House debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Constituency Statements

Nicholls Electorate: Agriculture

4:41 pm

Photo of Sam BirrellSam Birrell (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The year 2022 was very difficult in my electorate. We had a huge rain bomb that caused a very difficult flood event. That caused widespread damage across farmland—dairy, broadacre and horticulture. We are only just recovering from all of that at the moment. The good news is that it's filled the catchments, but there has been a lot of damage. And the year didn't end well for horticulture. There were summer hailstorms. One was on Melbourne Cup Day, which sent down a lot of what we call 'rice hail'—and I'll talk about that—but then there was a devastating hailstorm just before Christmas which concentrated on the Tatura and Ardmona and Bunbartha areas, which are wonderful fruit producing regions. The hailstones were so big that they smashed the sides out of the growing pears and apples. That has caused devastation for orchardists and some real difficulties for the economic drivers of my region.

I know how much everybody loves Australian fruit. Those opposite enjoyed some of the apples and pears I dropped off to the government party room before Christmas. I did the same in the joint party room for the Opposition. We love our Australian fruit, our apples and pears. Our growers love to produce that fruit—healthy food for Australians—but they have been smashed by this hailstorm. What can we do about this? I think supermarkets and consumers have a role to play in that there is some fruit that whilst it has some small damage it still tastes great. It might look a bit different. I am hoping the supermarkets work with their customers and explain what has happened with this hailstorm so the growers can still get some marketable fruit onto the shelves and everybody understands what has happened. I like to say some of this fruit is 'kissed by nature', but it's still great stuff.

The other thing is the previous coalition government started a great program called the Horticultural Netting Program. It was established to assist horticultural primary producers to increase their resilience to exposure to crop damage through the purchase and installation of netting—so you put the nets over the top of the orchards. Growers were eligible for up to 50 per cent of the cost of purchase and to have a third party install new permanent netting, up to a maximum of $100,000. My understanding is, and I have spoken to the minister for agriculture, there is some unspent money. But I have written to him and urged him to expand this program so that the people who produce that wonderful fruit in Australia can get access, particularly in this time of financial difficulty for them, to some government subsidies to help net their orchards and make them more resilient against the effects of future weather events.