The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: My question is to Treasurer. Given the Treasurer's commitment of 23 October that he would ascertain for this House the latest expenditure on the current drought, will he now inform honourable members of the amount that has actually been spent by the New South Wales Government on drought assistance measures? If the Treasurer will not provide the House with this information, does that mean that he is embarrassed by the paucity of the amount actually paid out in drought assistance measures by the Carr Labor Government?
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN: That assertion by the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner is simply absurd. Since 18 July the Government has announced some 31 drought assistance measures.
The Hon. John Ryan: Announced!
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN: That is right. I will go through them in some detail for the benefit of the House. But whilst we have been quick off the mark to introduce very practical measures to help farmers and farming communities that have been suffering as a result of this drought, it should be noted that the Federal Government has been sitting on its hands by failing to approve the exceptional circumstances application for drought-affected farmers made by the State Government on 10 September, more than two months ago. It is about time Canberra got the message that drought-affected farmers are hurting. Since 18 July, the New South Wales Government has put in place some 31 drought assistance initiatives which have so far helped 1,500 farmers. By contrast, the Federal Government has failed to fast-track the exceptional circumstances application. Not one cent of exceptional circumstances funding has flowed from Canberra. The only action by the Federal Government has seen just 17 households—
The Hon. Duncan Gay: Point of order: The question was specific. It was discrete; it asked what amount the State Government has paid out. The question was not about this Government playing politics and talking about the Federal Government. The question provided an opportunity for the Treasurer to detail how much has been paid. If the Treasurer refuses this opportunity, he will be condemned.
The PRESIDENT: Order! The Treasurer was dealing with the question in a fairly general way.
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN: I should also point out that National Party members in this Chamber asked not one question about the drought until they were chided by me. Until I took them to task, they raised the drought on not one single occasion. The only action by the Federal Government has seen just 17 households—17 in the whole of New South Wales—assisted with a $170 a week payment from the New Start allowance. In other words, the Federal Government has spent a total of $2,890 assisting 17 households in the whole of New South Wales. What an appalling record! That is less than $3,000 in New Start allowances from the Federal Government. That is how seriously Mr Howard and Mr Anderson take the drought in New South Wales—less than $3,000 expenditure from the Commonwealth Government. [Time expired.]
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: I ask the Treasurer a supplementary question. Assuming the Treasurer to be suffering from industrial deafness, I give him the benefit of the doubt and ask him to provide the actual figure expended by the New South Wales Government on drought relief. The Treasurer has had since 23 October to come up with a figure.
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN: I thank the Hon. Jennifer Gardner for her supplementary question because it is obvious, as I think she well knows, that the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, has failed to take the message to Federal Cabinet about the effect of the drought on New South Wales. It is time for the Prime Minister to take control and visit drought-stricken farms in this State—something he has not done. My appeal to Mr Howard is not to rely on the Federal Leader of the National Party, because he is not up to it, but to go out and see the effects of the drought for himself. Let me deal with some of the measures that the New South Wales Government has already introduced.
The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner: How many dollars?
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN: We will get to the dollars. On 24 October the Government announced a $1 million donation to provide direct cash assistance to families through the New South Wales Community Disaster Relief Fund. On 10 October, in Condobolin, we appointed two business counsellors to work with drought-affected businesses in the Orana region. On 24 September we set up five new exceptional circumstances teams to prepare exceptional circumstances applications for 22 rural lands protection board districts. On 14 September we announced the removal of the then current 1,500 kilometre restriction on subsidies for the transport of fodder. We also announced that farmers would be eligible for special conservation loans for hay and grain storage facilities. That measure will help farmers to drought prepare their properties. On 10 September, at the Young Farmers Forum in Sydney, we announced we would be lodging exceptional circumstances applications with the Federal Government for the areas of Brewarrina and Bourke.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: Point of order—
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN: Madam President, if I have the opportunity, I will take all day to tell the House—
The PRESIDENT: Order! The Minister will resume his seat.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: The Treasurer has been asked a specific question. How much money has the State Government spent on drought relief? It is not a tricky question. It is not one that should be beyond the gamut of a Treasurer of this State to answer. The question was asked originally by me on 23 October. It has been asked again today by the Hon. Jennifer Gardner, who had to ask a supplementary question to try to get an answer to the question. Despite that, the Treasurer has played politics and attacked the Federal Government. I ask the Treasurer when will he answer the question.
The PRESIDENT: Order! The Minister was asked a question about the State's expenditure. He is detailing the State's expenditure at some length. So the answer is in order.
The Hon. MICHAEL EGAN: I have a long way to go— [Time expired.]