Drought Support Programs
Mr STEVE WHAN (Monaro) [4.26 p.m.]: I move:
That this House:
(1) expresses its strong support to farmers and rural communities suffering the ongoing drought;
(2) commends the continuing financial support being provided by the State Government for farmers affected by the drought; and
(3) welcomes the Federal Government's announcement of increased drought support, but calls on the Federal Government to drop its proposed changes to rural financial counselling services and return to the previously successful community model.
Today the House has an opportunity to express unanimous support for farmers in New South Wales. People who do not live in rural communities sometimes ask me: Why is this matter urgent now when the drought has been going for a long time? It is hard for people in the city to understand the desperation that is now being felt by many people in rural communities. In my earlier speech I referred to the look in the eyes of people in my electorate who know that after nearly a decade of struggle there is no hope in the near future. Earlier this year we had what could almost be described as a false dawn. There were predictions that this year we would see a return to normal rainfall conditions. As recently as last month a weather forecaster suggested it was not all doom and gloom, that only a weak El Niño was coming and we may have normal rainfall over summer. Unfortunately, that hope has been dashed because the weather bureau and the climate centre have confirmed, as reported on ABC news on 3 October, that the chances of avoiding El Niño this year were nil. That is devastating news for many people who have been surviving this drought for so long.
In summary, the weather bureau predicts that Pacific climate patterns are indicative of a developing El Niño and a majority of computer models now predict El Niño conditions developing or persisting in the Pacific during the rest of 2006. That is a matter of great concern to people in rural areas. In the area I represent there has been almost no spring rain. That is an unusual occurrence—we usually get a flush of green and some follow-up—but this year there has been very little. Also bad news for the people to the west of the mountain range is the fact that this winter had the lowest snowfalls on record. As a result, the level at Lake Eucumbene, which is a key storage area for irrigators and the Snowy Hydro, is at its lowest ever level. Next year Lake Eucumbene will be at even a lower level because there was next to no spring run-off. It is a disastrous state of affairs for people who rely on irrigation. I can only express my sympathy for them and the challenges they face. An ABC report on 26 September reported that the earth's temperature was nearing a one million-year high because of global warming.
Because of all those factors farmers are desperate and have to decide what stock to retain, what stock to sell at reduced prices on the market and, in some cases, whether to stay on the land. I am not a farmer and I never have been. I cannot express my feelings for those who, over the next year, will have to decide whether to continue on farms that have been in their families for many years. A report in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald referred to beef prices falling by 30¢ a kilogram yesterday in one market because people have chosen to destock their properties. Many people are in despair. I have read comments in the media as to whether drought assistance is propping up unviable farmland. Now is not the time to debate whether areas of farmland are viable or not viable. That is a debate for the future. Many people in areas of viable farmland are struggling to survive. They deserve the assistance of both the State and Federal governments. All governments must continue their support, and they must continue to refine and add to their support.
The State Government has already provided a substantial and significant amount of support to farmers, such as providing $83 billion in transport subsidies, waiving western land lease fees, contributing $3 million to rural financial counsellors, approving 1,200 drought conservation loans valued at $52 million and providing $8.6 million in emergency household relief. I am pleased that, from the moment he became Premier, Morris Iemma has stressed his continuing support for farmers. Contrary to what the Leader of The Nationals mentioned a moment ago, the last budget contained an expression of ongoing support for farmers for as long as the drought continues. I welcomed the Federal Government's announcement yesterday of new drought support funding. But, as the motion highlights, I am concerned about what has been happening to rural financial counselling services over the last 18 months. For 15 years, community committees have run these services based on receiving 50 per cent funding from the Commonwealth, 25 per cent from the State and 25 per cent from the local community.
The New South Wales Government has always provided $25,000 per counsellor. We recognised the difficulty that some communities were having in raising necessary funds during the drought, and we provided a special drought grant. The Federal Government is moving in this area, as in so many other areas, to introduce a free market and put it out for tender-style-of-service delivery. But the free market ideology is looming towards a head-on crash with country rural communities. The tender process will diminish local import into rural financial counselling services. But local content is critical. How do people think local community organisations raised their $25,000 contribution? They did it because they were locals. In the last month the Federal Government has said to the various community bodies that run rural financial counselling services, "We do not want to give you the amount of money you have tendered for. We think it is too much. We want you to combine your districts into much larger areas." That approach is a potential disaster for rural families.
As I said when justifying the urgent nature of the motion, rural financial counsellors are more than just people who give a little bit of financial advice. They are friends to the farmers. They know them. They are a shoulder to lean on, and in times like these they are a desperately needed shoulder to lean on. Chaos in the rural financial counselling service is why one chairman, Bill Thomson from the North East Riverina Rural Counselling Service, recently resigned. He issued a press release saying, amongst other things, that he had resigned because Minister McGauran and the department had been trying to blackmail rural financial counselling services into operating with insufficient funding and insufficient notice to become organised for the new funding arrangements. Bill Thomson is also vice-president of the State Rural Financial Counselling Service and vice-president of the national association.
In the area I represent I have been hearing about this looming debacle for more than one year. Local communities have done the job for 15 years. The Federal Government's new model will expect community committees to continue finding contributions, but without local input. Our local service has been in a state of complete uncertainty. It has no office administrator because no-one is willing to take on a job that will not exist in a short time. Our rural counsellor, Bruce Bashford, has 15 years experience. He does not have time to do the paperwork because so many farming families need this service. He has been working flat out on drought-related problems, yet he, together with his chairman and his committee, are uncertain about the future. As one person involved said to me, the Federal department has stuffed this up—although he used a much stronger work than "stuffed".
Our local chairman recently said to one of our local papers that servicing a huge area of the State with just one office was totally inappropriate, and that the process would lead to an unmitigated disaster. Those comments have been reflected in many other areas of the State. The motion is about three things, and I hope it will be a bipartisan motion. First, it is about telling farmers that they still have our support and that they will have it from everyone in this House for as long as the drought continues. We know they need our support. Second, it is about confirming the need for Government support because we cannot make it rain, but we can give support. Third, it is saying to the Federal Government that we need rural financial counselling services maintained.
Ms KATRINA HODGKINSON (Burrinjuck) [4.36 p.m.]: I move:
That the motion be amended by leaving out all words after "That" with a view to inserting instead:
(1) expresses its strong support for farmers and rural communities suffering the ongoing drought;
(2) condemns the State Labor Government for its failure to urgently formulate a comprehensive drought action plan to minimise the impact of the drought on the community;
(3) welcomes the Federal Government's announcement of increased drought support; and
(4) calls on the State Labor Government to honour its earlier commitment to fund the community donations portion of the funding for rural financial counsellors."
The State Labor Government has reneged on its commitment to fund the 25 per cent community contribution towards provision of rural financial counsellors. What a mongrel act! Almost all of New South Wales is in drought. Figures for October showed that 89.3 per cent of the State is in drought, 8 per cent is marginal and only 2.7 per cent is satisfactory. The entire electorate of Burrinjuck is wholly in drought. Most of the electorate of Burrinjuck has been in drought or declared marginal for 50 out of the last 66 months since May 2002. Some areas in the north-west of New South Wales have been continuously in drought since February 2002. The last time all of New South Wales was classified as satisfactory was in April 2001. The effect of the sixth year of drought on the economy of New South Wales cannot be underestimated. I agree with the statement made recently by Federal Treasurer Peter Costello that Australia's farm economy was in crisis due to the drought. The Treasurer said:
If you had a contraction in the general economy at all it would be a recession—to have a contraction of 2.3 per cent is a rural recession and what that means is that farmers just won't get an income, most farmers will not get an income this year.
If they are lucky they will get some of their seed back, but they will suffer extraordinary losses with no break on the horizon.
As I have said in this place on a number of occasions, this drought is probably the worst that New South Wales has experienced as far back as records have been maintained. The Federal Treasurer's statement does not come as a surprise to me. As a local member for a large rural electorate I have spoken on many occasions in this place, as have other members, about the drought and the need for greater State Government assistance for farmers. Last weekend I attended the Murrumbateman field day. It was a great weekend, as always. Some of the heaviest rains in the southern tablelands should fall this month, but there has been absolutely nothing. If one drives down the Barton Highway, or indeed anywhere around the electorate of Burrinjuck, evidence of the drought is apparent.
At this time of the year the hillsides should be covered in lush green growth, but last weekend—and it will continue, obviously—the growth was a very dry olive colour. Most of this spring growth dries off because of a lack of subsurface moisture. There are a few patches of greener growth—it is superficial; there is nothing in it—and some paddocks have been sown with feed crops, but few are surviving. Most are failing because of the small amount of rainfall that has occurred. The growth in paddocks should be knee high at this time, but they have only a few inches of growth in them. The crops are unlikely to grow sufficiently to be harvested and bailed.
Rural tourism is suffering. As someone who has been involved in tourism retail for the past 17 years I can tell the House that a downturn in tourism such as we are experiencing in rural towns really hurts when farming families are not able to spend freely either. Metropolitan residents could do us a huge favour by visiting rural New South Wales. It is a lovely trip down any one of the roads in rural New South Wales. People should come for the weekend, stay at a bed and breakfast, utilise local restaurants and shop in the local area. It would have a beneficial impact in the face of so much negativity surrounding the drought. When one drives from Orange through to Cowra and Boorowa, traditionally good cropping areas, one is confronted with the sight of stock turned into fields of failed crops as farmers struggle to claw back some return.
Last week a grazier from Gunning spoke to me, saying that the company that supplies him with feed grain is unable to source new stocks and is not taking any new orders. Mr Gibson, a grazier in the Goulburn area who used to run 6,500 sheep, now has no commercial stock. That scenario is becoming more and more common because rain to promote paddock growth has fallen at the wrong time this year. Over the past two weeks crops that were looking promising have failed, and those they have not already bailed up as feed will probably be turned over to stock if it does not rain in the next week. Bill Fife from Fife's Stock Feeds stated, "It is the worst I have ever seen. It is very, very bad this year." He said that it was extremely difficult to access any grain and hay prices had doubled over the past two weeks.
The Hillcreston Pinehill partnership of Temora and Bigga recently achieved the season record for auctioned ultrafine wool, with a single bale at the Yennora Wool Complex selling for 65,500¢ a kilogram. The joint owner of the partnership, Brett Picker, however, said that it was increasingly difficult to find oats and straw for their 2,000 shedded sheep. He also said, "The way things are at the moment, sourcing the right feed is going to be very hard." However, it is not just grazing that is being severely impacted by the drought. The Grenfell Record of 1 October said of the drought, "Turning the crops over to silage and hay is purely aimed at making the best out of a bad situation." That newspaper quoted James Ingrey, an agronomist with local grain and produce merchants H. O. Ryder and Son, as expressing concern about the possibility of carting water for stock and not harvesting usable seed for next season.
Recent market reports indicate that cropping is facing a bleak year. GrainCorp Limited received 10.7 million tonnes of grain in 2005-06. On 13 October, just last Friday, GrainCorp issued a revised forecast, saying that it now expects total receivals of about two million to four million tonnes across its network. In his statement the Managing Director of GrainCorp, Mr Tom Keene, said that, despite strong planting, there had been no decent rain since August across the eastern wheat belt and that once again growers across much of eastern Australian faced a bleak year. I am sure honourable members will have noticed that, following that announcement, GrainCorp's shares fell by 35¢. During a time when the general share market is performing relatively strongly, shares in Australian Wheat Board, Abb Grain, Futris Corp, Nufarm, Incitec Pivot and the Australian Agricultural Company have also fallen. The managing director of the brokerage firm Longsec was quoted in the weekend media as saying, "The prospect for agricultural stocks at the moment is very gloomy, very gloomy."
Saleyards in Cootamundra and Cowra are reporting record sales of stock as farmers also come to the conclusion that more and more of their stock has to be sold because of concerns about accessing suitable feed and water over the coming summer. The Cootamundra saleyards yarded almost 10,000 sheep in September. Close to 16,000 sheep and lambs went through the Cowra saleyards complex last Friday, 13 October. Two days before, on 11 October, the Young Witness reported something that I am hearing everywhere as I travel around my electorate_that is, that growers are making the tough decision to graze or make hay or silage from remaining crops, and are selling all but the nucleus of their stock. Local auctioneer Joe Bargwanna was reported as saying that most of the stock is going to slaughter with very few restockers buying because of the drought.
The Young primary industry district agronomist, Paul Parker, described the situation as desperate, saying, "It's going to take a long time for recovery," with farmers doing all that they can to preserve their land until the drought breaks. Many small businesses in rural areas have seen a drop in their income because of the reduced spending ability of farmers, as I have already said. Ron Moses, who owns the Gundagai menswear store, told of a clothing sales representative whose boss in Sydney wanted to know why his sales figures were down. When the representative explained that there is a massive drought, the response from his Sydney boss was, "So, what's that got to do with it?" These are the sorts of things that are going on in rural New South Wales.
I have written to the Minister for Tourism, seeking assistance for tourism businesses, which are also suffering from the effects of the drought. However, she does not recognise that there is a problem. It is dreadful for the Minister for Tourism not to recognise that there is a problem with businesses in rural New South Wales suffering as a result of the drought. She has water when she turns on a tap in Sydney and her ministerial income pays the bill, but I would expect a little more sympathy from a Minister of the Crown. I note that Government members will contribute to this important debate, and I regret that the Minister for Tourism does not have an interest in this drought and in rural tourism.
The State Labor Government offers no support for agricultural aid for small businesses. Communities are now being asked to fund 25 per cent of the cost of rural financial counsellors after more than five years of little or no income. No plan is in place to maintain front-line services_such as teachers, nurses and police_in drought-affected communities. This Government has no plan to increase the number of rural financial counsellors or mental health workers in rural areas. The farmers of New South Wales are hurting now and they need more assistance from the State Government now.
Honourable members who log onto the Department of Primary Industries web site will find the following headings under drought assistance: Exceptional Circumstances program, which is Federal money; Income support (Exceptional Circumstances), which is also Federal money; Interest Rate Subsidy (Exceptional Circumstances), which is also Federal money; Drought Household assistance, which is DOCS funding limited to $2,000 per household per year and people cannot get it if they receive exceptional circumstances payments; Transport Subsidies, the main State drought assistance; and Mental and Physical Health. This link provides a referral to Lifeline, which the State Labor Government_ [Time expired.]
Mr GERARD MARTIN (Bathurst) [4.46 p.m.]: I support the actions of my colleague the honourable member for Monaro in bringing this urgent matter before the House today. I also congratulate the New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries on his sustained efforts in regard to this issue. He has consistently called on the Federal Coalition to help farmers affected by the worst drought in living memory. It is about time the Howard Government started to help the situation by giving drought assistance to areas which cannot get it but which are doing it just as tough as everyone else. The drought figures for October were handed down last Sunday, and things cannot get much worse: 89.3 per cent of the State is in drought and 8 per cent is marginal, which leaves only 2.7 per cent satisfactory.
All around the State winter crops are being devastated as we speak, and already many are being turned into pastures for livestock. This year the harvest will be less than two million hectares at best, which is well down on an estimated 4.5 million hectares. What is the Howard Government's response to all this? It is more money but, unfortunately, with not too much sense involved. It talks of interest rate subsidy schemes that are available to less than 10 per cent of New South Wales farmers; it does not extend exceptional circumstances support to other areas that badly need it; it still has not reviewed areas not previously rolled over; and does not have criteria for its streamlined rollover process, despite a lot of talk.
What does the Howard Government have? To start with it has a $15 billion surplus—it might have increased to $17 billion while I have been on my feet—yet the best it can do is squeeze out $350 million for one of the biggest agricultural crises this nation has ever faced. It has a Parliamentary Secretary in charge of water who repeatedly contradicted himself in regard to Federal water policy last night on the ABC's 7.30 Report. The Federal agriculture Minister has failed to understand the seriousness of this drought and is so incapable of making timely decisions that he has not delivered tangible benefits to those who need them the most.
The State Opposition wants to declare a state of emergency. It is not sure what that is, but it sounded good on Sunday when it was looking for a media grab. The State Opposition, with its bottomless purse, wants to make another $150 million in unfunded promises in relation to the drought. If even a fraction of the $25 billion that has been promised by the Leader of the Opposition's Peter meter were spent on drought by the Howard Government, this State's 50,000-odd farmers would be very much better off. But I would say, based on the Coalition's performance to date, that the forecast for farmers, if it ever wins government, is very bleak, at best.
Let me forecast some hope. The Iemma Labor Government takes the drought seriously and will stand by farmers in these difficult times. To that end, this Government has already spent approximately $230 million on drought support. Today in response to a question the Premier outlined the State's assistance and gave his unequivocal assurance that the Government will stand by farmers for the duration of the drought. Small business has been given assistance to the tune of $300,000. More than $2 million will be used to fund the role of drought support workers. The New South Wales Government will save struggling businesses more than $5.8 million in payroll tax concessions from a payroll tax rate that is 25 per cent less than when the Coalition was in government. The Government has spent $500,000 on farm family gatherings. I have attended many of those in my electorate. The Government has waived fees and levies worth in excess of $5 million for wild dog destruction and ovine Johne's disease. The New South Wales Government listens to farmers and will continue to do so.
During this debate the honourable member for Burrinjuck accused the Government of welshing on the deal relating to rural financial counsellors. I am sure my colleagues will take up that matter in detail during their speeches, but I simply point out that that is an untrue statement. The Federal Government asked to take over the 25 per cent funding responsibility for rural financial counsellors and since then has rationalised the funding. The Federal Government took on that responsibility at a time when it was crucial to maintain the system that was working well and to reinforce it. Instead, the Federal Government amalgamated rural financial counselling areas. Consequently, councillors who were working hard and were stretched to the limit suddenly had double their usual service areas to cover.
Farming families who are in need of urgent financial counselling tell me that the advice they receive from rural financial counsellors is very helpful, but those farming families have had the rug pulled from under them. The Federal Government has an embarrassment of riches and it has a clear-cut responsibility for funding rural financial counselling services. The New South Wales Government has shown the lead and expects everyone, including the Prime Minister, the Federal Treasurer, the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Federal Nationals, to step up and face their responsibilities. [Time expired.]
Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI (Murrumbidgee) [4.51 p.m.]: I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Burrinjuck to the motion for urgent consideration. The drought has been well and truly debated in this Parliament on many occasions, and rightly so. The situation is dire, and has been dire from day one. We are in approximately the seventh year of a very significant drought. In the south-west of New South Wales the situation is as dire as it is anywhere else. On the weekend the consequences of this drought were made even clearer to farmers, particularly those in the Murray Valley, when the New South Wales Labor Government announced carryover water being restricted to 80 per cent. That is very significant. My electorate office has received many phone calls from farmers who are very upset, annoyed and in many cases distraught.
In the Murray Valley the allocations are set at zero for the year. Many farmers were relying on their carryover from last year. They made a commercial decision not to totally use last year's allocation so that they would have water available to them this year, even in a worst-case scenario of continuing drought. They carried over water and they believed that their allocations in the Hume weir and the Dartmouth weir were 100 per cent secure and were ready for them to use this year. However, for one reason or another, such as the Government's bungling its measurements, allocations or management of water resources, the New South Wales Government has announced that farmers will be able to access only 80 per cent of their carryover water allocation. That will have an adverse effect on farmers because some farmers bought water that would otherwise have been covered by their carryover and others made commercial crop-planning decisions on the basis of a 100 per cent allocation. They are now faced with vastly changed circumstances.
In light of the decision to impose restrictions, the issue of compensation that may be payable by the New South Wales Government has been mentioned to me. The issue will be taken up with the Minister for Natural Resources. This is a very serious matter for all the irrigators concerned. I call on the Minister for Natural Resources to do three things. First, he and his department should do everything possible to reinstate the allocation to 100 per cent of farmers' carryover water, given that it ought to have been 100 per cent secure and available in the dams at the beginning of this year. The Minister and his department should do everything possible to ensure that 100 per cent of that carryover water is accessible by irrigators.
Second, the Minister and his departmental officers must visit Deniliquin, Finley or any other place along the Murray River to explain to irrigators what is going on. Part of the problem in the Murray region is the inadequacy of information that is being given to farmers and other water users. The Minister should explain to farmers face-to-face what is happening and why it is happening—the latter being the really big question. That we have reached this crisis situation despite all of the experience over successive decades of water management in New South Wales is quite unbelievable. The Minister must face the irrigators and explain what has happened and apologise.
Third, the Minister and his department must give serious consideration to claims for compensation that will be made. I am sure that many irrigators have relied on their carryover allocation in negotiations to purchase or sell water, or have made crop-planning decisions on the basis of their expected allocation. They will suffer significant financial consequences as a result of the Government's decision. The issue of compensation is significant, given the record prices for commodities such as wheat and rice. The Minister should give serious consideration to granting compensation to water users who have had their carryover allocations restricted. The drought is very serious. None of us can make it rain, but the Government should manage properly the natural resources we have in this State so that it will not have to face another embarrassing bungle similar to the one that was the subject of its announcement last weekend. [Time expired.]
Mr PETER BLACK (Murray-Darling) [4.56 p.m.]: Today we have witnessed towering, monumental hypocrisy from The Nationals to a degree not normally associated with this Chamber and to a degree that somewhat astonishes even The Nationals. Before I deal with that hypocrisy, I will deal with matters of grave importance to individuals who live in western New South Wales. The Adelaide Advertiser of Wednesday 11 October shows a picture on its front page of Amy Rix, who is the daughter of a friend of mine, Cheryl Rix, of Palinyewah on the Darling River, striding across the Darling River. The photograph depicts a tragic state of affairs—one to which the people of New South Wales are not accustomed—that has been brought about by a drought the likes of which has not been known in Australia's recorded history.
Last Sunday, after a very pleasant reunion of the Wheel Barrow Push at Burra, I had the good fortune to have morning tea with James Hawker of South Booborowie. James Hawker was the district chairman in 1983 at the first five-day event of the Wheel Barrow Push and held that position until the fourth and last event in 1988. His grandfather had been on the land since the year dot and was succeeded by James's father. James has run the property for 30-odd years to my knowledge. This is the very first year that there will be no harvest on that property. This is the year in which the lowest recorded rainfall ever in South Australia, extending into New South Wales, has fallen in winter.
Opposition members have quoted figures. The normal inflows of the Murray in September are 1,558 gigalitres. However, last September it was 112 gigalitres. The gathering at Kilfera Station, Ivanhoe, with the great Clive, Faye and Peter Linette, was a great field day. But as there is a cash drought, the auction raised a measly $8,000 on that very dusty day. About three weeks ago I had the luxury of attending the Deniliquin Ute Muster, where I met and was pleasant to the honourable member for Murrumbidgee and his lovely wife. However, the following morning a staggering plume of dust was rising many thousands of feet vertically from that site. With 20,000 people and 6,000 utes it was a spectacular affair, but the dust caused a problem.
I turn now to the towering hypocrisy of The Nationals. A media release dated 9 October, referring to what the Government should do about the Menindee Lakes system, stated:
In terms of scale this could equate to savings of up to 700-750 gigalitres of water; three times the water supply usage of Broken Hill …
I was staggered to read that, because the top water usage in Broken Hill is 36 gigalitres. The release further stated:
The Nationals in a State Coalition government have committed to a $55 million program over three years which would include a secure water supply for Broken Hill.
I have no idea what The Nationals are speaking about. The drought action plan, mentioned by the so-called Leader of the once great Country Party, now the notional party, stated:
Extending drought assistance measures to agriculture-related small businesses as well as farmers.
The Nationals have become unpopular; membership of that party is going down the drain to Independents. Today in this House we saw another member announce that he has become an Independent. Another Independent, and a very good one, is challenging John Cobb for the new seat of Calare. And well may I say goodbye to John Cobb, because he was the first to make sure that only $1 million out of the allocated $70 million under economic circumstances allocations went through to small businesses. John Cobb has been the biggest failure that the bush has ever seen. The Nationals action plan includes:
Maintaining resources for front-line services such as teachers, nurses and police in drought-affected communities.
We have done that! The plan continues:
Increase the number of rural financial counsellors.
What are they talking about? That is a Commonwealth program. I am very sorry to see the state that The Nationals has been reduced to. Where are they? They have all left the Chamber. I wish they would go away permanently! [Time expired.]
Mr STEVE WHAN (Monaro) [5.01 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members who have spoken in this debate. Government members will reject the amendment moved by the Opposition for a couple of absolutely critical reasons. One reason is that The Nationals have once again bent over to Canberra and refused to criticise the Federal Government's performance on rural financial counselling services. Another wimp out. Over and over again we have seen the Liberal Party telling The Nationals what to do. The Leader of the Liberal Party cannot even tell his own party what to do in New South Wales, but not to worry, he has one lot of lap dogs, The Nationals, and they will do what he tells them.
Again today The Nationals moved an amendment relating to the critical issue of rural financial counselling services. A few minutes ago the honourable member for Burrinjuck misled this House when she claimed that the State Labor Government had taken its community donations away from rural financial counselling services. In fact, the State Government funded the counselling services community contributions for a year during the drought. On 31 May the State Minister received a letter from the Federal agriculture Minister, Peter McGauran, which stated:
The recent Australian Government Budget allocated an additional $9.7 million over two years to replace the shortfall in community cash contributions and to fund the increased cost of governance.
Ms Katrina Hodgkinson: You have not sent that to me. I do not believe you.
Mr STEVE WHAN: That is a quote from the Federal Minister. He said also:
Thank you and your representatives for providing such a strong expression of support for the RFSC programme.
The $25,000 was to be provided by the Federal Government. It is a lie to say that the State Government took that away or did not replace it. It is outrageous for members such as John Cobb to put out press releases attacking the honourable member for Murray-Darling over that same issue. It is just dishonest. Earlier I said that what I hoped to achieve today was bipartisan support for the people of rural New South Wales. What a pity that the Coalition decided to wimp away from that and try to score political points. They say they want to have rural financial counselling services, but their actions today support the Federal Government reducing the number of rural financial counsellors. What a disgrace!
The honourable member for Murrumbidgee raised some valid points about the allocations of water. He then spoke about bungling allocations. The honourable member for Murray-Darling has had discussions with the Minister about that, and he will, of course, stand up for his constituents. This is not about bungling allocations. As I mentioned earlier, it is about being able to walk through the old town of Adaminaby, a town that had been under water since Lake Eucumbene was filled. That is one reason why allocations have been reduced. Next year there is a danger of the Hume weir becoming empty. How can water be allocated if it is not there?
Earlier today in a bizarre performance the Leader of The Nationals seemed to suggest that the Premier had some big button labelled "Rain" which he was refusing to press. How absolutely ridiculous to try to blame the Labor Party for no rain. That is effectively what The Nationals are doing. We want to see bipartisan support for rural counsellors. The Nationals, in attempting to reject that, is not only selling out rural communities and those desperate families who need that shoulder to lean on—a rural financial counsellor—but is rejecting its own members.
A person from Monaro went to Gary Nairn, the Federal member for Eden-Monaro, and asked him to fix the problem, to stop the mess that the Federal Government was making. That person was Susan Mitchell. I am sure the honourable member for Burrinjuck knows Susan Mitchell very well, because she is a prominent member of The Nationals. Susan Mitchell went to Gary Nairn because she, unlike the narrow-minded Nationals in this place, could see what is needed to fix this issue is bipartisan support. Let us see that today; let us see bipartisan support for the desperate people suffering during the drought. We are not getting that support from The Nationals in this place, because they constantly sell out their constituents and are not willing to stand up.
Ms Katrina Hodgkinson: Tell the truth, darling.
Mr STEVE WHAN: I wish the honourable member for Burrinjuck would not call me "darling", it is very worrying. Let us face it: there is only one issue to be supported today—that this House give bipartisan support for our desperate farmers. As I said earlier to the Leader of The Nationals, look into your hearts and join the Government in supporting our farmers. [Time expired.]
Question—That the words stand—put.
The House divided.
Mr J. H. Turner
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.