Hunter Region Natural Disaster Funding
I convey my condolences to the member for Heathcote. On 6 January 2016, nine months after the April super storm, the Hunter was again inundated. Maitland received, in some areas, up to 200 millimetres of rain within 24 hours and our farmers were devastated. Some of the comments from members opposite about Labor not caring about such matters were of great interest to me. A large section of the Labor conference was devoted to talking about country and regional issues. In his speech our leader spoke at length about the impact of some policies on our regional colleagues, particularly in the area of local government. I would like to see some action from the Government to help the farmers in my community and across the wider Hunter. Following the super storm of April 2015 the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements—or category C funding, as it came to be known—took eight weeks to come through. The state of emergency declaration was made almost immediately—within a couple of days of the event—but in January 2016 it took one week to declare a state of emergency. I am told that there will be no call for Federal assistance because the Government is not interested in pursuing assistance for farmers who have been approaching me about this matter. I believe this is because many farmers were found to be ineligible for that funding. It is only a small amount for farmers—$15,000—to cover losses that will not necessarily be met by insurance. In his report on this matter retired Brigadier Darren Naumann, AM, advocated for funding to be increased because the losses experienced by the farmers totalled up to $100,000. In addition, he advocated a review of the eligibility requirements. The eligibility requirements state that 51 per cent of the farmer's income must be derived from the farm. The retired brigadier makes the salient point that in today's modern economy many farmers increase their resilience and build their businesses—their farms—by engaging in off-farm work. Two farmers in my electorate moved in and established their farms in the month before the April super storm. They were second generation farmers. They were well equipped and had prepared themselves, but their farms were devastated by up to 98 per cent flooding. Because they had not operated the farm for a year they were not eligible for any assistance—nothing. I find that disturbing. Now, nine months on, they are re-sowing their crops. They halved their number of cattle, which they bought for $1.50 a kilo on the hoof, and now it is costing them $3.50 a kilo to restock. They have been left behind by the Government. It is a disgrace. They are devastated. One of the farmers told me that it will take her seven years to get back to the situation that she was in in March 2015. In his report the brigadier says that we need to reward farmers who engage in positive industry building initiatives. We need to provide assistance to them for events that cannot be insured for. I am concerned about the small farmers in my area. They may be small, they may have herds of only 50 or 100 cattle, but there are many of them. Many of the farmers I have spoken to lost half their stock. That is half the herds in our region. They are facing increases in the price of cattle, which will be passed on to consumers. The Government is treating them like cattle barons or hobby farmers, but they are neither. They are small business people, small farmers, and they deserve our support. I urge the Government to take a more realistic attitude and to act on the recommendations of this report. I note that the report was released just after the second floods, which was a pitiful attempt to provide a long-term recovery strategy for our region.