Thursday, 20 March 2014
Farm Household Support Bill 2014, Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I am very grateful to Senator Siewert for giving me an opportunity to make a very short contribution ahead of her because of a committee commitment I have. I indicate that, of course, I support this bill. It offers a new way to identify and assist farming households which are under financial pressure.
While most of the attention has fallen on that large swathe of the country experiencing drought, attention must also be paid to the many small wine grape growers in my state. You cannot make wine without grapes but, as with so many primary producers, wine grape farmers are again being taken for granted. Many are being forced to take prices well below the cost of production. The plight of these farmers must not be forgotten during the roll-out of this bill. I had a constructive discussion with Mr Barnaby Joyce, the Minister for Agriculture, who assured me—and his office assured me—that this package of measures is not confined to those who have been directly affected by the drought that is continuing in many parts of the country. It applies more broadly, and so those farmers have an opportunity to apply for assistance.
Whether in the Riverland, the South East, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, the Barossa or any other wine region in South Australia, wine grape growers are the backbone of the wine sector and many of them are doing it extremely tough. I have met many of them; they contact me regularly; their stories are quite disheartening, but I believe there is hope for the industry in terms of increasing export markets, which will in turn increase demand for Australian grapes.
The very large 2013 wine grape vintage in Australia has been impacted on heavily this year. Prices have dramatically reduced and the level of production is expected to exceed total sales by 15 per cent. The Australian's Pia Akerman reported this month that prices have dropped by 30 per cent for Riverland grape growers, and I understand that in Sunraysia and in the Riverina there are similar stories. This year, just like the very bad drought being experienced in other parts of the country, the prices faced by wine grape growers are very dire. In other words, there is a significant economic impact on them. Many of them are already saddled with debt burdens run up trying to keep their vines alive during the harsh years of the last drought. In a sense, they are also affected by drought, but this is a drought that broke several years ago, though the financial impacts of that are still felt strongly.
When the Prime Minister announced this package of measures, which I strongly support, he said that this was a response to farming circumstances outside the 'ordinary variation in the business cycle'. He wanted to assure all Australians that:
… this government intends to stand by people in need. We intend to stand by people in good times and in bad.
I support those comments and I simply say that at the moment in South Australia there are many wine grape growers who are doing it very tough, and hopefully this package will support them to some extent, but we need to do more for those wine grape growers in the coming months.