Thursday, 09 August 2018
Private Members Statement on Drought Solutions
Today I speak on an issue affecting all of us in the Goulburn electorate, from Robertson right through to Boorowa: the worsening drought. With 100 per cent of our State now officially in drought or drought affected, farmers have an unprecedented need for our support, and for longer than only today. The New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government has committed more than $1 billion in assistance to our local farmers. This funding includes transport subsidies, interest-free loans, support for mental health services, a new kangaroo management strategy, a reduction in farming fees and charges, the waiving of agricultural vehicle registration costs, as well as other farm innovation initiatives.
The most recent measures were warmly welcomed by the local branch of the NSW Farmers Association. David Banham and Margaret Cameron met with me to listen to the Premier's announcement and discuss the impact it would have on my constituents. I meet and talk with local farmers frequently and I know this support is welcomed. My husband and I are also modest farmers, so we know how desperate farmers feel and how grim those parched paddocks look in the winter sun. We know the flow-on effects are starting to bite—stock feed businesses are slowing down, there is less work for farm contractors and businesses in rural towns are starting to show concern. It is important that we consider the risks if this unprecedented drought continues into spring and summer 2018. Weather projections suggest rain is not due for some time.
We need to understand that a continuation of this drought into the next growing season could well mean the loss of the State's breeding herds and flocks. By now, all farmers down my way have left is their breeders. But a dry spring means even they will have to go. That would be a disaster for Australia's food industry, its exports, domestic consumers, farmers and all of us. Recovering the breeding herds takes years; it can only begin when the rains come again. One of Australia's top three export earners would be decimated—watch the Aussie dollar drop. There is no doubt that the economic and social consequences for all of us are grave indeed. Agriculture is one of our State's biggest wealth generators. It keeps regional New South Wales alive and city dwellers—rich and poor— will feel the pinch.
If there is no spring rain the solution will not be more fodder transport subsidies because there will be neither the fodder to transport nor the stock to feed. Mental health supports and the waiving of fees and charges will not mean much to farmers who walk off their land. The answer is secure and reliable water for stock and crop production. I visited a local Tarago farmer last week, Ian McLennan, and met with other farmers, including James Reynolds and Riley Martin. They are all concerned about water, in particular ,on-farm water storage. They are good farmers and have managed their water allocations well. They have pumped water to paddock troughs and for fodder production. Their stock looked reasonable—even good—for now, but they too fear the spring, when their water stores may run out.
On a dry and cold Sunday morning, they made the case to me for a more realistic policy that would enable them to dam their ephemeral creeks—not the permanent streams that feed into the Wollondilly and Mulwaree rivers, but the creeks that may only flow once a year for a few days with water that then runs out to sea. They argue that accessing this water would give them a chance to grow more fodder for themselves and others and support more stock through future times as bad as these. I support an urgent review of the on-farm water storage policy, but acknowledge it will not save us in six weeks' time if the spring rains fail. With an unprecedented drought comes the need for unprecedented thinking. Whilst we pride ourselves on our care for the environment, we must begin to investigate whether to immediately access environmental water flows for fodder crop production in the Southern Tablelands to keep breeding herds alive. The issue requires urgent consideration. To wait until the end of October to act will be too late for all of us.
I am pleased to say my constituents have magnificently risen to the occasion. Last Friday, the local Goulburn Bunnings conducted a sausage sizzle fundraiser, with all funds raised to go to local farmers in need. I am pleased to say that the event had huge support. I am told that at one point the entire car park was full of people wanting to give. The local store raised $6,500 for local farmers—a tremendous effort, and a lot of sausages! I thank Bunnings. I also thank the Moss Vale Country Women's Association, which is holding a fundraiser. I thank everyone who is digging deep.
The people of New South Wales clearly want to support their farmers and want the farming sector to survive. I believe they will also support a temporary change in water policy so that New South Wales farmers can have a real future. All the wonderful fundraising, the community appeals, the great spirit and the generous donations coming from around New South Wales, including Sydney, will mean nothing if we have nothing.