Speech: Fires and Drought

Speech: Fires and Drought Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (19:30): My electorate received some very welcome news over the weekend. The Currowan bushfire, which raged for 74 days, burnt through 499,000 hectares and destroyed 312 homes, was out. The Comberton fire is also now out. The Clyde Mountain fire, which has destroyed 493 homes and burnt through 98,000 hectares in the Eurobodalla, is listed as being under control. This is very good news and a cause for celebration locally. I again thank our amazing Rural Fire Service, emergency service workers and volunteers for their incredible efforts to contain these fires, which have done so much damage.

But the fires were not the first natural disaster our community has dealt with over recent years. Once again I rise today to talk about the drought that has gripped my electorate for so long now. I have said many times in this place how local farmers are struggling under the weight of the drought, how our dairy industry is in crisis and more needs to be done to help farmers doing it tough. The recent bushfires were, no doubt, intensified by the drought. We know how our farmers were struggling before the fires and these issues have now grown.

We have lost hundreds of thousands of hectares of bush in firestorm after firestorm. Local farmer Rob from Milton has described his farm as looking like a lunar landscape. Two-thirds of Rob's property was burnt by the fire on New Year's Day. Rob's story is nothing short of harrowing. Since Christmas, Rob's farm has been hit by the fires four times. While he was fighting the flames on one side of his farm, he was being approached by another fire from the opposite direction. Heartbreakingly, he lost many calves and his herd was badly impacted.

But Rob was suffering long before the fires. Last week he decided to paint his farm gate yellow to bring attention to the drought and to demand action on climate change. Rob is part of Farmers for Climate Action and he began the call for the Show Our Colours campaign to bring attention to this important issue. Rob is a fifth-generation farmer and he says that his family have never seen conditions like this in 150 years.

To put it simply: Rob and farmers like him have been suffering under the drought the government denies we are in. That is why it was so disheartening to see the Morrison government waste yet another opportunity to provide drought relief funding to struggling farmers. Once again, the Eurobodalla, Shoalhaven and Kiama were not included in the newly-rejigged Drought Communities Program Extension. It was a golden opportunity for the government to provide funding relief to farmers suffering not only from the drought but also from the bushfires—wasted.

Exactly how they are calculating this and how they determined these new council areas is still unclear. The government has said that we don't have enough agricultural industry. It's no secret that the New South Wales South Coast has a high retirement population. The South Coast is the most beautiful area in the country. Who wouldn't want to retire there? But—and this is an important point—this can create some significant bias in our employment figures. Even so, we employ significant numbers of people directly and indirectly in agriculture in my electorate and agriculture makes a significant contribution to our local economies. In the Eurobodalla, agriculture exports contribute 14.5 per cent to the total local economy, or $64 million. That is direct impact only and doesn't factor in indirect industries. In the Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands, agricultural production provides $136 million to the local economy. The impact of that in a regional and rural area like mine cannot be overstated.

What really baffles local farmers though is that the New South Wales Government says that we are not only in drought but in intense drought. All of Kiama, all of the Eurobodalla and practically all of the Shoalhaven is in intense drought. Local farmers are simply caught in a black hole when it comes to the Morrison Government. Our community has been to hell and back, and it is far from over. Today, after battling fires for 74 days, we now have flooding in many parts. But—and this much has been made clear—this is not drought-breaking rain. The drought is far from over. (Time expired)