Monday, 20 August 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Canavan. Minister, what is the coalition government doing to aid drought-stricken farmers during this period of devastating drought?
I thank Senator Williams for that question and recognise the difficult circumstances that many of his New South Wales constituents are facing in New South Wales in one of the worst droughts in our recorded history. These are people like Andrew Curro, a farmer from Mudgee, who has said, 'Cobar hasn't seen any real rain since before Christmas and it's a horrible thing to witness.' I'm sure all of us in this chamber express our best wishes to those facing these difficult circumstances. And we continue as a government to support our farmers in the best way we can.
Yesterday, building on announcements we've made recently, the agriculture minister, Mr Littleproud, the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr McCormack, all made further announcements to support our farmers. That takes our assistance to drought affected farmers to $1.8 billion during this drought, recognising this drought in some locations has gone on for many years, particularly in western Queensland. Yesterday we announced a further $75 million for the Drought Communities Program. It's an assistance package to help small councils invest in community infrastructure. That not only helps that local town or community; it also provides important off-farm income for farmers and those in towns suffering from drought. We have announced a further $23 million for the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative, a very important program that helps cap bores in the Great Artesian Basin, increasing pressure and allowing more water extraction for farmers over the long term. We've increased the amount of concessional loans that can go to farmers, from a $1 million cap to a $2 million cap, again recognising the extent and severity of this drought. Finally, we have invested another $72 million in the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund. This is going to help farms invest in water infrastructure on their properties. It will not only give them jobs and work to do during this drought but also make their place more resilient for the future. These are important investments to help our farmers in this nation.
As I mentioned in my answer earlier, we are already doing many things in this space and have for many years. We give a commitment to our farming sector and country towns that we in the Liberal-National Party will always support them through these difficult circumstances. We hope that it rains as soon as it can, but we will continue to support them over the years that this drought continues. Previously, as I mentioned, we have invested $35 million in the Drought Communities Program. We have also in previous years invested significant amounts of money in helping protect farmers and properties from the ravages of wild dogs. These are very important investments to build better fencing; it can help lambs and sheep come back into an area. That brings more employment as well. And, of course, we have provided concessional loans and household assistance payments to farmers for the last few years. Now loans have gone to more than 1,500 businesses, amounting to $850 million.
One important aspect of any response to drought is being able to provide farmers with the financial ability to protect their businesses over the cycle, to make sure they have an ability to put away in good times and to be able to draw on that in not-so-good times, as we see at the moment. The farm management deposits scheme is a key mechanism of the government to be able to provide that support. It allows farmers to put away money in a tax protected vehicle during good years and then to withdraw that money when they may not have as much income in times like those we see now. It is a great message, a great news story, that as at June this year there was a record amount of funding in farm management deposits, $6.6 billion. It has helped farmers prepare for this drought in ways that they may not have been able to in previous years. That is partly the result of the government lifting the amount that farmers can put into farm management deposits up to $800,000. Our farm sector are very resilient; they do prepare for these droughts. Sometimes, however, a natural disaster overcomes any individual's preparedness.