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Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray

1 June 2004

Does Labor have its sights set on the $900m drought fund and what about water?

Drought affected farmers are beginning to worry about where the Labor Party stands on drought relief and water policy, according to Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage.

"Many families are still in the grips of the worst drought on record and hundreds of farmers are dependant on the $900 million EC program that literally puts food on the table," Dr Stone said.

"In the Murray electorate, this amounts to over $1 million a fortnight for around 1,000 farm households. On 9 December this year, this round of funding for these families comes to an end. We hope to succeed with another two years of funding, given the continued drought.

"Farmers are understandably very nervous. They have heard Labor wants to cut taxes and increase spending. And they have also heard that Labor plans to cut 13 current government programs, many of which are regionally focussed.

"They worry that Mark Latham's silence on policies for rural and regional Australia are the death knell for the $900 million EC program, given the Labor Party's increased spending and tax cut promises need a whack of funding from somewhere to fill the black hole.

"Farming communities are also being pummelled by the current debates on the Living Murray, the Snowy Joint Government Agreement and the National Water Initiative. They want to know where the Labor Party stands on water policy.

"Is a future Labor government committed to the National Water Initiative, which holds out the hope of secured water entitlements and a better fit between consumption and the environment? And where does Labor think they will find the 1,500 gigalitres they have promised for the Murray River?

"There are more than one million Australians who depend on the water of this mighty river system and while they understand the need for a sustainable environment, they want to know if Labor's proposal includes investing in water supply systems savings or if they would prefer to enter the market to compete with irrigators and urban water suppliers.

The Labor Party suffers from not representing a single rural electorate. Instead it is city-centric and union dominated. However, this is no excuse for ignorance or for ignoring the issues, Dr Stone said.

"Australians deserve to know that the landscape and the elements that interact to shape and protect that landscape will be understood, preserved and protected by any future Australian government, just as they are by the Howard Government," Dr Stone said.

Commonwealth of Australia