal level has imposed conditions that, as a farmer and as someone who has supplied sheep over many years to the live export trade, are effectively impossible and impractical to implement at farm level. I will be continuing to work with our federal Minister for Agriculture, Minister Littleproud, to try and iron out some of those bumps so that West Australian farmers can see that enormous live export market in Saudi Arabia reopened.

In conclusion, our friends in the Middle East have supported us strongly in the barley market. As members of the House will be aware, the Chinese government has imposed an 80 per cent tariff on barley out of Australia, meaning that particular market for West Australian farmers, which took 80 per cent of our barley, is now gone. The Saudi Arabians have stepped up. Last week there was a 700,000 tonne tender for Western Australian barley at strong prices, which will absorb a lot of this year's crop. In our overall trade relationship, our Middle Eastern partners have certainly stepped up to take more of our live sheep product and more of our barley.