News Parliament

FEDERATION CHAMBER - ADJOURNMENT - NEW SOUTH WALES: DROUGHT

Most of New South Wales, and in particular the Calare electorate, is facing the worst drought in living memory. There are a number of issues relating to this crisis which need to be brought to the attention of this parliament.

Farmers are telling me that they are not able to source grain and that if they're not able to get the grain urgently they're not going to be able to maintain their flocks and herds. They can't get the grain, because the market is short. There have been hundreds of thousands of tons of grain bought up on the east coast grain market over the last couple of weeks. The market is extremely short, prices are skyrocketing and, sadly, people are making money off the backs of struggling farmers. I believe there needs to be a coordinated effort to get grain from Western Australia, where it's plenty, into New South Wales—into central western New South Wales, in particular—where it's scarce. When I raise this, I'm told that private enterprise should be the people doing it. Maybe they should be, but they're not. It hasn't happened yet. I'm told also that the New South Wales government is responsible for livestock. Maybe it is, but out at the farm gate our farmers don't really care about demarcation issues. They just need this grain urgently.

In the first instance, I do believe that there is a role for the federal government to play in coordinating these parties and getting them in a room together. The federal government can be coordinating logistics in terms of locating and organising available ships or trains with the New South Wales government. If private enterprise or the New South Wales government are not willing to step up, then I think the federal government needs to step in and underwrite shipments of grain into New South Wales as soon as possible. Our farmers are not looking for free grain. They're not looking for a free ride. They're willing to pay for it, but what they want to do is to buy it at a price that doesn't gouge them out of business. At the moment, prices are heading north of $500 a tonne, and it is uneconomic for them to be maintaining their flocks and herds. They've spent a huge amount of money keeping them alive to date, and all of that will be wasted if they can't access grain.

Another issue which needs to be brought to the attention of the House is the fact that we need more rural financial counsellors on the ground in the central west. I was pleased to see that there was an additional $5 million in funding for rural financial counsellors. That was a welcome announcement by the federal government over the last couple of weeks. However, we need more boots on the ground on the central tablelands. At the moment, we've got rural financial counsellors in Dubbo; we've got one in Young, and we've got one in Mudgee. I visited the one in Mudgee last week. She's doing a huge amount of work, but she is booked out for three weeks. These folks are doing their best, but they're short staffed. We need to get one into the central tablelands area so they can better serve farmers in the Cabonne council area, and around Orange, Bathurst, Lithgow and Oberon. We need to get the help to where it's needed most. I've raised it with the federal government and hopefully we can get some more boots on the ground really soon.

It's not only our farmers that are feeling the pinch and the hurt from this drought. It's also people in the communities out around the central west. So, for example, the fuel distributors are not selling any fuel. The mechanics, the tyre fitters, the rural supply shops, the supermarkets—everyone is feeling the pinch from this drought. I think there is a role for the federal government to be ramping up drought relief for those communities as well. It can be done through existing programs—for example, the Building Better Regions program can be calibrated to those drought affected communities so we can get some economic community into the communities that are really, really struggling and hurting. The Roads of Strategic Importance program, which is all about connecting regions, can be calibrated towards drought affected communities so we can get some increased economic activity in those areas. Those last two suggestions wouldn't have any impact on the budget because they have already been budgeted for.

There are things we can be doing to keep ramping up drought relief. And we do need to keep ramping it up. Drought relief cannot be looked at as one static point in time. You have to keep ramping it up as the conditions worsen. We are heading into what looks like an extremely ugly spring and an extremely ugly summer. This is just going to get worse, so all governments need to be ramping up their responses. The federal government needs to be rolling out more drought relief measures urgently, and we need to get the help to where it's needed. I'll continue to push to get it. All of these issues need to brought to the attention of the parliament because we've got a lot of city MPs amongst us and they need to be educated.