Exceptional Circumstances Drought Assistance
The Hon. TONY CATANZARITI: My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industries. What is the latest information on exceptional circumstances drought assistance in New South Wales?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: In the past 12 months "exceptional circumstances" have become dirty words for farmers in New South Wales.
The Hon. Rick Colless: Come on! Gee, you're predictable.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: What does the Hon. Rick Colless want me to say? The honourable member wants me to talk about the Ingleburn electoral conference meeting held on 16 March. I think that is what he wants. I think it is important to amplify in this House some of what is going on in south-western Sydney.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: Point of order: I do not know what the Minister for Primary Industries is talking about and no-one has asked him to talk about it. The Minister has not answered questions asked of him in the past and he is refusing to do so now. He is using a dorothy dixer as an opportunity to discuss a completely different matter. Madam President, I ask you to draw him back to the substance of the question before the House.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I have reminded the Minister on several occasions that his answer must be relevant to the question asked.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: What did you want to know, Charlie?
The Hon. Charlie Lynn: There is a stranger in the House.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Did you want to know about the meeting? We will get a chance on this one—don't worry. It has come to represent everything that is frustrating, unproductive and bureaucratic about the Commonwealth Government's drought assistance program. In just over one week the State, Territory and Commonwealth Agriculture Ministers will be presented with another golden opportunity to make a real, practical and lasting change to drought assistance. They will again sit around the same table at the next Primary Industries Ministerial Council in Darwin. Once again the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss, will have the chance to resolve the very obvious and gaping flaws in his drought assistance program. It will be a belated opportunity that follows many previous displays of indifference from the Commonwealth.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: You are the biggest hole in the program.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: What? New South Wales with $140 million worth of expenditure on drought—
The Hon. Duncan Gay: That's rubbish!
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: It is absolutely right. Nevertheless, my department and I are again prepared to launch a fight for a fairer and quicker system of allocating exceptional circumstances income assistance to farmers. Once again, we will try to make the Commonwealth see the desperate need for a more streamlined rollover process. The pick and choose system that Mr Truss is running at the moment gives bureaucrats too much power over which areas are cut off from income support. Honourable members will share my disappointment at the press release issued today by Mr Truss. In a transparent effort to hijack the Ministerial Council before it even begins, Mr Truss has shown he is still only interested in one thing, penny pinching. That is right, he is still crying poor, and trying to squeeze more money out of the State to fund his drought support program. The bribery is as blatant as this. His press release states:
Should the States and Territories agree to return to assuming a higher share of EC business support funding, I am prepared to consider enhancements to current EC business support arrangements of farmers, or new financial contributions to other agreed areas of a national approach to drought assistance.
Once again Mr Truss brings it back to cost cutting from the Federal side to try to make States pay more of his program. Well, thanks for nothing, Mr Truss. The Commonwealth has really scraped the bottom of the barrel with this appalling behaviour. Where is the reform that the Commonwealth has been promising for months and months? Last year Truss agreed to my proposal for a more streamlined exceptional circumstances rollover process. But what did his version of streamlining mean to Dubbo and Coonamble, where income support has not been extended, and to Walgett, Mudgee-Merriwa, Moree, the Northern Slopes, Narrabri, Narrandera and so on? None of those areas have had their exceptional circumstances funding rolled over in the current period.
The 18,000 farmers in those areas are not eligible for income support. Those farmers have been cut off from income support. In New South Wales alone, the Government has now paid out more than $140 million in drought assistance through a broad package of support measures—transport subsidies, rural financial counsellors, drought support workers, the drought hotline and the community disaster relief fund.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: Will you detail where that money has come from?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: It has been detailed. [Time expired.]