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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 41733

Statement to Parliament on Drought

Photo of Turnbull, Malcolm

Turnbull, Malcolm

Period of Service: 15/09/2015 to 24/08/2018

More information about Turnbull, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/08/2018

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 41733

Location: Parliament House, Canberra


Mr Speaker, I rise to update the house on the drought, to affirm the nation's support for our courageous farmers and farming communities, to outline measures we have taken to help. All of New South Wales and two-thirds of Queensland are officially in drought. With many other areas suffering too. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, it is the worst drought in New South Wales since the mid-1960s, and may turn out to be worse.

Unlike a fire or a flood which inflicts immediate physical damage to people, property, homes and infrastructure, a drought is insidious, longer and more widespread. Farmers find themselves going to enormous expense just to keep livestock alive in the hope of rain. Physically working harder than ever and losing money all the time.

Part of drought preparation and management is timely destocking, but that raises the awful question, whether you will be able to afford to restock when the drought breaks. A New South Wales farmer who destocked six months ago will feel confident he made the right call, his neighbour may wish he had done the same, but if it had rained five months ago, the perceptions would be reversed.

The croppers are facing hard times as well, many winter crops sown will fail, others won’t be sown at all. Mr Speaker, our climate is tough but so are the farmers. They are resourceful, resilient and innovative, quick to develop and adopt new technologies.

Agriculture contributes three per cent to our economy, a gross value of $60 billion in 2017-18. Australian farmers export 77 per cent of what they produce, farm exports aided by our big free trade agreements earned $44 billion dollars in 2016-17, up from $32.5 billion in 2010-11. The National Farmers’ Federation vision for a $100 billion a year farm gate industry, is undaunted by the drought.

In 2016-17, 304,000 people were directly employed in agriculture with a complete supply chain, including food and fibre industries, providing 1.6 million jobs.

Now governments need to respond swiftly and effectively. There is no set and forget here, just as the drought evolves so must our policy responses. We have to be as practical and clear eyed as the farmers we are supporting.

Last week I announced a $190 million drought package, bringing our government’s drought policy commitment to more than $576 million. The Farm Household Allowance, typically around $16,000, is being supplemented this year by two one-off payments amounting to $12,000 per couple. We have also earlier extended the availability of the Farm Household Allowance for another year and eased the asset test, thousands more farmers will be eligible. I urge farmers to make sure they are getting all the help that’s available, by seeking advice from the rural financial counsellors we have engaged.

We have also provided $11.4 million for mental health support initiatives, $15 million for not-for-profit community groups in drought-affected areas. This is in addition to more than $852 million in concessional loans for drought, and other assistance approved to 1,559 farm businesses, since 2013.

The Regional Investment Corporation established on the 1st July, has $2 billion available for concessional loans to farm businesses and over $2 billion for concessional loans for water infrastructure that will enhance water security and support regional economies.

In 2016, to support resilience we have doubled the amount farmers could put into farm management deposits to $800,000, changing the law to allow them to be used as offsets against a farmer’s mortgage. A record $6.6 billion was held in 55,000 accounts at 30 June this year. So, many farmers putting money aside free of tax in good years to bring to account in tough years like this one.

We are also working on further long-term measures to improve the resilience of our rural communities and will be announcing this next phase of our drought support and coming weeks.

Mr Speaker I would like finally to commend everyone, who has rallied behind our farmers and the communities who support them. I want to thank families, businesses and charities but also the kids, young Masie in Western Australia who gave two years of her pocket money to help the farmers, or young Jack at St John the Baptist Primary School in Freshwater whose “Give a Fiver for a Farmer” campaign has raised 10 times what he hoped for.

When nature throws its worst at us, it brings out the best in Australians. To our farmers, who grow the food we eat and the fibre we wear, we thank you for your tenacity and courage. And now, in these hard, dry times, more than ever, we have your back.

Transcript 41733