News Parliament

BILLS - FARM HOUSEHOLD SUPPORT AMENDMENT BILL 2018

As I said in my address to the House on the Farm Household Support Amendment Bill 2018 last night, there is not a local government area in the Calare electorate that is not being affected by drought, from Lithgow to Blayney and through to the Wellington area. There is immense stress and immense pain amongst the farming communities. That's why I was so pleased to see the extension of the farm household allowance, because it delivers real help on the ground, where people need it.

I was also pleased to see that the Regional Investment Corporation is moving ahead. Last week we had board members, including the chair and acting CEO, visit Orange to help launch the Regional Investment Corporation and to source office premises in Orange. This is important because one of the key functions of the Regional Investment Corporation is to deliver concessional loans for drought-affected farmers. It's a really important facility for country Australia. It's also going to deliver $2 billion in water infrastructure finance and loans. It is basically an organisation with $4 billion in its loan books, but it exists to help country communities, to assist farmers when they need it most and to build stronger country communities.

It has, therefore, been very surprising to experience the negative attitudes from the member for Hunter over the development of the Regional Investment Corporation, because folks out in country Australia get decentralisation and its importance. We've had some big hits on our local areas right across the central west in terms of jobs in recent years, including the closure of Electrolux, Australia's last fridge manufacturing plant, which took more 550 jobs. So people are dumbfounded, I think, in country areas when you have politicians coming out and saying we shouldn't have decentralisation. In fact, out in our neck of the woods, the member for Hunter is known as the shadow minister for recentralisation. He comes out and says that the Regional Investment Corporation will be torn apart if the opposition get in. It's going to be very interesting to see how the opposition campaigns on taking jobs away from the central west during the next election. I'm going to watch that development with great interest because that's essentially what they're saying.

It totally ignores the fact that the whole reason the Regional Investment Corporation exists is to help farmers through concessional loans. To date, there have been $834 million in concessional loans approved. This is making a real difference on the ground to farmers. That's why the RIC, as it's known to its many friends, is so important to keep that work going and to expand that good work.

I give immense credit to the member for New England for his work in putting the RIC together, and also to the minister for agriculture, who has been very supportive of the RIC's development as well. It's part of a suite of drought-relief policies that the federal government has implemented, including the Farm Management Deposits Scheme, which allows eligible primary producers to set aside pre-tax income from primary production in years of high income which can be drawn on in future years. Under that scheme, they can deposit up to $800,000. They can access their FMD early without losing their claimed taxation concessions if they are affected by drought, and they can offset the interest costs on primary production business debt, subject to banks offering FMD loan offset accounts. So there are a suite of measures available at the moment, but I think it's really important that the Australian government looks at the situation on the ground and ramps up the response as the conditions worsen.

The Aussie farmer is one of the iconic images of our nation. Farmers have been a powerhouse of economic growth in recent years, but we can't take them for granted. Australian farmers are resilient, but I think there's also a feeling that Aussie farmers will always be there. Well, that's not necessarily the case. They're humans and they are suffering immense stress at the moment—about how they're going to feed their stock, where their stock are going to go, what's going to happen to their farms, how they're going to get fodder in, whether they're going to have any breeding stock left and whether they're going to be able to rebuild their paddocks. As I said, some paddocks in the central west at the moment resemble moonscapes. How are they going to be able to rebuild the dams? How are they going to rebuild the genetics in their herds? All of these issues are causing immense strain and stress and are taking a toll. It has to be said: it's taking an immense toll.

They need our help, and we as a nation need to answer that call. This bill does answer that call, but the conditions are so bad and the outlook is so grim that more will be needed. Unless some decent rains come soon, more help is going to be needed. We are going to have to keep ramping up the support and the assistance as the conditions worsen. I urge all Australians, particularly those in cities, to support our farmers and to remember that our farmers are the ones who actually put food on the table for the nation. People in cities, I think, go into the supermarket and take for granted that that food just appears. But it doesn't just appear; that food comes from our Australian farmers in electorates across our nation. They are our fellow Australians and we can't take them for granted.

I commend this bill to the House. I congratulate the minister for agriculture on his work. I thank him for visiting the central west in recent times and hearing firsthand about how the drought is affecting farmers in our area. I also am very happy with the work that's been put into the Regional Investment Corporation. But, again, as the conditions worsen, the response has to be ramped up. Our Australian farmers have helped power our national economy in recent times. We have relied on them for our nation's wealth and prosperity, and now we as a nation need to be there for them. I commend this bill to the House.