PMB – Drought

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Mr PITT (Hinkler):  In opening, can I say to those opposite: this is not a motion about the member for New England; this is a motion about something of the utmost seriousness for the people that we represent. They want to hear from us what we are doing, not personal attacks across the chamber, not the disparaging of political opponents. This is about delivering for people in their time of need, and that should be our focus 100 per cent.

The farmgate sector is worth $62.3 billion, and the overwhelming majority of that is delivered through our international trade partners. Without trade, one of the biggest impacts in this country would be on agriculture and the people we are here to speak about right now in debating this private member’s motion. We have delivered for them in terms of trade. We have delivered for them in terms of further market opportunities, reducing the forward-facing crisis in Japan, South Korea and China and reducing tariffs to make agriculture more competitive. What we need to focus on for those people, who need us to focus on their needs right now, is ensuring those markets remain open. In fact, we need to open more so that when it does rain—and it will rain, as they all know—those market opportunities are there for them to make a profit. Clearly, right now it is not what is happening. That is why we are providing farm household support and doing everything we can for our farming sector in their time of need.

Can I say, as a former producer, that I’ve been through drought only once. It was a very short period of time, about 14 months, but it was the most horrible 14 months of my life. It was just devastating. I honestly don’t know how those out there who have found themselves in that position for five, six or seven years haven’t curled into a ball in the corner and thrown their hands in the air. They are the most resilient people, they’re a great reflection on our nation and they are what we stand for particularly in this place, so we should do our utmost to help them.

I think there are other opportunities we can look at, particularly around feral animals. Look at the numbers, Madam Deputy Speaker. There are up to 24 million feral pigs in Australia—24 million; almost as many pigs as there are people.

They are destroying our environment and in particular, on the coast, our turtles. If you look at feral horses, in Queensland there are around 200,000 of those. There are 2.3 million feral goats in Australia. There are approximately 80,000 water buffalo in the Northern Territory. I have to say that I’ve never seen red deer in my electorate before, but in recent weeks I actually saw one skid across the highway east of Childers. It frightened the life out of the poor driver in front of me. I have never seen them in those locations.

So there are opportunities right now for us to help people in these areas which are drought stricken and to control feral animals and to help our environment. I think that is something that we should consider not only in this place but at state and local government levels as well.

And then of course there are camels. I never thought I’d see so many feral camels, but, on the most recent trip I took into the west, there were an enormous number of them. They do have some advantages. I’m advised that they eat prickly acacia flowers. Prickly acacia is a noxious weed that is spreading through hundreds of thousands of hectares throughout Western Queensland. There is an opportunity for us around prickly acacia. I congratulate Desert Channels, the Landcare group out there who are attacking prickly acacia with modern technology. They are using drones to deliver systemic herbicide. Of course, it does need to rain for the herbicide to work. But they are out there flying drones to deliver, plant by plant, a systemic herbicide to wipe out this noxious weed. It is incredibly bad for the environment, and it continues to expand. There are opportunities there as well.

In the member for Flynn’s electorate, Northern Oil, a biofuel refinery, have done trials using prickly acacia to deliver biofuel. I think that is another opportunity that we need to look at. I know there is some work being done locally. We attended the biofuel refinery in Gladstone with the member for Flynn—I think he got a front page. It was a fantastic announcement on some other work they are doing there, advancing those opportunities around biofuel.

Whilst we find ourselves in regional areas in drought, while those people in Australia find themselves in a difficult position, we should be doing everything we can, taking every opportunity, to focus on them and deliver what they require. What they need right now is our help. They need that in terms of financial assistance. They need that in terms of mental health support, and they need that in terms of opportunities for their produce when the drought is finished and done with. That is because, even when it rains, it doesn’t rain grass and it doesn’t rain money. It takes time for them to recover.

These are true Australians. They are a great reflection on our nation. They go through these hardships. It is cyclical, of course. They are absolutely resilient. They are some of the toughest people I know. We should continue to support them in every single possible opportunity. It’s a reflection on us if we do not.

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