Rural Assistance Schemes Bill 2016

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure this afternoon to speak on the Rural Assistance Schemes Bill 2016, and I must say that we have a record number of Nationals MPs in the house now. Prior to this there were none. They have failed to speak on a rural assistance schemes bill that you would think they would have a very deep and concerted interest in. This was really indicative because before they arrived there was only one person from rural Victoria sitting in this chamber, and that was the member for Shepparton. You have to wonder while she was here listening to these important issues, where were they? The reason she is here is that they go missing. They go missing for the people they are supposed to represent; they really do.

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr Clark — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, I believe the Deputy Speaker has already cautioned the house this afternoon about standing order 118 about imputations and personal reflections in which the honourable member on her feet was engaging. I ask you to remind her about standing order 118 and ask her to avoid making imputations against other members of the house in the course of her contribution.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Kilkenny) — Order! I bring the member back to the bill.

Ms GRALEY — I will continue to preface my comments on this bill. I grew up in a household in which my father used to sit at the table enjoying his meat and potato and his butter on his bread and saying he was the farmers’ friend. He was a man that actually believed that he should support the farmers of Victoria, because he had come from a rural background himself. I would say that one thing my dad got right when he told me he was the farmers’ friend was that he pointed out that they never got anything from The Nationals and that the Labor Party was the farmers’ best friend too. You can see, when we raise objections about this funny little sale of the rural assistance — —

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms GRALEY — Thank you very much. We know that in 2014 the commercial loan book of the Rural Finance Corporation of Victoria (RFCV) was sold to Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. We also know that at that time there were serious questions asked about how this actually happened. It was a bit of a surprise to most people. As we know, it was a bit of what we could say was a panicked fire sale of the Rural Finance Corporation of Victoria. When the sale of the RFCV was announced the coalition — yes, those people over there, The Nationals included — had no long-term plan for future delivery of rural assistance programs like drought and flood support. The fact is that — —

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms GRALEY — Members opposite might like to get up and speak about this and speak up for the people in their area. We would like to hear what they think, because the fact is that they did nothing when this happened. It was a panic fire sale, and they just sold RFCV off. We were the people that raised concerns about this. As the member for Broadmeadows said before, the opposition leader at that time had serious concerns about the process. He asked:

Who sells a $400 million asset without even going to tender?

We know the answer: the former Treasurer; the person who has a dodgy reputation for doing side deals. We were not the only ones raising these issues.

Mr Clark — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, I again draw your attention to standing order 118 and the cautions that were previously issued to the house. The honourable member is impugning the member for Malvern, and I ask you to ask her to desist.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Kilkenny) — Order! In accordance with standing order 118 there is to be no impugning of members of the house, so I ask the member to come back to the bill.

Ms GRALEY — It was not just us asking these questions. I refer to Malcom Maiden’s article in the Age of 10 May 2014 headed ‘Rural bank’s suitor was kept in the dark’. It states:

The Victorian government —

you guys opposite —

sold rural finance corporation to Bendigo and Adelaide Bank for $1.8 billion in an exclusive privately negotiated deal despite knowing other banks were interested in buying Rural Finance if it was put up for sale.

They did not know. There was a lot more commentary about that and a lot of questions asked, including questions from farmers at that time, because they were wondering how this happened. They had a very good relationship with the corporation because it did provide them with drought and flood relief. I recall one farmer saying at the time, ‘You know, they actually had a heart; they listened to our concerns and responded’.

As we know, the government has brought this bill to the house. The objective of the bill is to create a new principal act that will provide for a new statutory body, the Rural Assistance Commissioner (RAC). It will provide the RAC with the necessary objects, functions and powers to administer state and commonwealth rural schemes of assistance or other schemes on behalf of the state government of Victoria. It will facilitate the transfer of property, rights and liabilities of the RFCV to the Rural Assistance Commissioner and make provision for land held as security by the RFCV’s successor to be recorded by the registrar of titles in the name of the RFCV successor on behalf of the Crown. It will also, and this is very important, provide the Rural Assistance Commissioner the power to delegate to secretaries of other department any of its functions in relation to rural schemes of assistance.

I would like to finish my contribution by drawing to the attention of the house the terrific job that the commissioner will be able to do in advocating for the needs of rural communities. There will be a single, powerful voice in government for people, especially, as I have already referred to, those who are experiencing hardship in regional Victoria and need our help. Regional Victoria has been experiencing hardship, but I am really pleased to say that I am very proud to be a member of a government that governs for all Victorians. You only have to look at the way the Andrews Labor government got behind the dairy farmers when they were experiencing the low price for their milk. We delivered an $11.4 million support package for dairy farmers affected by the global fall in milk prices, and we have really gotten behind the industry, with the Tactics for Tight Times package and Taking Stock programs providing specialised advice and business support to enable dairy farmers to make the best decisions.

It is not just about supporting people with financial assistance in terms of supporting the way they earn their income; it is also about making sure that we are supporting farmers when they are experiencing attacks on their earning capacity that have implications for the way they live their lives and for their families as well. As parliamentary secretary to the Deputy Premier, the Minister for Education, I am very pleased that when we went in to support families that had been affected by drought over the Christmas holidays and as they returned to school, we got behind them with a back-to-school package so they could access some support for uniforms, fees and things like that — essential items — that made sure that when their kids returned to school they were not disadvantaged by not turning up in their uniform, not having the right shoes for physical education and not having those essential items that they need to make sure that their learning continues. Often these are the things that get cut back when families are struggling with the plight of the environment that often affects our farming areas and rural communities.

This is a very good bill. As I said, it is necessary because of the panicked fire sale by the previous government of the Rural Finance Corporation of Victoria. It has taken a Labor government to really think very clearly about what sort of entities should be in place of that so that our farmers and our rural communities can get the necessary and ongoing support they need. Most of all it is needed so that in a time of drought, flood or fire farmers can go to somebody that understands their concerns completely — not just the Andrews Labor government that is right behind them but the departments and the new entity as well. It is a pleasure at this stage to commend this very good bill, this very much-needed bill, to the house. I wish it speedy passage.

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