The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 15:35 ): Getting the South Australian Labor government to spend money in our regions and on our primary industries sectors is almost as difficult as drawing blood from a stone. It is all politics with this tired, old South Australian Labor Party. While the Labor Party does not believe there are any votes for it in our regions, I am afraid these regions will continue to get the raw end of the deal.
The agribusiness sector is the backbone of the South Australian economy, employing one in five South Australians and contributing some $18.2 billion to our state's economy. In 2014-15, wheat was South Australia's biggest export, closely followed by alcoholic beverages. In fact, the agriculture, food, wine and fisheries sectors were responsible for 11 of South Australia's top 20 exports. Yet, time and again, this government neglects and ignores this sector.
As all members are aware, Australian dairy farmers, and South Australian dairy farmers especially, are in the midst of a crisis. While this issue no longer occupies the metropolitan media cycle, make no mistake, this is still an issue very much affecting our farmers and our regions. In times of crisis, it is for the government to show leadership. The federal government did so and announced a $579 million dairy relief package. The Victorian Labor government did so and announced an $11.4 million dairy relief package. Then cue the South Australian Labor government's response: they could only muster a measly $60,000 of support for South Australia's 250-plus dairy farmers. A measly $60,000 of support for an industry that generated more than $930 million worth of revenue for South Australia last year. To say this response was inadequate would be an understatement.
As recently as last week, at the regional summit held in Mount Gambier, our state's dairy farmers were calling for financial relief through a hand in cost reduction, more funding for mental health, and clarity around the regulations in accessing the $5 million of federal government concessional loans available to South Australian dairy farmers. However, as yet, the government has ignored their concerns and has not contributed another cent in providing South Australian dairy farmers with much needed relief.
The $60,000 state government response was enough to get a headline a few weeks ago when this issue dominated the metropolitan news cycle, but is not enough to support our dairy industry. The very least this government could do is to ensure it does not repeat the abysmal failure that was its attempt to roll out the Farm Finance Concessional Loans and Drought Concessional Loans. Under this government's watch, only $3.7 million of a possible $60 million was distributed to South Australian farmers. Only six loans were delivered in South Australia under Labor's watch, six out of a national total of 730—I will repeat that: six loans out of a national total of 730. That is less than 1 per cent of the available funds.
Minister Bignell's department released a statement in March saying that the South Australian government had contributed $500,000 to drought relief measures, and they released that statement as if they were proud of it. Five hundred thousand dollars of financial support to tackle one of the biggest issues to ever face the primary industries sector is just an embarrassment. Five hundred thousand dollars of support for an industry that employs one in five South Australians and contributes more than $18 billion to the state's economy. Five hundred thousand dollars of support at a time when we have seen the lowest ever recorded rainfall in parts of the South-East over the last 42 months. If that statistic does not exemplify Labor's city-centric focus and it's disdain for our regions and our farmers, I do not know what does. Again, there are no votes in the regions for Labor so why would they contribute funding?
Only last week, we saw minister Bignell's childish response to the federal government's forestry announcement. The federal government announced it would invest $4 million for a national institute for forests products innovation. This funding is to be matched by the industry to the tune of $4 million and requires $2 million of funding from the Tasmanian and South Australian governments.
The institute is intended to be based in Mount Gambier in South Australia's Green Triangle region. The Tasmanian government immediately committed the required funding. Meanwhile, here in South Australia, minister Bignell is either hamstrung by his cabinet colleagues or insists on playing politics. In a radio interview last week, the minister said he would not commit to the required funding. He indicated that the government had not been informed nor been consulted on it, yet he was happy to say no without actually considering the program itself.
Minister Bignell's decision comes down to one of two things: either the minister had been told by his Labor colleagues there were no votes for them in Mount Gambier—so they will not be investing the $2 million in that region—or the minister is playing politics in the middle of a federal election campaign; maybe he is just Joel Fitzgibbons, the federal shadow minister's little finger puppet. Either way, South Australian regions and farmers deserve better and they are missing out under this state government.