SUBJECTS: Drought announcement, drought policy.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: In the absence of substantial rain any time soon, the current and very severe drought will be recorded as our worst in history. Labor wants our farmers to know and our farming families to know we stand with them and ready to support any meaningful Government initiatives to help them through this drought. We also thank the many hundreds of thousands of Australians who have generously contributed to the various fundraising and farm support campaigns. Adversity always brings out the very best in the Australian community and they have been there for our farming families. While there has been a mixed reaction from our farmers today, despite its lateness and the lack of comprehensiveness of this package, Labor will support it and will stand by our farmers. Cash can never do any harm, it can only help. But farmers are already asking what happens after the second payment if we don’t receive substantial rain? They are also rightly asking questions about the complexity of the application process. Assets and income tests are changing but there is no indication that the complexities of the application process and the difficulties farmers have faced applying has changed in any way.
What is still missing in this package is a comprehensive response to climate change. A plan to ensure our farmers start building resilience to drought. We have had a five year break now from comprehensive drought policy reform. It is not too late to start now. We must return to a comprehensive process. We must accept that the climate will continue to become challenging if not more challenging and the best thing a Government can do is help farmers embrace the best farming practices inside the farm gate.
JOURNALIST: Should more have been done sooner?
FITZGIBBON: Obviously more should have been done sooner. Five years ago the Coalition Government put a break on the comprehensive plan to help farmers deal with what is a changing climate, a climate which is making farming more difficult.
JOURNALIST: Many farmers are finding the process, the application process pretty arduous and are anecdotally giving up. Is it too complicated what they are being asked to do?
FITZGIBBON: Only last month the Government was still saying that the drought policy they had in place was sufficiently comprehensive, it is enough. They were claiming there isn’t any real problem with farmers applying for assistance. Clearly there is. They have now admitted that. They say they are going to fix it. We will wait and see. I know the farming community is sceptical.
JOURNALIST: Do the farmers need to be doing more?
FITZGIBBON: Farmers are the producers of our food and fibre. They are hardworking, they are held in the highest regard by the Australian community. Farmers are doing their best to adapt to a changing climate but Government has a role to play too and it has been completely missing in action.