In Parliament

2008 SEPT 16 – Questions Without Notice – Drought


September 16, 2008

Mr CHESTER (2.35 pm) — My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Why has the government deserted Gippsland farmers and removed the exceptional circumstances support despite the local community reporting some of the worst drought conditions in over 100 years?

Mr BURKE — I thank the member for Gippsland for his question. The member for Gippsland points to one of the significant problems that we have with the current methods for exceptional circumstances drought policy, and that is that we are obliged to—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr BURKE — Well, it was your policy too, so do not get too excited. We are obliged to have a system where you have lines on a map. The National Rural Advisory Council, NRAC, makes a decision based on an entire area. For the entire area that they were making the assessment for—a good part of which falls into the seat of the member for Gippsland— they made an assessment that the period of recovery had begun. There is no doubt that when you draw those generalisations across entire regions you will find some areas where people are not in recovery at all.

This happened with respect to the Bourke- Brewarrina area and the local member got involved there. We made sure that the New South Wales government put in a fresh request for revised boundaries and NRAC conducted an immediate assessment. Under those revised boundaries, a fresh EC declaration was made within the space of about 48 hours. We had a similar situation in two different areas in Queensland. I would encourage  the member for Gippsland to follow the same process that—

Mr Chester — Mr Speaker, on a point of order: the minister is giving an interesting background to drought conditions around Australia, but the question simply refers to Gippsland and whether the minister will do anything about it.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER — The minister is responding to the question.

Mr BURKE — I know it might be appealing for a member of the National Party to ask me to abandon all process, but I would encourage the member to do what some of his colleagues have done—one even met with me today on this issue—and that is to ask, ‘What is the process we should follow to make sure that the recommendations come in from the state government on the revised boundaries?’ We will make sure that the National Rural Advisory Committee, every member of which was actually an appointee of the previous government, deals with the issue immediately and that we have proper process to make sure farmers are not left in the lurch when they are continuing to face tough times. But what I will not show any sympathy for is someone who, unlike his colleagues, refuses to engage in the process and decides he would rather get the headline and jump up and down here. Every day he delays in engaging with the process he leaves the farmers in his electorate out in the cold.

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