Tuesday, 11 September 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation, Senator McKenzie. Can the minister update the Senate on the support that the coalition government has provided to help communities that are currently experiencing severe drought?
Thank you, Senator Williams, for your question and your concern for drought-stricken farmers in your home state of New South Wales. We know that country communities around Australia are doing it tough because of drought: 100 per cent of New South Wales and large percentages of Queensland, Victoria and South Australia are in the middle of a long and exhausting drought. Our government is working hard to support farmers, families, small businesses and affected communities that are dealing with historically ongoing dry conditions. Scott Morrison, as Prime Minister, has prioritised our response to the drought, and I was pleased to join him in Quilpie, western Queensland, where we saw firsthand the devastating impacts that drought is having on families, businesses and communities. I'd like to particularly thank the Tullys, for sharing their six-year story about how the drought is affecting them, and to give a special shout-out to Hugo and all his online classmates today.
To date our government has pledged in excess of $1.8 billion in drought support, including cash on the table for farming families to help with groceries and daily living costs; more support for essential rural financial counsellors; assistance for their mental health issues; an increase in the asset test for access to the farm household allowance; and additional investment in water and fodder storage. People are relieved that we're in charge of drought relief and they're relieved that Barnaby Joyce, a farmer, is now coordinating the response as our drought envoy. This government knows that the drought is felt as hard on the main street as it is in the back paddock. That is why our drought response is designed to help farmers as well as the towns and communities that surround them. It is why, in addition to the assistance that we're providing to our farmers, we're also extending the Drought Communities Program to provide immediate relief to these drought-affected communities.
The $75 million Drought Communities Program will allow 60 drought-affected areas across New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria to apply for grants that help keep locals employed and money flowing into local shops and small businesses. These grants can be used by local governments to employ local contractors to undertake repairs and maintenance and to upgrade or build new community infrastructure and water projects for human consumption. We know locals know best. Local councils need the support to prioritise local projects and keep local economies going. I've written to eligible councils to advise them that we are finalising the grants process of this program, and it is an absolute priority for me as the new minister. One hundred and thirty-five local projects have already been funded since 2015-16. In the past, the program has helped communities like Blackall-Tambo, Walgett and Coonamble employ people and fund fencing programs, repairs and draining projects.
Many regional communities are doing it tough right now, and I'd like to thank all Australians for getting behind those communities with your generous support. It's why it's so important that our government is investing in regional Australia. Our nation is strong when our regions are strong. The agriculture and mining industries account for 70 per cent of our exports and provide jobs for over two million Australians. Agriculture, particularly, contributes $60 billion to our national economy every year. The coalition has invested over $1.4 billion into regional programs since coming into government, including $200 million for Building Better Regions and $22.5 million for the Stronger Communities Program. These programs provide economic stimulation, create jobs and drive growth right across regional Australia. This is so important because we know that the rain will eventually come. The coalition government stands shoulder to shoulder with our drought-affected farmers and their communities to help them get back on their feet when that happens.