Mr PURCELL (Western Victoria) (12:07:52) — My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Minister Pulford. In south-west Victoria we have had an exceptionally good winter with lots of rain, and within the month, with more days like today, we will have grass growing over our fences. Yesterday I was contacted by a stock and station agent from Mortlake, who said he fields many calls every day from desperate drought-affected farmers. He believes south-west Victoria is in a unique position to help some of these producers in allowing them access to drove cattle on suitable roads. For this to happen many state government departments and ministers need to be convinced, including the Minister for Roads and Road Safety, the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change and the Minister for Local Government, just to name a few. I have heard in the past all the excuses why this cannot be done, blaming other government departments and governments, but these are exceptional times for our farming community. So I therefore ask: Minister, will you help our desperate farmers and undertake to work to have the rules regarding droving temporarily relaxed?
Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture) (12:08:57) — I thank Mr Purcell for his question and for his concern about drought-affected farmers in East Gippsland and those in northern Victoria who are experiencing dry conditions — something that we had the opportunity to discuss earlier in the week in the Parliament. The point Mr Purcell raises is really important in recognising the different conditions that exist in different parts of the state. I had the opportunity to have a chat with Mr Ramsay earlier in the week similarly about just how good a season and how wet it has been in the south-west of the state, which is in such great contrast to the experience in the east of the state.
I thank Mr Purcell for the suggestion, and I thank the community member from Mortlake, the stock agent, who has made the suggestion to Mr Purcell. I think that the more people who are involved in informing a response and bringing forward their suggestions the better. But the question particularly relates to roadside grazing and so, whilst I will seek a response from the Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Minister Donnellan, on the road safety aspects of this question, I indicate that we are certainly exploring every opportunity for people in other parts of the state — certainly in the south-west, in parts of central Victoria and hopefully, with some good rains over the next couple of months, perhaps even people in parts of north-western Victoria — to be able to provide support to those who are really struggling. Of course some of those things are contingent on the weather; others of those are not.
However, relaxing the rules around roadside grazing has, I think, significant roadside safety consequences, and it is not something that the government is actively considering. We are actively considering many, many different measures to support our farmers. Just a personal reflection I cannot help but make in answering this question is that I have a family member who has lived with a not insignificant impairment for more than three decades as a result of a car accident when she was a much younger woman involving cattle on the road that was, I think, a result of a fence that was not doing its job. But these are decisions that of course we need to be very mindful of, and the risks to road users of relaxing those rules are, I think, quite significant.
That said, the suggestion, like all suggestions to support our $13 billion agriculture industry and all of the innovation and fabulous good news that the sector has to celebrate, as well as the suggestions of support for those who from time to time do suffer the adverse effects of drought and dry conditions, is welcome. As I said, I will provide some further advice from Minister Donnellan on the road safety aspects of that, but I can certainly assure the house that I am fully focused on the things that we can do, the things that our farming community right across the state can do and the community more broadly can do to support those in the state who are currently experiencing difficult conditions.
I will take the last few seconds that I have, though, to make the point that our farmers are very capable businessmen and businesswomen who are participating in a $13 billion export-focused industry with great success. There is a lot of resilience in the sector, and of course we are always very sympathetic to those who are struggling, but there is much to celebrate.
Written Response received 7 September 2018
Question asked by: Mr Purcell
Directed to: Minister for Agriculture
Asked on: 24 August 2018
The Government is actively responding to farmers experiencing drought.
VicRoads assesses applications to allow grazing stock on the road reserve of the arterial road network — taking into account road safety risks and environmental impacts.
We encourage anyone who needs to make an application to get in touch with VicRoads by calling 13 11 70.
Furthermore, many local Councils in Victoria allow grazing of livestock on local roads to support farmers and reduce fire risk. Farmers in these areas can apply for grazing permits, issued under Local Laws, with certain conditions. Councils may require a site inspection and consultation with neighbouring landholders before a permit is issued.