I rise to support the Farm Household Support Amendment Bill 2017, which amends the Farm Household Support Act 2014. I commend the Deputy Prime Minister on this bill, which will make a real difference to the lives of people living on the land who are experiencing financial hardship. We need to support farmers. More than 307,000 people are employed in agriculture, the biggest employer in rural and regional communities. Australian farmers produce enough food to feed 80 million people. Not only do they provide 93 per cent of the domestic food supply, they also support an export market valued at more than $41 billion per annum.
As this House has heard, the farm household allowance program gives farmers and their partners a maximum of three years income support to meet basic household needs while they make decisions about the future of their farm businesses and take action to improve their circumstances. Prior to the coalition government's introduction of the farm household allowance in 2014 there was no support payment generally available to farmers in hardship outside exceptional circumstances, and exceptional circumstances was abolished by the previous Labor government, leaving no support for farmers facing temporary hardship. That was an appalling state of affairs, a shameful episode which has fortunately been addressed by the Liberals and Nationals. This bill is part of the continued improvement of this badly needed assistance. What we want from the opposition is a positive contribution to policy debate on agriculture. I take note of the contributions earlier by the member for Hunter and the member for Bendigo. They were very negative. I think that is a disappointment to farmers. What can I say about the member for Hunter? He seems like a decent guy. He has a few issues with telephones, as we heard in the House today, but he is overwhelmingly a decent guy. What he has to do is make a positive contribution to agriculture in this country. I think we saw that with the backpacker tax, when farmers were overwhelmingly disappointed at the negative way in which that negotiation was approached by the member for Hunter. My message to the member for Hunter is very simple. If you are going to wear the RMs you have got to back it up with some very positive contributions to agricultural policy debate.
As at 3 February 2017, more than 7,000 claims for farm household allowance have been granted, which highlights the demand for this program. The need is indisputable. On average, the government is paying out $1.16 million per week in farm household allowance to farm families. The Liberals and Nationals have listened to the concerns of farmers, and the government is moving to make improvements to the delivery of the farm household allowance payment, making it easier for those who are experiencing what is often debilitating hardship.
When the farm household allowance program commenced in 2014, eligible farmers had applied to them the same waiting periods as those of other government income support programs. There were good reasons for doing that, but the reality is that that has proved impractical for farmers hit by hardship, and it is often livelihood threatening hardship that they are faced with. If a farmer qualifies for the allowance then it means the hardship is real and they should not be required to wait additional time. The Farm Household Support Amendment Bill will amend the Farm Household Support Act to ensure that recipients of the allowance are not required to serve an ordinary waiting period or liquid assets waiting period before they can commence receiving the allowance itself. Forcing eligible farmers who have been found to be in need of support is unduly bureaucratic and ignores the often harsh reality of living life on the land. The effect of a longer waiting time can reduce the ability of farmers to support the operation of their businesses. When they need help they need it quickly, and you can bet that if a farmer is making an application for support it is a decision not taken lightly. The need is real and urgent. Farmers are, by their very nature, self-reliant and resilient people. The farm household allowance is time limited, so removing the waiting period will bring no extra burden to the budget. This measure is about cutting red tape and removing another hoop that needs to be jumped through before assistance is delivered.
Another way the government is improving this program to benefit agriculture and our nation is in the treatment of assets. Currently there are certain assets used by farmers in the operation of their businesses which are not actually counted as farm assets for the purpose of allowance assessment. They have to be assessed as non-farm assets which have stricter asset limits. It sounds incongruous, it sounds unduly bureaucratic, and it is. It can also prevent assistance getting through to farmers when it is needed. These assets include water rights and shares in marketing cooperatives, and this bill rightfully places them back in the category of farm assets. The proposed changes are common-sense reforms which will be welcomed by farmers across central western New South Wales and across Australia.
The seat of Calare has a large and proud farming history. It is Australia's food basket. The lamb and beef on your dinner table or the wine that you enjoy with it may well have come from the Calare electorate. The apples, cherries, flour or canola oil that you buy in the supermarket could also have been made or produced in the central west. I would like to take the opportunity today to mention just a few of those farmers from Calare who work day in, day out to put food on our table. Take, for example, Mitchell Clapham: in partnership with his wife Daryl he runs a mixed grazing operation on two properties covering 1,200 hectares south-east of Mudgee. Their business includes fine wool and beef production, and Mitch has maintained an active interest in rural issues, serving with the New South Wales Farmers Association at a branch and district level. He is a tireless advocate for farmers in central western New South Wales.
Tim and Sophie Hansen run Mandagery Creek Australian Farmed Venison, near Orange, which was established in 2002. Venison is not a usual choice of livestock. Tim's father Andrew first stocked deer to get rid of blackberries. Today their red venison is sold and stocked right around Australia, with Sophie promoting the product and educating the domestic market through her blog Local is Lovely. Members of this House will note that Sophie was recently recognised for this work when she was named Australia's Rural Woman of the Year for 2016. Our communities are very proud of Sophie.
Bernard and Fiona Hall are second-generation apple and cherry growers from Orange. Bernard and Fiona, along with their three children, live and work on Caernarvon. They grow galas, red delicious, Fuji, pink lady and Granny Smith apples, along with kordia and sweetheart cherries. Bernard and his brother, Tim, learnt the ropes while working his father's orchard, Bonny Glen, which is also situated on the outskirts of Orange.
Another great example is MSM Milling, which began in 1991 when Peter and Bob Smith started a small canola seed crushing operation on the family farm at Cudal. A new, fully integrated seed crushing and oil refining plant was established on a greenfield site at Manildra, starting its operation in 2007. In 2011 the business commissioned a new on-site packaging facility and began distributing to the food service market, offering canola oil and other oil types and blends. Their most recent product, Auzure, is MSM Milling's retail brand of canola oil, and they now export to many countries right around the world, including our northern neighbours in the Pacific region.
John and Margie Lowe run Lowther Park near Lithgow and has been a part of the Lowe family since the 1920s, when it belonged to John Lowe's grandfather, Eric Thompson. Today, John, Margie and their two sons Charlie and William, along with John's mother, Audrey, all work together to run their property, running sheep and cattle over the 2000 acres. John and Margie are also on numerous committees and put their spare time into make a difference for future generations of country people. I note that Margie had a big hand in overseeing the show girl competition at their recent local show at Rydal.
Dan and Steve Owens are fourth-generation farmers running Nanena at The Lagoon, near Bathurst. Their father, John Owens, is a well-known local resident who in 1986 was named the Bathurst Region Farmer of the Year. Their farm is 6,000 acres where they farm angus cattle and merino sheep, while John Owens farms out of Boonah on the Gormans Hill Road.
The Peffer Pastoral Co was started in 1955 by the late Ivo Peffer and his wife, Marie. They started with six chooks on a patch of farmland which is now suburban western Sydney. Running a wide range of farming activities, they are also well known now for Canobolas Eggs, which is situated just out of Molong on a property called Vale Head. Canobolas Eggs was conceived by the Peffer family when the egg industry was deregulated in the early 1990s and under Ivo's guidance sons Graeme and Colin Peffer decided to launch a new brand when many in the industry were encouraging small producers to maintain the status quo of industry-wide egg marketing. Today a third generation of Peffers have joined the business: Rob and Josh. Rob received a Nuffield scholarship in 2015, studying world's best practice in noncage egg production systems.
They are certainly doers and great primary producers in central western New South Wales, as are the Webb family, who have been in the Tarana district between Bathurst and Lithgow for almost 175 years. They run both Wonga and Eastwood near Rylstone in a family partnership, producing fine wool merinos, beef and cattle, and some lamb at Tarana. Bruce Webb works on Wonga, while his sons Robert and Hugh have off-farm business interests, including managing large land holdings for absentee owners and running the National Asset Protection Agency, which provides a range of services for bushfire mitigation and protection
Twenty-seven-year-old Stuart Tait manages 1,600 hectares of land in conjunction with his parents, John and Jo. Their primary enterprise is producing certified grass fed Angus beef cattle for the domestic and export markets, with their secondary enterprise being dryland cropping to produce cereal grains and oilseeds. It is a business which has been operating for 36 years. A career in agriculture was always firmly in Stuart's mind after growing up on the family farm; however, it wasn't until he finished school at Kinross Wolaroi School in Orange and spent time working overseas that this goal was cemented. Having recently returned home to work full time and continue expanding the family business, Stuart recently received a 2017 Nuffield scholarship. He will investigate integrated beef and cropping systems, encompassing all facets of a farming operation combining beef cattle and broad acre cropping, including dual-purpose grazing crops, soil and nutrient management, productivity optimisation and grazing management. Stuart also recently established and chairs a farm discussion group for young farmers in the Mandurama-Blayney district. After just four months, the group already has membership of over 20 farmers and industry professionals. Well done on that initiative.
Of course, I would also like to mention Chris and Anne Barnes of Capertee, who are making a wonderful contribution to primary production in their district, and also Floyd Legge, who the chair of the Molong branch of the NSW Farmers. Floyd and his mother, Jessie, run a highly successful stud sheep operation, Ridgehaven, near Cudal.
These are just a handful of growers from my electorate of Calare contributing to this vital part of the Australian economy. Our farmers are the bedrock of our country communities, and this legislation makes an important contribution to supporting them when they need help the most. I certainly commend it to the House, and I commend the Deputy Prime Minister for his tireless work on behalf of country people. They know he is always out there working for them and looking after them, and they appreciate it just as they are really going to appreciate the passing of the Farm Household Support Amendment Bill 2017.