(Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [3.16 p.m.]: I move:
(1) notes the important work being carried out by New South Wales Agriculture and other agencies and volunteers in the eradication of the Newcastle disease outbreak on the Mangrove Mountain ridge;
(2) calls on the Federal Government to clarify the financial assistance available to poultry farmers in the area; and
(3) urges the major banks to follow Westpac's lead in allowing poultry farmers to suspend mortgage arrangements until this emergency situation passes.
I am sure I need not remind the House of the enormity of the current disease outbreak on Mangrove Mountain. It is the worst outbreak of an exotic animal disease in Australia’s recorded history. Apart from the outbreak in western Sydney, Rylstone and north-western Sydney last September, Australia has not experienced an outbreak of Newcastle disease for more than 60 years. The last outbreak was in Victoria in 1932 and was quickly brought under control and eradicated. Newcastle disease, as we have learned from many debates in this House, particularly debate in this House in the past couple of years about the importance of cooked chicken meat, has been regarded as one of the most feared, contagious and fatal diseases affecting commercial poultry in the world.
The poultry industry in Australia is valued at approximately $1.4 billion, and New South Wales is home to about 40 per cent of the production giving rise to that figure. Those figures are an indication in the eradication program that the stakes are very high. As a result, it is important that all governments work to ensure that the future of the industry is secure. The community, the Government, various agencies and volunteers have been doing that since the disease was detected in early April. Under the national cost-sharing agreement for exotic animal diseases State and Territory governments and the Federal government have worked together to provide $8.5 million for the control and eradication program currently being undertaken on the Mangrove Mountain ridge.
The cost includes the slaughter and burial of all birds, as well as associated monitoring, surveillance operations and disinfecting activities. It also covers compensation for the two million commercial poultry and many backyard aviary birds that were euthanased during the operation. The enormity of the operation can be highlighted by reference to the number of people involved. Some 1,000 volunteers were brought in from across New South Wales and from interstate. Those volunteers included 291 Queensland fire and rescue personnel, 90 navy personnel and 40 air force personnel. Some 43 different agencies, including both of the departments for which I am responsible - New South
Wales Agriculture and the Department of Land and Water Conservation - the rural lands protection boards, the Environment Protection Authority, the Department of Community Services and Gosford City Council were involved.
During my visit to Mangrove Mountain I observed many people involved in the program wearing name tags which identified not only their names and positions but also the organisations they represented. I could not think of an organisation that is usually part of these types of operations that was not represented on Mangrove Mountain, which is a credit to everybody involved in the program. I think the whole community should congratulate the people involved in that project. It should be borne in mind also that this emergency took place at about the same time as the heavy and destructive hail storm hit Sydney. Two major disasters occurred simultaneously and resources were stretched to the limit on all fronts. Quite clearly, this was a unique situation and circumstances of that magnitude had never before been experienced.
For the record, all agriculture Ministers across Australia agreed to recommendations of the Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases to depopulate the entire restricted area. Under the national AUSVETPLAN, 33 commercial poultry farms comprising almost two million birds on the Mangrove Mountain ridge were affected. A control area or buffer zone was declared to include the neighbouring ridges of Peats Ridge, Somersby and Kulnura.
Issues have been raised in the media about how the birds have been killed. My attention is drawn to the motions of which notice was given by the Opposition today. Many members of the Opposition, including the shadow ministers and local members of Parliament, visited the ridge. I would like to think that when members of Parliament visit disaster areas they are there to see what is being done and to recognise the good work, and I believe that on the day those members of Parliament visiting the area were doing just that.
Unfortunately, in recent days media reports have given the impression that these members of Parliament were not visiting the area to see the magnitude of the problem or the good work but were there to see whether something wrong had been done and to highlight that, or perhaps to say that something should be done that they had not seen being done on the day of their visit. It has created the impression that those members made the visit so that they could use that type of information to make speeches in the Parliament. I hope that is not the intention of the Opposition in this case. Some of the words mentioned in proposed motions and notices of motion earlier today would seem to indicate that some Opposition members believe that this is a political game. A magnificent job has been done by many people. I hope that members of the Opposition would sincerely recognise that fact.
I mention the very real issue of animal welfare. No-one really appreciates what a very nasty and difficult job this disaster presents for the people involved. Most chickens have been killed by the gassing method and this has been highlighted in the news by the media. Neck dislocation, or what has been referred to as wringing the necks of the animals, has been another method of destruction of the animals. There was a report about an unsavoury incident when sheds were shut down and the animals died. I point out that none of those actions have been officially endorsed. I have ensured through the department that all activities associated with the destruction of the animals must be done with the full consultation of the veterinary surgeons and the RSPCA and I think that that issue is now behind us.
Concerns have been raised by the local community about disposal of the birds. I thank the honourable member for Peats, Marie Andrews, for making representations on this issue. She has constantly performed the role of watchdog for this whole project and has been the community’s voice throughout the whole process. I am pleased to acknowledge her good work in that regard. As a result of those efforts, a community steering committee was established to oversee the process. It meets regularly with the local disease controller, Kevin Cooper, and matters are discussed in a very constructive way. Speed has been a very important factor. The need to prevent the spread of the disease by killing and disposing of birds as quickly as possible has been given the highest priority by everybody involved in the process. The disease is a highly virulent strain and can travel even on dust particles flying in the wind, which is often referred to as aerosol spread.
Now that the birds have been killed, another important issue is the financial implications of the disaster. Last week I called on the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Mark Vaile, to provide income support for the poultry farmers affected by this deadly disease, just as he did for the victims of the Crookwell fire earlier this year. This week the Federal Minister responded with what I believe is a positive announcement. He has offered income assistance for up to three months to affected farmers. I genuinely welcome this move. I am sure
that poultry farmers affected will gain at least some relief from the provisions announced by the Federal Minister for Agriculture in recent days. The farmers will at least be able to put food on the family table until they can restock and get back into business.
One anomaly drawn to my attention and to the attention of other people involved in this project is in relation to federal assistance. The wording of the Federal Government’s offer needs some clarification. I understand that the issue amounts to nothing more than clarification and that there is no criticism or motion of condemnation associated with the issue. The offer seems to imply that only farmers whose birds had been slaughtered were entitled to the offer of assistance.
However, a number of poultry farmers in both the restricted area and the outer control area have sent their last batches of birds for processing just prior to the outbreak. They have been instructed not to restock their sheds until the emergency has passed and they, too, are losing income. I assume that they would therefore be entitled to the Federal assistance so I have again written to the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Mark Vaile, asking for clarification of that issue in the hope that the matter will be resolved. A submission is also being prepared to cover exceptional circumstances and provide additional assistance for affected producers. My colleague the Minister for Fair Trading has also called on the major banks to allow these poultry farmers to suspend mortgage arrangements until this emergency has passed. I am sure the Minister for Fair Trading will speak in more detail on that point.
In conclusion, I place on the record my thanks and appreciation to everybody involved in that massive operation. Their efforts cannot be overstated or spoken about too much. The project is a credit to everybody who has been involved in it. As I said, I visited the control centre personally and last week I also went to the head office of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture’s statewide control centre in Orange. The work of that centre was co-ordinated with the department’s operations at Mangrove Mountain. I have spoken to those people involved in the project, including some of the affected farmers.
I know that some New South Wales Agriculture people have been working 15 hours a day on this project. I refer to people such as Kevin Cooper, who would have been the first person to whom anybody visiting the area would have spoken. He is certainly well versed on the issues. He has not only briefed the control centre but also the media and has explained the issues ad nauseam to everybody who has an interest in the project. I am pleased to recognise his contribution in the work of this project.
I also mention our State Veterinary Officer, Dr Dick Jane. These are only two people involved in the project whom I mention in particular and, of course, many more people have been involved. I acknowledge in the public gallery George Sidiropoulos, who is one of the farmers affected by this outbreak. I commend the role he has played in a time of very personal suffering, discomfort and financial loss, not to mention the emotional strain. He took on the role of speaking on behalf of many of the farmers at Mangrove Ridge. I believe he has done an excellent job in explaining the plight of farmers affected by this disease, in talking about how the assistance has been worked through and mentioning many of the concerns of the people. Over the last few weeks, many of the issues he has raised have been sorted out by consultation.
I also acknowledge the efforts of people involved in the local council and the local community. When I visited the command centre at Mangrove Mountain, it was not just a case of trying to get volunteers to kill a large number of chickens. Although that was the main focus of the whole operation, there was also a large network of telecommunications, Federal agencies, and accommodation was required for thousands of people who had come from all parts of New South Wales and from other States. The local community at Mangrove Mountain did a great job of supplying information, accommodation, food and all types of equipment to back up this operation. It has been a tremendous community effort on the part of the people on the Central Coast and their efforts have been recognised many times by local members of Parliament in the area who I understand will be participating in this debate.
The New South Wales Farmers Association has written to me asking that today I pass on its appreciation of the efforts by the agency people - from government departments, the rural lands protection boards and the volunteers. The association wants to pass on its congratulations. It recognises the massive effort by people in those organisations. New South Wales Farmers strongly supports the role they have played. I again ask the House to support the motion. I will be interested to hear the contributions to the debate from both sides of the House. I hope there is recognition of what the debate is all about. If any problems have arisen from this operation we can learn from them. I hope that some of the words used earlier today were not a true representation of what the Opposition will say in this debate. I commend the motion to the House.
(Barwon) [3.31 p.m.]: The Opposition endorses the motion moved by the Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation. It gives an opportunity to congratulate the more than 1,000 people involved on their hard work in dealing with the catastrophe in the Mangrove Mountain area. On my visit I was impressed first by the military efficiency of the people going about their business. People in other areas were concerned that workers returning to their homes could cause the virus to escape into their areas. Having seen the protocols to ensure that the virus did not escape from the area, I can assure people that the fears are unnecessary.
People all over Australia, not just the local people, should be thankful for the organisation of the massive eradication campaign. Newcastle disease has been present in Australia since the late 1960s. Early strains caused little or no production problems and no vaccines were used to control these naturally circulating strains of virus. There are clear genetic differences between the strains of virus: the non-virulent strain causes illness but not death; the virulent strain causes rapid death. Virulent Newcastle disease occurred in Australia in September 1998 in western Sydney and now in the Mangrove Mountain area.
The disease was first identified in 1932, so it has been around for a fair while. Studies of the virus clearly demonstrate that the outbreak strains are closely related to the known Australian strain of low virulence in chickens. This suggests that the outbreak virus arose from a mutation of the Australian Newcastle disease virus rather than an imported strain of the virus. After inspecting some of the farms I am sure that the problem did not arise from poor animal husbandry. The outbreak was reported first from a farm that is an example for all farming operations.
Since the initial outbreak in Mangrove Mountain detected in April the area has been depopulated and disinfected, with 1.6 million chickens being destroyed. The outbreak was contained on Mangrove Mountain; it did not spread out of the control area. Recently another farm was detected as having Newcastle disease but that was expected as the farm is in the control area and close to other affected farms. At the moment 33 farms are affected, including 24 producers that contract grow for Inghams, three producers of broilers for Bartter, a duck farm of 4,400 birds, an ostrich farm of 17 birds, three producers of boiler-breeders or table egg pullets, and one producer of table egg poultry.
Most of the affected producers are family owner-operators who are under contract to Inghams. It is very difficult to ascertain how many industry employees have been affected. Because of the virulence of the strain many farmers have been unable to visit other farmers. Close to 1.9 million birds will be destroyed. It is unfortunate that the Carr Labor Government has agreed to pay Waverley Council a million dollars for volley ball at Bondi during the Olympics but it was slow in mustering funding to deal with the outbreak of Newcastle disease. It is commendable that people were mustered quickly to deal with the outbreak, and the organisation was very good.
In relation to financial arrangements from the Federal Government, not only the Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Sport and Recreation has been talking to the banks to encourage them to join Westpac in looking favourably upon producers with financial problems and large overdrafts; New South Wales Farmers and I have also been talking to the banks to ask them to give relief to the producers. Some of the growers in the area have built new sheds, involving $500,000 to $600,000. That large amount of money would have been borrowed with the expectation that chickens would be producing in those sheds. The quarantine waiting period is three months. I thank the Fischer-Howard Government and Mark Vaile for the rescue package. It involves ex gratia payments equivalent to the maximum rate of the Newstart allowance plus the family allowance and rent assistance. It will be payable to farmers or farming couples operating properties on which livestock was destroyed to counter Newcastle disease and whose primary source of income was from the livestock destroyed.
The Minister mentioned the position of producers at Somersby and Peats, outside the area where birds were destroyed. The position has been clarified. I understand that Mark Vaile will include them in the package. They were refused chickens and their income was put on hold until the containment of the outbreak. They have the same economic problems with overdrafts and high maintenance costs as the people whose animals have been destroyed.
Assistance payments will be fortnightly in the period between the farm becoming subject to quarantine and when the quarantine is lifted, up to a maximum of three months. Soon sample birds will be placed in some of these areas to ascertain whether the virus is still present. Once it has been determined that the virus has been destroyed by the
disinfecting, chickens will be allowed back into the area. The payments will be provided to each member of a farming couple provided they derive their primary source of income from the farming enterprise. The assistance will be income tested on the same basis as exceptional circumstances relief payments but it will not be asset tested. That is creditable because many of the sheds are very expensive and they cannot be used for anything else. Huge assets could be involved in several sheds but there could be a huge overdraft as well. There will be no waiting period for affected producers. In addition to the ex gratia payments, owners of affected poultry will be eligible to be reimbursed for the market value of destroyed livestock and property.
In a sense it is an awkward problem because in many cases the chickens are owned by Inghams, and the growers are the ones who must then mediate and deal with Inghams to receive any payment at all. I have spoken with the Minister’s staff on a couple of occasions about the matter. I believe it is important that compensation be provided to the growers, who do not own the chickens in the legal sense of the word. It may be necessary to amend the Act to ensure that this does not happen again, that the growers will not have to wait for discussions to take place and for the owner of the birds to ascertain how much they are worth. Discussions should take place first with the growers, who should receive compensation, and second with the owners.
As I have said, the Opposition supports the motion and congratulates the people involved on all the hard work they have done in the Mangrove Mountain area. I am aware that quite a few people have worked 17 to 20 hours a day. When I visited the area I was amazed at the precision, professionalism and dedication of so many people. It is a time like this that brings out the best in people. I only hope that we do not have another outbreak of Newcastle disease to test us again.
(Ryde - Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Sport and Recreation) [3.42 p.m.]: I support the motion, and am pleased that the Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation has brought it forward. It was an honour for me recently to meet one of the leading farmers from Mangrove Mountain, Mr George Sidiropoulos. I acknowledge George’s presence in the gallery, and am pleased that he is able to be here. He gave a passionate and clear indication of what had happened in the Mangrove Mountain area, including the loss of chickens and the impact on the lives of farmers and their families. George explained to me that he had 70,000 chickens put down and his brother, who lives and works next-door, had 75,000 chickens destroyed.
Both are family men with large families. Both of their businesses, and many other businesses in the area, are family businesses. What is happening there is a tragedy for those families. During my meeting with George Sidiropoulos we discussed what could be done to assist farmers, and we also discussed mortgage relief from the banks. George is one of the 800 or so people who directly rely on poultry farming for their livelihood. He is a chicken farmer, a battler, who has spent decades building up his business. He now faces financial hardship as a result of the outbreak of the disease. George told me how he and other farmers were worried about how the banks would treat them in their time of need. I joined with him to call on the banks to treat the Central Coast chicken farmers as a special case.
Such an approach makes good sense. Many of these farmers have large mortgages on their land and farm equipment. Most have been in the industry for between 15 and 20 years and have many more years remaining on their mortgages. They are a good risk. They have been in the area for a long time, and they want to stay in the area. The land is suitable to be used only for chicken farming, so it simply makes good sense for them to be able to continue. Helping them out now will pay off in the longer term. Yesterday I was interested to see a report by KPMG that again put the major banks in a poor light. The report showed that last year the five largest banks charged more than $10 billion in fees. At the same time, face-to-face banking services were reduced.
Last week the National Australia Bank and the ANZ Bank announced record profits. The banks can no longer rely on the fiction that they are facing financial difficulty. In fact, the time has come for our major banks to give something back to the community that they are supposed to serve, especially in regional and rural New South Wales. The banks could start by giving the Central Coast chicken farmers a hand in their time of need. They could start by showing some compassion to Central Coast families who, through no fault of their own, are faced with financial ruin. They could start by following the lead of Westpac, which last week announced a special relief package to assist bank customers in the Mangrove Mountain area.
After I met George I wrote to the four big banks - the National Australia Bank, Westpac, ANZ and the Commonwealth - to ask them to temporarily suspend mortgage repayments until the farmers got back on their feet. I am pleased to hear today that other members are doing the same and that that call
is backed by New South Wales Farmers. I am pleased to advise that Westpac has come to the party, and I congratulate it for doing so. On 5 May Westpac announced a relief package that would allow chicken farmers to suspend repayments for up to three months, to defer their next credit card repayment, to restructure existing business loans, and to waive early withdrawal penalties. We know that it will take three to four months before the farms are restocked, which means a substantial period before there is any income for those farmers.
I congratulate Westpac for what it has done. However, the other major banks have not been so forthcoming. Whilst the NAB, ANZ and the Commonwealth Bank have said that they will look at each customer on a case-by-case basis, I believe - and I am sure I am supported by many other members of this House - that they need to go further. The other major banks should adopt Westpac’s approach of treating all the farmers as a special case. This is the only way to provide some certainty and security for these families. They need to know that the banks will help them - not that they might, if they jump through the hoops that the banks deem necessary. This is a terrible time for the poultry farmers of Mangrove Mountain. Their chickens are gone, their income is gone, and their families do not know what they will do. The assistance of the major banks at this time would be warmly welcomed, and I urge the major banks to provide such assistance.
(Southern Highlands) [3.47 p.m.]: As has been indicated, the Opposition endorses the motion because it is an opportunity to acknowledge the trauma that has been occasioned to so many farmers and their families in the Mangrove Mountain area. I am able to say that from the point of view of having worked through a comparable trauma with a lot of farmers in my area who have found themselves, also through no fault of their own, victims of ovine Johne’s disease in their sheep flocks. In looking at how this situation has unfolded, there are many comparisons. I understand the trauma that the farmers and their families are going through, their concern that they might not be able to rebuild their lives, that their properties are for some period without any particular value, and their uncertainty about knowing where on earth the future lies.
It is also an opportunity to acknowledge the work of more than 1,000 volunteers and members of other government agencies and organisations who have come from around the State to help the Mangrove Mountain farmers and their families. I am extremely proud of the volunteers of the Rural Fire Service and the State Emergency Services who have come from my area - the Wingecaribee, the Wollondilly - and even from the south coast to help the people of Mangrove Mountain. Some of those volunteers went on from helping those at Mangrove Mountain to helping hailstorm-affected people in Sydney. Last Saturday, McHappy Day, I visited the local McDonald’s, as I suspect did many of my parliamentary colleagues.
Having come from Mangrove Mountain and the hail-damage situation in Sydney, some of the Rural Fire Service volunteers of my area yet again helped their community by doing charitable work. So there is really no end to the work that these people do, and it is important that we acknowledge that. This is also an opportunity to acknowledge the work that many veterinarians and scientists have been doing to try to come to terms with this problem and find a fast solution. This is a chance to acknowledge the very important work of the people at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute [EMAI], which is in my electorate but also shared by my colleague the honourable member for Camden. I believe that Dr Tony Ross has played an important role at the institute, no doubt together with many of his colleagues.
I discovered, when talking to some of the EMAI people involved in trying to find a solution to this Newcastle disease, that this is a stressful time for them. They are under enormous pressure to try to find a solution. They have the pressure of families and farmers in the area and they are trying to hasten that process. However, not all scientific processes can be instantly resolved. It is time to acknowledge the work being done by those people and to acknowledge the fears and concerns of local residents who are not farmers but who have farmer friends and who are in employment related to that industry. They have legitimate concerns, as have many farmers, about the long-term environmental consequences of this disaster.
I refer in particular now to water quality. It is appropriate that we talk in this debate about some environmental concerns. Honourable members would be aware that the chicken pit-burning process was abandoned because apparently it could not cope with the volume of chickens having to be disposed of in the time available. That process was abandoned in favour of pit disposal, which brought with it a number of environmental concerns of which I was made aware by residents in the Mangrove Mountain area. Some of the residents and farmers were of the view that, with some minor adjustments, the pit-burning method could be made to work and that its early failure was to do with having to dispose of a large volume of chickens in a short time.
Clearly, I do not have any technical expertise in this area but I called on the Minister for the Environment to urgently reassess this disposal method. If it can be made to work it could potentially solve or prevent another set of problems, including water quality problems that might flow from the eventual choice of the pit disposal method. Honourable members would probably be aware that chickens were first disposed of in shipping containers which were placed in a former quarry. Some concerns were raised about the long-term soundness of those containers, the linings used in the pit or in the containers, and their impact on potential water quality.
A second disposal pit was to be used in Bloodtree Road on Mangrove Mountain, which again caused concern for both residents and farmers. They were concerned about the type of lining to be used in the pit and they were particularly concerned about the fact that the site was adjacent to a popular local sporting facility. I was contacted by a resident who raised some of these concerns with me because of the geology of the area. A large aquifer underlies the entire basin and 250,000 people in Gosford rely on sound water quality from that aquifer. I understand that commercial water bottling businesses, residents and farmers are all reliant on water from that aquifer. Clearly, they want to be confident in sound water quality both now and in the long term.
Last week I called on the Minister for the Environment to guarantee his total confidence in the chosen disposal process employed by the Environment Protection Authority. Farmers and residents must be confident that that chosen process will not result in any contamination of water in that aquifer. What appears to be a short-term fix might turn out to be the creation of a long-term water quality nightmare. Last year we had a water crisis in Sydney and we are all aware of the impact that crisis had on families and businesses and the costs were involved. Businesses had to suspend their operations and invest in additional independent water treatment facilities. That is a situation that we all want to avoid at all costs. It is legitimate for people in the region to ask questions about long-term water quality. It is legitimate for them to call on the Minister for the Environment to issue a water quality guarantee. To date the Minister has not seen fit to do that.
The Coalition endorses this motion. We must ensure that everyone is aware of the trauma that families in this area are going through. They are having to rebuild their businesses and they have lost income. We have been notified of new outbreaks of this disease, and I suspect that many people would continue to be worried about that fact. I represent an area of New South Wales in which there are a large number of poultry producers. They sympathise with their colleagues in the Mangrove Mountain area and they understand the social and economic impacts that this disaster is having. We all hope that this problem can be solved quickly. I pay tribute to the volunteers in this area. There is a rural spirit and a willingness to lend a helping hand, not just by people in my electorate but by people from all around the State. I recognise also the work that the scientists are doing and the empathy that the local community has for those families affected by this problem.
(Peats) [3.55 p.m.]: As the Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation said earlier, this outbreak of the dreaded Newcastle disease in my electorate of Peats is the worst case of an exotic disease outbreak in the history of Australia. Thirty-three farms have been declared within the restricted area of Mangrove Mountain and a further 38 declared within the controlled area. At this stage I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of George Sidiropoulos. George, a constituent of mine, is also the vice-president of the Central Coast poultry meat industry division of the New South Wales Farmers Association as well as the vice-president of the State body of that division. George has been a forceful and responsible spokesperson on behalf of growers in the Mangrove Mountain area. George and his brother Zac and their families have been personally affected by this outbreak.
I, as the local member, convey my sympathy to all those farmers who have been affected and to all the members of that closely-knit community on Mangrove Mountain. The effect of this dreadful outbreak goes far beyond the farmers involved; it affects every resident within that area. Unfortunately, a number of those residents have had the painful experience over the last few days of losing their backyard poultry pets, which has been traumatic for them. A total of 4.5 million commercial birds have been affected by the exercise. It has required the euthanasia of up to two million birds. The impact on the industry in my electorate has been devastating. There is no need for me to point out that the region relies heavily upon the poultry meat industry. Chicken growers and others living within the restricted area have suffered not only enormous financial loss but have had to deal with the problems of dislocation and communication restrictions while the disease is eradicated.
A number of roadblocks have been set up in the area for quarantine purposes. That has inconvenienced local residents and other people visiting the area. People have been tolerant about those roadblocks. The Minister said earlier that the Government has had few options on how to deal with this disaster. Speed has been the key to success so far, which in turn has left very limited time for wide consultation with the local community. Having said that, however, to date New South Wales Agriculture has sent out about six newsletters to local residents and other people who have deep concerns about this outbreak. I applaud the efforts of New South Wales Agriculture and mention in particular the overriding supervision of Kevin Cooper and other officers who have done a tremendous job. I applaud all the agencies involved for their ongoing commitment and effort. They have been given the responsibility of informing and consulting the community in the decision-making process, given the restrictions I outlined earlier. Their job has not been an easy one but they have carried out that task capably and competently.
Of vital importance to the people in my community has been the issue of disposal. The gravity of the task, which has required the disposal of approximately two million chickens, cannot be highlighted enough. To give an idea of the number, if laid head to head the chickens that have been destroyed would cover a distance from Sydney to the Victorian border. There has been a huge call on the local community and allocated resources not only to euthanase so many chickens but to arrange disposal. And it has all been done with speed, but not without responsibility.
Throughout the operation I have been contacted by various community groups on the issue of disposal and I have been in touch with both the Minister’s office and the Department of Agriculture to take up these concerns. Although the initial option was to burn the carcasses on site, it was feared that feathers moving up in the exhaust gases could have led to the disease spreading. As has been pointed out, this virulent disease is not only a great threat to the chicken industry but also to our beautiful and unique native bird life. It was decided therefore that the best method of disposal was to bury the chickens. The first burial site was a disused quarry that was able to hold 48 shipping containers full of carcasses. All of those shipping containers were sealed.
A second burial site was selected in Bloodtree Road, Mangrove Mountain, on the Gosford council works depot. This burial site is in sandstone, which requires careful preparation to protect the ground water. The use of the site has caused considerable community concern and I have again been in touch with the Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation and the Minister for the Environment to discuss this sensitive matter. I have been assured that high-density landfill liner, which forms a continuous impermeable membrane, is being used on the floor and up the sides of the pit. In addition, an outer membrane is being used with a further lining and compacted clay layer covering the pit to minimise the generation of leachate. Methane gas from the decomposition process will be captured within the pit.
A cross-agency committee comprising New South Wales Agriculture, the Environment Protection Authority, the Department of Land and Water Conservation and community representatives is also being established with a defined ongoing role in monitoring the process. From a disease perspective I have been assured that the preferred option has always been to bury the carcasses as per the AUSTVETPLAN protocol. As I outlined earlier, the options have always been limited. The need for speed throughout the operation has inevitably put the local community under enormous strain, and I thank them for their tolerance. I also thank all the agencies involved and acknowledge the totally professional manner in which they have conducted the operations.
I also take the opportunity to thank the Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation who, shortly after the announcement of an outbreak of the disease at Mangrove Mountain, took time off his busy schedule to visit the control centre at Kariong and a number of farmers who were affected by the outbreak. I accompanied the Minister on those visits and we were impressed with the work being done at the control centre and at the farms. It was very traumatic for the families we spoke with. Both the Minister and I took the opportunity to thank all those involved in this major operation and we were very impressed with what they were doing.
I take this opportunity to thank also the Minister for Fair Trading for calling on the banks to show leniency during this outbreak by allowing the farmers time to pay back their mortgages. This is a great opportunity for the banks to redeem themselves to the people of New South Wales. We have debated in this House the loss of standing once enjoyed by the banks because of the closure of branches throughout the State without regard to the affected communities. If they demonstrate some leniency towards the farmers who are affected by this outbreak it will show that they do have a heart after all and care for people.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be allowed to speak in this debate. It has been a traumatic time for my constituents at Mangrove Mountain, who have demonstrated again that they can rise above these setbacks. I hope that the disease will be eradicated shortly. Once again I place on record my thanks to all those involved in the operation.
(Gosford) [4.05 p.m.]: The outbreak of Newcastle disease on the Central Coast, especially at Mangrove Mountain, is an enormous tragedy for the growers, the local residents and the people of the Central Coast. The response of the volunteers, the Federal Government and the State agencies has been in many ways praiseworthy. However, it is clear that the response so far to help people affected by the outbreak is insufficient. I thank the Minister for Agriculture for providing to me, my colleague the Hon. Michael Gallacher and other members of Parliament a briefing a couple of weeks ago at the centre at Kariong. I also thank the many volunteers who are involved in this program for giving up their time and for their commitment in their service to other people. I also acknowledge the work being done by Gosford City Council to assist in the control of this outbreak of disease.
However, the issue that the House must debate this afternoon is whether further measures are needed to assist those affected by the disease, and the clean-up. Residents at Mangrove Mountain are living with an unbearable stench caused by the burial of carcasses and no attempt is being made to compensate them or to address their concerns. Anyone who has experienced the stench of hundreds of thousands of decaying chicken carcasses, which gradually break down into a liquid form, would know the terrible blight that is being inflicted upon people, especially the residents of Bloodtree Road and adjacent areas.
The livelihood of dozens of growers has been effectively destroyed. By not being able to raise chickens they are denied a cash flow and an income. They are denied a means to support themselves and their families, but they still have a responsibility to feed their families and pay their mortgages and all the other enormous costs associated with a chicken processing farm. These people need assistance, and they need it now. I am reliably informed that a number of them are feeding their families on food parcels, because the State Government has still not declared the area a natural disaster area and is still not providing necessary assistance through the Department of Community Services. The Federal Government has done its bit. The State Government is failing.
The Premier, who was so visible on the Central Coast in February and March, has been invisible in April and May. The area has had one visit from a State Minister, the Minister for Agriculture. All the other Ministers have been silent, despite the terrible plight of the people at Mangrove Mountain. There has been no response at all from this Government other than to kill the chickens and to continue to work with the Federal Government on a program of disease containment. We need more than disease containment; we need help for humans. I would have hoped that the honourable member for Peats, in whose electorate this terrible disaster is taking place, would have addressed the issue of how to best help those who are affected. How do we get them reasonable compensation for the loss of their property and livelihood? How do we get them reasonable compensation for living with the unbearable stench caused by the decaying carcasses of hundreds of thousands of chickens, which, as the honourable member said, if laid end to end would stretch from here to the Victorian border? The Premier has been noticeable by his absence. The Central Coast Express Advocate
, the media organ of the Central Coast, today wrote:
Premier ducks chicken issue.
Where are you, Bob Carr, as the Central Coast chicken industry bears the brunt of a fight being waged in the national interest? Before the March election it was not safe to walk the streets without falling over the Premier, whose mantra for the Central Coast was "Jobs, jobs, jobs". Well, we are dying here, Mr Carr, and your Government should have acted weeks ago and declared a natural disaster. The Federal Government has finally recognised how serious the situation is with accelerated benefits. The rest of the State might have forgotten the Newcastle disease issue now the initial flurry is over, but the coast can’t. These are our people in shock, our people having to ask for food handouts and our people not knowing what the future holds for them.
It is a rag.
The honourable member for Peats interjected, "It is a rag." The Central Coast Express Advocate
is not a rag. It circulates to 200,000 people on the Central Coast and voices the concerns that many of them feel. The honourable member can call it a rag, but that is not the view of the ordinary people on the Central Coast. I move:
That the motion be amended by the addition of the following paragraph:
(4) urges the Premier to visit the affected area and ensure that appropriate assistance is provided for growers in necessitous circumstances.
The Opposition does not seek to make the issue a political issue because it is clearly above politics; it seeks to have a debate in the House, which is the
responsible forum, to ensure that the Premier is conscious of the needs of the people and that the Government responds to their needs. So far the Opposition has heard nothing about how the Government will help them. The poultry industry on the Central Coast produces 10 per cent of the poultry produced in New South Wales. Of the 2,000 jobs threatened by the failure of the Mangrove Mountain chicken industry, 650 jobs are at stake at Chickadee Chickens alone in the electorate of the honourable member for The Entrance. The Opposition hopes to hear from the honourable member in this debate what will be done for Chickadee Chickens to ensure that the jobs are maintained.
In addition to the 650 jobs in jeopardy at Chickadee Chickens over 1,000 other jobs are at stake. The 1.9 million chickens lost represent 80 per cent of the poultry produced in the Gosford district now affected by the outbreak. The chicken industry has a market value of $2 billion a year. The Central Coast Regional Development Corporation and the two Central Coast councils are seeking to address the crisis. All the Opposition is asking is for the Premier to visit the area, meet the people, and see for himself their suffering so that he can direct the Department of Community Services to take remedial measures to help individuals and the Department of Agriculture to help the farmers.
The job of the Department of Agriculture is not simply to kill chickens; it is to make sure that the chicken industry survives in New South Wales and on the Central Coast. It can do that only by restoring stability to the industry and giving farmers in this necessitous time the chance to make up the gap in their livelihood, to look after their mortgages, to maintain their farms and, in the final analysis, to feed their own families. It is appalling that the Government should approach this crisis in self-defence mode and not pro-actively seek to assist those who are suffering.
It is appalling that the Opposition had to introduce the debate this afternoon. My motion was the first motion on the agenda. The Minister for Agriculture moved his motion after I had moved mine. The honourable member for Peats and other members spoke only after the Opposition and the Central Coast Express Advocate
raised the issue today. I would hope that all people of goodwill and the Government would respond to the crisis on the Central Coast and assist those who are suffering. If they do not, they will stand condemned not only by the people of New South Wales but by the people of the Central Coast.
(Wyong - Parliamentary Secretary) [4.14 p.m.]: Several members pointed out, the honourable member for Peats most eloquently, that when rural industry on the Central Coast is affected it affects the entire Central Coast. The crisis in the poultry industry has been one of those critical issues that brings the community together. The Salvation Army, the St Vincent de Paul Society and other non-government agencies are working with the Department of Community Services. It is incorrect for the honourable member to say that the Department of Community Services is not helping, because it is helping families, particularly in the Mangrove Mountain area, by providing personal and financial counselling and working in close collaboration with the aforementioned non-government agencies.
One of the great things about the Central Coast is the large number of volunteer organisations, such as the Rural Fire Service, that have come to the party to assist the people of Mangrove Mountain with the tremendous operation to ensure the protection of an industry worth $1.4 billion to the Australian economy. Some 40 per cent of Australian poultry production occurs in New South Wales. It is against this backdrop that honourable members have today seen nothing more than a stunt from the honourable member for Gosford. He came into the House to give what would laughingly pass as a contribution, but has now departed. Before question time today the honourable member wanted to give notice of a motion to debate the issue tomorrow.
The Government wanted to debate the crisis in the poultry industry today and moved the motion because of its importance. The honourable member for Gosford was so unconcerned about it that he wanted to wait until tomorrow or perhaps Thursday fortnight. He used the words "natural disaster" twice in his contribution and quoted from the Central Coast Express Advocate
. I also have a quotation from page 5 of that newspaper, which today reported that the honourable member for Gosford had said that he planned to make contact with the Premier and have the Premier "use the powers available to him under the Natural Disasters Act".
The honourable member for Gosford told us not more than five minutes ago that he had read the Central Coast Express Advocate
. I presume that he would have seen the article. There is no such Act. The shadow attorney general in this State, a learned lawyer, is talking about an Act that does not exist. There is no natural disasters Act on the statute books of New South Wales. There is a natural disaster agreement between the States and the
Commonwealth, but there is no provision for animal diseases to be included. I know because I have checked it thoroughly. However, all the States have to be involved in this process, and New South Wales will put forward $1.8 million in compensation for the people of Mangrove Mountain who are affected by the disease. It is critical to make sure, as the honourable member for Barwon pointed out in his contribution, that the growers get a fair share of the compensation package and that it does not all go to the processors who invariably, as most honourable members know, are the big people in the industry.
As the honourable member for Barwon pointed out, we do not know how many farmers have been affected. Many of these businesses are family operations. They are run by mum and dad, and the kids help out too. They provide the sheds and the labour. They are an integral part of the industry. But because of a legal quirk there is a problem that the Minister for Agriculture is working to resolve expeditiously. Today the member for the Federal electorate of Robertson, Mr Lloyd, was quoted in the Central Coast Express Advocate
talking about income assistance over a three-month period for affected farmers.
It is unclear whether farmers who sold chickens to the processor but whose chickens have not been used, processed or sold are covered by the income assistance offered by the Federal Government. I note that the honourable member for Barwon is nodding his head in agreement. He is a co-operative sort of person. Unfortunately, the honourable member for Gosford is not so co-operative. We would be much better off if he, rather than grandstanding, worked with us on these bread and butter issues to ensure that we get a real result for the people who are hurting.
Although the honourable member for Gosford has been a member of this House since 1988, to ensure that he has an adequate education today I recommend that he read a document produced by the New South Wales State Emergency Management Committee, dated November 1996, entitled, "The New South Wales Emergency Management Arrangements". I have previously stated that New South Wales has no natural disasters Act. However, there are provisions in the New South Wales State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989, which was introduced by the Greiner Government, of which the honourable member for Gosford was a member, that cover exotic animal diseases. The brochure states that the combat agency in relation to animal health emergencies is New South Wales Agriculture.
The honourable member for Peats has worked in close co-operation, as have I and the honourable member for The Entrance, with the people from New South Wales Agriculture to ensure that this problem is dealt with as quickly as possible so that the best possible result is achieved and this important industry is restored to full production. I hope that the honourable member for Gosford will take time out to read the information available in the New South Wales State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989. He is a lawyer, so I hope that he will acquaint himself with the statutes of this State. In his capacity as shadow Attorney General his time would be spent more productively if he worked co-operatively with others rather than running a scare campaign.
The honourable member for Gosford did not want this issue debated today; he did not think it was important enough. He thought it should be put off until tomorrow. The resolution of the problems resulting from this outbreak of Newcastle disease needs the support of all members of this House. We should not play political games. As many members have pointed out, families are hurting. There are financial considerations. The Minister for Fair Trading has been involved in negotiations with the banks. The Minister for Agriculture is doing everything he possibly can to resolve the matter. I note that the honourable member for Barwon, the shadow minister, has been co-operating to resolve the problem. I hope that the $1.8 million compensation from New South Wales, which is part of the $8.5 million from all Australian governments, can be given to the farmers as quickly as possible.
Mr R. W. TURNER
(Orange) [4:23 p.m.]: I speak with heartfelt sympathy for the chicken growers in the Mangrove Mountain area. I was a chicken grower in the central west and, prior to that, in The Hills district of Sydney. For every day of the past 30 years I have been aware of the risk of an outbreak of Newcastle disease. It has often been spoken about in the industry. There has been talk of the availability of a vaccine for Newcastle disease. But that is not the answer. If a vaccine were developed and introduced, everything would have to be vaccinated forever and a day. The life of a broiler chicken is only a few weeks, so it would not be economical. The best and only way to overcome the problem is to contain and eliminate the disease, and the Government has acknowledged that.
So far as we know, the disease has been contained at this state. However, last year we were hopeful that an outbreak of Newcastle disease had been contained. Unfortunately, it has now been
proven that it was not contained. One of the few consolations is that the disease has been contained in the Mangrove Mountain area. One can only imagine what would have happened to the New South Wales industry - and, perhaps, to the Australian industry - if such an outbreak had occurred in the Sydney metropolitan area around the main areas of chicken growing: Liverpool, Windsor, Richmond and Blacktown. The present outbreak had the potential to be a much bigger disaster.
Earlier speakers in this debate have dealt with most of the issues. The honourable member for Wyong tried to belittle the significance of the debate when he questioned whether it was a natural disaster, whether it was covered by an Act or whether it was covered by a Federal-State agreement. But that is not the issue. Those who are affected by the disease do not care what the disease is covered by; all they want is assistance. They do not care where it comes from but they must get some assistance. I am hopeful that the chicken growers will be affected for only three months. But it is not only the chicken growers for whom I feel sympathy. One chicken grower in the affected area is an egg producer. He will be in much more dire straits than the chicken growers because it takes a long time to get pullets back into production and laying reasonable sized eggs that the producer can market.
I hope that he will be given special consideration. His name is a Mark Swayne. He is a small producer. I do not know what facilities he has to get back into production. I hope that the authorities and his bank are sympathetic to his situation. The significance of the debate was also belittled by the way in which everyone rubbished the banks and, to some extent, praised one bank. I can only assume that the banks are genuine when they say that they will look at each individual customer. I would hope that most of the banks have already made some arrangements with the customers. I do not believe any of them would want any producer to go down because of this natural disaster.
The importance of the chicken industry to the Central Coast area has been acknowledged: it accounts for 70 per cent of the area’s income. Farmers are not the only ones affected; their employees are also suffering. Farmers cannot retain or pay their employees. Once the farms have been destocked they have to be disinfected and readied for the next batch of chickens. That takes time and effort. Most of the farms are fairly large and need employees to carry out those tasks. One can only hope that employees who have to be put off will also receive relief because they also have families, mortgages and financial commitments.
I am pleased to acknowledge the package produced by Mark Vaile, the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. One can only hope that the two governments will work together to help these farmers in their hour of need and forget about political differences. As has been pointed out earlier, millions of dollars have been invested not only in stock but in sheds, land, farms, houses and equipment. In a number of cases those assets are heavily mortgaged. The Government will have to assess compensation packages to cover future disasters and institute programs to minimise the threat of future disease outbreaks.
I understand that future compensation packages have been discussed for disasters concerning chickens, beef, sheep and other livestock. When disease outbreaks occur, they must be controlled. A compensation package should be put in place to eliminate to the greatest extent possible the risk of a recurrence of similar disasters in the future. I understand that for future disasters criteria for intensive industries will apply and farmers will have to comply with a set of guidelines to obtain government assistance.
If such a scheme were applied to the current circumstances, it would mean that farmers would not only have to restock to get back into business again but also for the next few years would be under pressure to redesign their sheds to ensure that as much as possible they minimise the risk of contamination. We should not forget that smaller industries such as ostrich and emu farmers also operate in the area and that wild ducks fly in to use their dams, providing potential for the spread of Newcastle disease or other diseases back into the district.
I am sure that the criteria for future disaster relief is on the Government’s agenda. I have no objection to the criteria being tightened up in the future. Of more immediate importance, however, is the provision to affected farmers of as much relief as possible so that, hopefully, as many farmers as possible - perhaps all of them - will be assisted back into business.
During this debate the question has arisen whether Inghams, Steggles, Baiada or the grower owns the chickens. I suggest that those issues should be overtaken by a genuine concern for getting these farmers back into business again. I know that the operating margins are always very slim. Most farmers are very efficient but they need all the
assistance they can possibly get. I acknowledge that, generally, the media has acted reasonably responsibly in that not too much loose talk or misreporting has been taking place about the transfer of this disease from place to place or from chickens to human beings.
There have been a couple of small reports of that type but, fortunately, they have not got out of hand. The present disaster could lead to a much greater disaster if the details were misreported. There could be a backlash of reduced consumer confidence and the consumers may stop buying the product. An example of that type of backlash occurred a couple of years ago in the United Kingdom with the outbreak of mad cow disease. The beef industry was brought to its knees purely because of irresponsible reporting.
In England approximately five years before that disaster, the chicken industry had a similar experience when a member of Parliament made a completely irresponsible statement with the result that the British Government had to provide a rescue package worth $100 million. Fortunately, that has not occurred in relation to this disaster and I hope that it does not happen. At this stage, the most important matter is the provision of relief to all growers. The Government must accept that the outbreak of the disease is a natural disaster and agree to help those farmers as much help as possible, and as quickly as possible.
(The Entrance) [4.33 p.m.]: I am pleased to participate in this debate because this disaster is an important issue in the lives of the people who live on the Central Coast. The way the outbreak has been dealt with has provided an example of the sense of community that exists on the Central Coast. Another example of that sense of community was the way the people on the Central Coast dealt with the 1994 fires. On that occasion as well the community came together to act in its own best interests and to serve the needs of the entire Central Coast community.
I congratulate all the volunteers on their efforts over the last month. At times there were a thousand volunteers on any one day who were dealing with this natural disaster. I also congratulate Gosford City Council and its staff for their actions and prompt response to the disaster. I commend also the emergency services that have been involved in the massive military-type operation, particularly in the logistics of quarantining the area, yet allowing people to enter and leave and to participate in their normal community activities.
During the crisis I had the opportunity to be present at the totally bipartisan briefing given at Kariong. In attendance were the Federal Liberal member for Robertson, the present Leader of the Coalition in the New South Wales Legislative Council, Mike Gallacher, the honourable member for Gosford, the honourable member for Peats and other State and Federal members. At that meeting the clear approach taken by everyone present was one of wanting to do what was best in the interest of the entire community.
I freely acknowledge that at that stage I had no great depth of knowledge of the operations of the industry. A comprehensive briefing was given by the people who were managing this outbreak, and anyone would have been impressed at the competence and commitment of the hundreds of people who attended that day. They were determined to get the best result for the local community, the State and for Australia. Previous speakers have pointed out that this issue not only affects the Central Coast: it affects the whole of the State of New South Wales and, indeed, the whole of Australia.
I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Richard Amery, who also attended the briefing, for responding to the urgency of the issue and for visiting the site. He was given a first-hand briefing on the issue. He also took the time to visit chicken growers and to speak to members of the local community. It has been mentioned already that as the responsible Minister he had carriage of the matter. He was on site and he responded to the needs of the community. There was a complete and total response from the Government on this issue.
As I said earlier, the Central Coast community, in common with regional communities elsewhere - as members representing other country areas will agree - has the attitude, philosophy and ability to pull together for the greater good of the whole community. Up until this debate, management of the outbreak has been proceeding in accordance with that approach. The attitude of the newspapers has always been supportive of a resolution of the matter, and that has been the attitude of every local member of Parliament. That support has been offered not only in the best interests of the Central Coast but also in the best interests of the State and the nation.
Only one member on the Opposition side has taken a negative attitude. Everybody else has adopted the co-operative and responsible attitude that the resolution of this problem requires. I emphasise that up until today, that is the way the
matter has been handled. I hope that when this debate concludes, that attitude will continue to prevail. It is my belief that only in that way can the best response to this problem be obtained.
A number of sensitive issues arose during the outbreak and provided an example of the attitude of the Government and of the incident management team. Unfortunately, a major personal issue for some individuals arose in relation to backyard aviaries containing companion animals and pets that became part of the solution to the problem. The decision to euthanase backyard poultry and birds in aviaries at Mangrove Mountain ridge was the responsibility of the incident management team. It was action that was taken reluctantly and it was taken only after a trial had been conducted. The incident management team decided that that was the appropriate action to take. As a former chicken grower, the honourable member for Orange would appreciate that the management team had in mind the best interests of the industry when that recommendation was made.
On the other side, the humane side of government, the management team had to consider the impact on the local community and the families already traumatised by what was happening to their industry and their area. The management team conducted trials before taking the major decision. Unfortunately, the experts advised that the steps were necessary to wipe out the Newcastle disease with any certainty, for the ongoing health of the chicken industry in Australia. The steps were taken only after careful consideration, and with a caring attitude to people in the local community.
An industry reference group consisting of senior industry, government and animal experts has indicated a clear preference for the total depopulation of all birds from the restricted area except those birds which are continuously kept indoors. Unfortunately, this is the decision that has been made and this concept is currently being followed in the area. The State, Territory and Federal government cost-sharing arrangement of about $8.5 million will cover compensation for the birds based on an agreed market value. But there is no way of putting a value on a pet to an individual. We are considering these matters and we are responding positively.
I personally sympathise with the aviary bird owners on the Mangrove Mountain ridge in their tragic plight. I can only emphasise again that this is a sad but necessary operation to eradicate this deadly disease. The poultry industry in Australian is worth about $1.4 billion a year and that valuable industry cannot be put at risk. As many people now know, Newcastle disease affects only birds but it can spread very quickly and very easily as it is airborne. It can even travel on dust particles in the wind. Indeed, it has been pointed out to me that there are no clear constraints to manage the incident such that there can be absolute certainty that all the actions taken will result in the eradication of the incident.
Therefore, it is important that we take all precautions to fully eradicate the outbreak and reduce any potential risk of recurrence. As I said earlier, this is an example of the responsible, positive, humane attitude that has been adopted by the Government and its agencies in regard to this incident on the Central Coast. This is an incident that has been positively responded to by both the Government and local members, both Federal and State. Up until this debate today there had been an attitude of co-operative bipartisanship. As I said earlier, I hope that attitude will continue in the future. Like the honourable member for Wyong, I am disappointed - I am sure the whole of the Central Coast will be disappointed - that the honourable member for Gosford has taken the opportunity today to attack the Government in some way over this issue.
Unfortunately, it is a cheap shot. It is a disappointment because in the last State election all members on the Central Coast made a clear commitment to work together for the advancement of the region. The honourable member for Gosford is now eating in the Chamber. That shows his attitude to this issue. It is in the best interests of the Central Coast that we all work positively together for our local community. [Time expired
(Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [4.43 p.m.], in reply: I thank the members representing the electorates of Barwon, Peats, Wyong, Orange, and The Entrance and the Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Sport and Recreation for their contributions. I do not thank the honourable member for Gosford; I acknowledge his contribution. The amendment moved by the Opposition is rejected. It is not supported. If ever a tacky amendment has been moved to a motion it is the amendment moved by the honourable member for Gosford. I cannot think of words to describe his contribution as opposed to the contributions of other members.
He is the type of person - he probably represents a number of people in the community like this - who, seeing a fireman drag a child from a burning house, goes back to his office and complains because the fireman was not wearing a hat. He is the type of member who sees bad in everything that is done. The honourable member for Peats, the honourable member for Wyong and the honourable member for The Entrance made positive contributions as the good, regional, local members that they are. They are continuing to work with departments and agencies to get the best deal possible for all the people affected by the disease outbreak. As the honourable member for The Entrance said, there has been a complete and total response to it.
What has been the contribution of the honourable member for Gosford? His latest remarks relate to natural disasters; last week he was talking about a state of emergency. He is using these types of terms and trying to find classifications or words that are not being used. He tries to find out who has not visited the area. He talks about these things instead of the details of the Newcastle disease eradication program. That is where he is coming from.
If we take his arguments as being serious, are we to say that because the Prime Minister did not visit Mangrove Mountain there has not been a commitment from the Federal Government? That would be an outrageous claim. The Federal Government weighed in with immediate assistance and is considering an application from the New South Wales Government for exceptional circumstances funding. I do not for a moment believe that the Prime Minister has to take a helicopter to the Central Coast to prove that there is a commitment from the Federal Government. The Federal Government’s commitment is in dollars and cents. I congratulate the Federal Government on its quick response and its co-operation with the State Government.
When the outbreak was notified State Government officials were the first ones into the area. People who have been following the debate would appreciate that over days and weeks there has been an elevation of the debate and a change in circumstances. The honourable member for Orange asked what would happen if the disease were detected in western Sydney. It was detected in western Sydney at a farm in my electorate, in Blacktown near Dean Park. It was destocked. We did not need to go through all the politics of getting the Premier or the Prime Minister out there. We followed the protocol for an exotic disease outbreak as in this case. There was an outbreak near Galston and another at Rylstone. The same process was followed. A natural disaster was not declared. Natural disasters have been defined by governments as relating to floods, bush fires and hailstorms - in other words, natural disasters. This outbreak was not defined as a natural disaster because it is not a natural disaster; it is an exotic disease outbreak.
If we had a few hours or weeks to spend we could perhaps educate the honourable member for Gosford about this. Classifying the incident as a natural disaster, a state of emergency or some sort of war zone as the honourable member would like would not mean a single extra penny for the farmers on Mangrove Mountain. To get extra assistance they need the Federal Government to accept that this is an exceptional circumstance. We have built a case that this is an exceptional circumstance. People involved in agricultural and rural industries would be aware of what is involved. We applied for exceptional circumstance funding in relation to the Crookwell bushfires. Unfortunately, that was knocked back because the criteria were not met. At the moment applications are being investigated in relation to frost damage in the south-west of the State.
We have also had a number of other floods and, of course, droughts. We have looked at those sorts of circumstances. Each event comes under a different classification, on formulas worked out between the Federal and State governments. Any argument that we cannot get extra help and we cannot do this unless we make some other declaration is tacky politics at its worst and probably the sort of politics we would not like to see too much more of.
It was suggested that a lot more people could be involved in this and that a lot more could be done. The organisations involved, about whom I have been advised so far, include Gosford City Council, Wyong Shire Council, the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority Forstaff Recruitment, the Maritime Services Board, St John Ambulance, New South Wales Agriculture, the New South Wales Police Service, New South Wales Rural Fire Services, the Wildlife Information and Rescue Services, Coastal Patrol, New South Wales Health and P & 0 Catering.
The New South Wales Public Works Department, the New South Wales Department of
Transport, the Queensland, South Australian and Victorian departments of agriculture, the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service, Baiada chickens, the departments of the navy and air force, the New South Wales Department of Land and Water Conservation, the Salvation Army, State Forests, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the rural lands protection boards, the State Emergency Services, the Voluntary Rescue Association and the Department of Community Services were also involved.
The honourable member for Gosford called for assistance from the Department of Community Services. That department is already providing assistance - that is how well-informed he is as one of the local members. Inghams, the Queensland Fire Rescue Service, the New South Wales Fire Brigade, the Hunter Water Board, Newcastle City Council, Telstra, the Rural Financial Counselling Service, the Australian Egg Industry Association, the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, the Australian Veterinary Association, the New South Wales Ambulance Service, the New South Wales Farmers Association, the RSPCA and the District Emergency and Management Officer have also been involved.
I apologise for any companies or services I have failed to mention. Numerous companies, including local motel operators and catering companies, have offered their assistance. The honourable member for Gosford said we should have more people involved. That is the sort of contribution we are getting from the Opposition. The people of New South Wales passed judgments on that type of politics only a few weeks ago. That is why the Opposition can barely form a combo these days, let alone a chorus of some sort of debate. That is the type of performance that made the seat of the honourable member for Gosford fairly comfortable. It would have to be one of the most marginal seats in the State. It is to be hoped that he has learned something from his four years in Opposition and many more years to come.
I thank the Opposition, led by the honourable member for Barwon, the shadow minister for agriculture, for its contribution. The comments of the honourable member for Barwon and the honourable member for Orange are perhaps more representative of what the Opposition feels about this case and I hope that is the real position. The honourable member for Barwon said he hopes we will not have another outbreak of this nature. We all share his hope. However, there are no guarantees. Any subsequent major outbreak of Newcastle disease in this country will no doubt have the authorities going back to the drawing board to look at the classification of the disease. I hope that we will never have to have that meeting to discuss the status of the disease. Whilst it is an exotic disease, we have protocols in place: destocking programs, compensation and so on.
All the issues raised by honourable members will be taken on board by my agencies. If there are areas in which we can improve the system or rewrite the protocols and emergency plans we will do so. This has been the biggest project of its type in this State’s history. Therefore, it would be foolish to say that we could not learn something from the events arising out of the outbreak during the past five or six weeks. I conclude by saying that to talk about the Premier’s visit is as silly as saying that the Federal Government does not have any commitment to this because the Prime Minister has not been there. That is just stupid. My department will deal with exotic disease outbreaks not only in the plant industries but also in the livestock industries. I do not expect the Premier or the Prime Minister to make some sort of cameo appearance to indicate their support for the Government’s program. It is not necessary; it is tacky politics. [Time expired.
Question - That the amendment be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mr Armstrong Mr D. L. Page
Mr Barr Mr Piccoli
Mr Brogden Mr Richardson
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Rozzoli
Mr Debnam Ms Seaton
Mr George Mrs Skinner
Mr Glachan Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Souris
Mr Hazzard Mr Stoner
Ms Hodgkinson Mr Tink
Mr Humpherson Mr Torbay
Dr Kernohan Mr J. H. Turner
Mr Kerr Mr R. W. Turner
Mr McGrane Mr Webb
Mr Maguire Mr Windsor
Mr Oakeshott Tellers
Mr O’Doherty Mr Fraser
Mr O’Farrell Mr R. H. L. Smith
Ms Allan Mr McManus
Mr Amery Mr Markham
Ms Andrews Mr Martin
Mr Aquilina Ms Meagher
Mr Ashton Ms Megarrity
Mr Bartlett Mr Mills
Mr Black Mr Moss
Mr Brown Mr Nagle
Miss Burton Mr Newell
Mr Campbell Ms Nori
Mr Carr Mr Orkopoulos
Mr Collier Mr E. T. Page
Mr Crittenden Mr Price
Mr Debus Dr Refshauge
Mr Face Ms Saliba
Mr Gaudry Mr Scully
Mr Gibson Mr W. D. Smith
Mr Greene Mr Stewart
Mrs Grusovin Mr Tripodi
Ms Harrison Mr Watkins
Mr Hickey Mr Whelan
Mr Hunter Mr Woods
Mr Iemma Mr Yeadon
Mrs Lo Po’ Tellers
Mr Lynch Mr Anderson
Mr McBride Mr Thompson
Mr Merton Mrs Beamer
Question resolved in the negative.
Motion agreed to.