MOTION - Regional Farming Communities
That the motion be amended by replacing "Government's" with "Parliament's" in paragraph (2).
I congratulate the member for Cootamundra on moving this motion. It is nice to see a motion that recognises the people in farming communities instead of a standard Thursday morning self-congratulatory motion.
This State has been in drought for a long time and our hardworking farmers are at the end of their tethers. In the short time that I have been the shadow Minister with responsibility for primary industries many farmers have called me.
One fellow from Collarenebri calls me fairly regularly to express his extreme concern—not for himself and his family, but for people who live around him. He is concerned for his friends, who he sees are struggling without any assistance for the real issues that they face.
I know that it is difficult to give assistance in a way that will be effective. Sometimes blunt instruments such as subsidies have unintended consequences. For example, the fodder subsidy has increased the price of fodder. I have also heard that the fodder subsidy may have increased the exposure of some farms to unusual kinds of weeds that have not previously been encountered in those areas. As the drought ends—hopefully very soon—we need to keep on top of those kinds of issues.
The Government has been very quick to talk about the value of its commitments but I am aware that a lot of those commitments are being rolled out very slowly.
A mental health group came to see me. The group had been tendering for work on mental health services for communities. In particular it was engaging drought-affected communities to run mental health festivals, which will result in local people being engaged in paid work to put the festivals together. The festivals are designed to engage the whole community in a sense of hope and looking towards the future in what is a dark, terrible time for so many people.
The tender was worth about $6 million and was supposed to start on 1 July but by the end of August it had not been announced. A couple of months have gone by and the money is still sitting in government coffers; it has not reached the community. This means that when the organisation does spend the money it will not have the capacity to engage the community in the way it wanted to.
Towns are really struggling and some are running out of water. This is a drought that is affecting not just farmers but also small businesses. In my former capacity as shadow Minister for Small Business, I learnt that small businesses were suffering real losses and many were closing. I travelled to Inverell, where businesses were closing every day of every week. That is not good enough.
The Government needs to give more support that is better targeted. I would like the Government to focus on that. Earlier today the Parliamentary Secretary for the dairy industry spoke in the second reading debate on the Right to Farm Bill. It is a very short bill but he had not read it. He just read the explanatory notes into Hansard. I felt that it was disrespectful because the dairy industry is under such pressure and the person who is supposed to be in the farmers' corner had not got himself across one of the big issues.
The monopsony that is inherent in the agricultural industry is a real issue. A small number of retailers are causing market failure. In one sense it does not matter if it rains or not because these people are being done over on pricing and they are not able to recoup the amount of money that they need to produce the goods that have been sustaining their families, sometimes for generations.
NSW Farmers has been advocating on this issue. Before the election Labor brought out a policy on a fresh food and dairy pricing advocate. The Government followed suit, to an extent, talking about just fresh milk and dairy producers. The Government announced, just before budget estimates, that it had put in place a dairy advocate, before that person had even signed a contract. The Government could not tell us what he was supposed to do or who had chosen him. The Government could not tell us about any of the key things even though it was six months after the election, when it had promised it would act for the dairy industry.
I attended a poultry meat farmers meeting with NSW Farmers last Friday night in Beresfield. I noticed when the member who was the Parliamentary Secretary for dairy talks to the poultry industry he becomes the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture. I guess he does not want to change his title for every single group he talks to.
The people at the meeting were asking him where the person was who would be standing up for them in this Parliament and in this Government and getting money out of the Treasurer's very tight pockets to assist the people who are growing the food that we need to survive.
I pay tribute to Belinda-Jane Davis, a Walkley Award-winning journalist from the Maitland area. She won another award recently for her coverage of the big dry.
She initiated a petition that members on the other side of the Chamber were not very supportive of.
We need voices like hers to be raised, and I congratulate her on bringing it to this Government's attention.