Thank you, Mr Speaker
I thank the Prime Minister for his words.
Last week, my wife Chloe and I and the Member for Hunter had the privilege of visiting Longreach, Ilfracombe, Barcaldine and Emerald in western Queensland.
We had the privileged of listening to locals who are battling this devastating drought. They generously welcomed us, they educated us.
Jody Brown, who runs sheep and cattle on Latrobe Station out of Longreach, she told me that a lot of farmers feel like the drought cycles are getting longer and longer and the periods of relief and rain are getting shorter and shorter.
Her words remind us that climate change isn’t some graph on a page in a report, it has devastating consequences for families and their livelihoods.
As Aaron Skinn, a very hard-working baker who runs a family bakery in Barcaldine, told me: drought is hitting not just farms but the local towns as well.
This is why we need a co-ordinated national approach to deal with this one-in-a-hundred year event.
This means mobilising the resources of the Commonwealth, to ensure that farmers can get their fodder or grain or water - while also maintaining biosecurity checks so we’re not transporting fire ants along with it.
We need to make sure also that jobs in the local café, the produce store, the metal fabricators are secure. Because if we keep the farms going, we keep the towns going.
The people who call this part of Australia home, they're brave and they’re proud.
And farming life can be precarious, as we currently witness. I think it takes a lot for them to ask for help from Canberra, so when they do, we should recognise that the need is dire.
That’s why Labor has said the $12,000 in government assistance for farmer shouldn’t be divided and staggered over one payment in September this year and one next March.
If you need the lot upfront, you should just get it upfront. No piles of paperwork, no bureaucratic delays.
And I think there’s more we can do as a parliament:
- To build water infrastructure in communities and on farms
- And to work with agronomists re-sewing pasture
And let me also say to the big banks, who relied on a government guarantee to get through them the Global Financial Crisis - we will hold you to account for the way you treat communities in need.
The Government has recently reached $700 million in penalties from the Commonwealth bank.
Prime Minister, together, we should think seriously about putting that money into drought relief, rather than giving it back to the banks as a tax break.
Prime Minister, together, let’s work together on a plan to reinvest these penalties in some of the people who have suffered more than their fair share of rip-offs from the banks.
Briefly, like the Prime Minister, I want to thank everyone in our cities who is digging deep to support the various appeals and fundraisers.
There's lots of people organising some fantastic initiatives: from something as simple as ‘Parma for a Farmer’ to the big drought relief concert set to be headlined by the great Australian, Johnny Farnham, next Monday.
Barcaldine, of course, is where the Labor Party was born.
But when I was there, I spoke with plenty of lifelong National Party people about what this parliament can do.
At times like this, political identity is so far down the list that it doesn’t matter.
There are not LNP Australians going through the drought or Labor Australians going through the drought, they are just Australians.
I think I speak for all members in this place when I say to farmers in dire need: you are our fellow Australians and we are on your side.