The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS: My question is directed to the father of the House, the Minister for Primary Industries.
I did not realise that the Minister did not know about his promotion. My question is directed to the father of the House, who doubles as the Minister for Primary Industries. Could the Minister inform the House about the locust activity across the State?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I can report that our campaign continues in full force. The number of reported hatchings dropped to 140 this week, bringing the total to more than 15,490 reports. Locust activity is currently focused around the Murray, Riverina and Hay districts as well as the Moree, Narrabri and Tamworth areas in northern New South Wales. Since the start of the campaign we have issued and used enough insecticide to treat more than 990,000 hectares. In addition, the Australian Plague Locust Commission has treated nearly 250,000 hectares in New South Wales. Today, in fact, the Department of Primary Industries is working with local police and the Roads and Traffic Authority to temporarily close a portion of the Olympic Highway near Culcairn for aerial control. This operation should last about one hour.
While on the topic of locusts, I take a moment to clarify a number of inaccurate and misleading claims made about the overall effort. First, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition claimed yesterday that during a 27 January interview on ABC's Country Hour I allegedly said farmers would "easily" be able to find the dollars needed for the pest insect destruction levy. I have a transcript of that interview and I can advise that not once did I use the word "easy" in relation to the levy. So here we have our first instance of the member making inaccurate statements to the House.
What I did say during the Country Hour interview was that the contributions by landholders to the industry fund would not be "a huge amount of money over a period of time, and over the four years". When asked if an extra $100 or $150 would be the straw that broke a few camels' backs, I responded, "Certainly not". And why is this? Because, as I stated quite clearly to the ABC, "the saving of $900 million in crops has meant that many farmers have for the first time gotten a decent crop off". The funding arrangements clearly stipulate that industry will have up to four years to repay the Government's no interest loan. We know landholders across this State have had a tough time with the drought. But we also know that the $900 million in crops and pastures saved is a direct benefit to landholders.
Secondly, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition claimed that the levy payable by Mr Graham Brown of Reola station increase by $540.11. I challenge the honourable member to produce evidence of this increase, because I have been advised that the Wanaaring board rate notices have not yet been sent out. I understand, however, that when Mr Brown's rate notice is posted it will be based on the fact that he has four separate holdings, not one as the honourable member intimated yesterday. Combined, these four holdings cover an area of over 115,000 hectares, giving Mr Brown a carrying capacity of well over 20,000 stock units.
I have consistently said that the temporary adjustment to the locust fund means that, on average, ratepayers' contributions are likely to range from between $15 and $25 in coastal districts to between $50 and $100 in western districts. This is an average based on calculations by the State Council of the Rural Lands Protection Boards [RLPB], taking into account all of the 122,000 RLPB ratepayers in the State. I am sure even the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would agree that Mr Graham Brown's combined holdings are amongst the largest in New South Wales and certainly are not representative of the average landholder in this State.
Once again the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has tried in vain to misconstrue the facts and in doing so has given inaccurate information to the House. The Carr Labor Government has continually helped farmers meet the challenges of life on the land. Throughout the extended drought, for instance, the State Government has committed over $60 million in transport subsidies, more than $10 million of which has been directed towards the Western Division. In fact, two-thirds of the ratepayers in the division have taken advantage of the scheme.
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS: I ask a supplementary question. Can the Minister elucidate his answer?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I only speculate on whether Mr Graham Brown was a recipient of some of this drought assistance from the State Government. In last night's adjournment debate the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred also to the Director of the Cobar Rural Lands Protection Board, who claimed that the board was not consulted at any time by the Minister, the Plague Locust Commission or the State Council of the Rural Lands Protection Boards about the restructured contribution. This is a monumentally inaccurate statement. I have been advised that the State Council of the Rural Lands Protection Boards provided numerous updates to its boards on this matter. This includes correspondence to all boards on 10 January, 12 January, 21 January, 1 February and 2 February. If this particular director missed these notices, I have serious doubts about his capacity to lead the board, let alone educate the ratepayers about critical issues affecting the Cobar area.
As a final demonstration of just how out of touch the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is, yesterday he did not even know that Mr Graeme Eggleston, the Department of Primary Industries' Plague Locust Commissioner was a New South Wales public servant. During yesterday's question time the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, "He's a Federal public servant." What rock has Duncan been living under that has caused him to make such a statement? Graeme Eggleston has worked with the New South Wales department since 1986—20 years serving the people of New South Wales. As New South Wales Plague Locust Commissioner, Graeme has worked his guts out during the current campaign, visiting locust-affected areas and liaising with landholders and response teams. He has been interviewed on no less than 200 occasions by radio, print and television outlets to provide updates on the drought. On all scores yesterday in relation to locusts, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition got it wrong.