Speech: Agriculture

Speech: Agriculture Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS  (Gilmore) (18:48): I thank the member for Indi for the opportunity to speak on this motion today. I'm sure it will surprise no-one that the relationship between agriculture and climate change is something I am very passionate about. Farmers on the New South Wales South Coast know a fair bit about the impacts of climate change on agriculture and farming. Farmers in my electorate have been suffering under this drought for years now. They are suffering from a drought that many have acknowledged is being worsened by climate change. They have been selling their cattle in the thousands just to survive. I can tell you that for a dairy farmer to sell their cattle is no small thing. It can take years to recover from such a drastic and heart-wrenching decision. But this is a choice that dairy farmers have had to make. I'm not sure that this government has truly been listening. 

I have said it before, but I'm going to keep saying it until it sinks in for those opposite: our dairy industry is in crisis. But only recently Mr Morrison decided he would rub salt into the wound for South Coast farmers. The Prime Minister flew back into the country after his US tour—a tour where he refused to attend the UN Climate Action Summit even though he was in the right place at the right time. His absence from the summit wasn't unnoticed by the international community either, with, among others, the vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating that Australia's absence was misaligned with a vision of Australia as a 'smart, innovative, forward-looking and lucky country'. 

Mr Morrison flew back into the country to much fanfare. He was going to announce a new drought package. Farmers in my electorate felt a small flicker of hope. I felt it with them. Perhaps finally, the government had started listening and was going to provide some long-awaited relief. The announcement came—an extension to the Drought Communities Program of a further $100 million for drought affected farmers. While $100 million might not be as much as farmers had hoped for, at least it was something. But any hope local farmers in my electorate had was soon dashed. Eurobodalla Shire Council was not on the list of eligible council areas. Shoalhaven City Council was not on the list of eligible council areas. Kiama Council was not on the list of eligible council areas. This was a huge slap in the face for local farmers struggling to get by. In one sweep, the Morrison government effectively told South Coast farmers they are not suffering under the drought. He told South Coast farmers that they don't deserve help to deal with the real impacts of climate change on their livelihoods. He told South Coast farmers that he has, in fact, not been listening to their concerns. Well, I want to tell South Coast farmers I have been listening. I have heard you. I will not give up the fight.

I have seen firsthand what happens when farmers give up hope. In my first speech in this place, I spoke about my dad, a dairy farmer. I still remember visibly his distress when he thought he might have to sell the family farm. My family was lucky—that farm is still going. But I hear from so many today who are facing these same struggles, from farmers who are paid less for their milk than it costs to produce it, from farmers who have to make the choice about feeding their families or feeding their cattle. These are choices no-one should have to make.

What we need is a comprehensive and effective drought policy from this government. The Coalition Government has had six years to address the drought. It has had six years to help farmers struggling under the weight of Australia's worst drought on record. After creating every drought body you can think of—a drought coordinator, a drought envoy, a drought task force—still we have no drought policy from the government. The National Farmers Federation got so fed up waiting for the government to draft a long-term drought policy it decided to draft one instead. The Morrison Government have refused to release the drought coordinator's report, claiming it to be cabinet-in-confidence. Why? What are they hiding? What don't they want our farmers to know? All we get from this government is words. They are all talk and no action. South Coast dairy farmers are sick and tired of words from this government. We want action. Summer is coming, Prime Minister. What about your drought policy?