Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (14:01:53): I rise today to grieve for the drought-affected farmers of Victoria. We have a Premier that made a promise that he would actually govern for all Victorians, and as we have seen in recent times that has not been the case. That promise is about as hollow as the Premier’s promise not to increase taxes and not to bring in new taxes. All three of those promises have been proven absolutely untrue. The Premier has not governed for all Victorians, he has introduced new taxes and he has increased other taxes. As was said yesterday, the Premier has actually been to China more times than he has visited drought-affected communities in regional Victoria. He has been to China more times than he has visited those drought-affected communities. We know the Premier has insisted that all his ministers visit China at least once in the term. That is fine. That is about broadening your knowledge of the world and a major trading partner. But what I would like to see is the Premier actually also insisting that his ministers visit a drought-affected community in Victoria. I would have thought that is fair. Yes, they should go to China to broaden their knowledge of the world and our trading partners, but equally perhaps they should go to regional communities and actually see where that produce that is exported to China comes from, see the effort that farmers make, see the effort of the processing workers in those factories that turn that food into export product, see them actually do that and see the impact the drought is having on those particular communities. It would be very good if the Premier actually visited himself but equally put an edict out there that all ministers should go to these communities as well and find out what happens in those communities, particularly the drought-affected ones. We saw a couple of weeks ago the Premier actually went to Mildura. He went out to regional Victoria. I am sure he went on a charter flight and did not go on a commercial flight. That is fine; he is the Premier and he is busy, but he could have driven 20 minutes down the road and actually gone and visited the community. He could have gone down to the Millewa and met with those farmers—actually gone there and sat down with them. It would not have taken much. It would have taken 2 hours out of his diary to actually go and meet those farmers there and meet that community, and it would have meant a lot to that community to have the Premier come along and listen and actually learn what is going on up there. The community of the Millewa have had less than 10 per cent of their annual rainfall this year. It is their second failed season, and they are saying it is the worst drought since the 1944–45 drought. So it would have been a mark of respect, a mark of the man, if the Premier had actually taken the time while he was in Mildura to actually go and meet with that community. It is the same for the community of East Gippsland. Those farmers down there are coming into their third year of drought. This is their third missed season now. They are doing it really tough down there. The Premier can go to the Latrobe Valley but he cannot go any further east, it would appear, to actually meet with the farmers of East Gippsland. The two members down there, the member for Gippsland East and the member for Gippsland South, have been very passionate advocates on behalf of their communities around the drought issues. They have asked a number of times for the Premier to go down there. I have visited there a number of times. The Leader of the Opposition has visited there as well, but the Premier has not been there to meet with those particular farmers at all. It is very interesting to note that the Weekly Times more recently has started to talk about these issues: The Weekly Times understands Mr Andrews has not made an official visit to a farm outside of last year’s election campaign since June 17, 2017. I think that again just shows the lack of respect for things in regional Victoria. Ms Allan interjected. Mr WALSH: It is not small. I note the interjection from the manager of government business in the house that this is small. It is not small to those communities who are suffering through drought, who actually want a Premier to govern for all of this state and who actually want a Premier to take an interest in what they do. It is obviously too hard for the Premier to do that. If you look across the Murray River, you see the New South Wales government have actually led the way in supporting their farmers through the drought. But one of the things they have done for their farmers, which has made it harder for our farmers, is they have actually put a freight subsidy in place where they are assisting with the cost of shifting hay and shifting grain in New South Wales to feed drought-affected stock. That means that our farmers, because the Andrews government here in Victoria will not support them, are at a competitive disadvantage. I have noticed the number of hay trucks constantly going through Echuca over the river, where the New South Wales government is actually helping pay for that particular freight. From 1 July this year the clock started again, where New South Wales farmers qualified for up to $40 000 per farm to assist with the transport of hay and fodder. So our farmers are at a significant disadvantage. If you look at the member for Gippsland East’s electorate, the distance to take hay to East Gippsland is almost more than it is to New South Wales, so they are at a really significant disadvantage around that. It is all going north. The Minister for Agriculture here in Victoria says, ‘Don’t you worry about that. That’s fine. We’ve actually got grants of $2500 and $3500 for farmers’. I do not know how $2500 or $3500 equates with a $40 000 freight subsidy per farm, plus the other support that is there for New South Wales farmers. The last time we had a drought in Victoria back in the early 2000s the then government had assistance with shire rates and had assistance with the fixed water charges for irrigators and stock in domestic supply. There was $144 million put into the assistance with fixed water charges and there was $47 million put into the municipal rate subsidy. They were support measures that farmers actually appreciated. They were support measures that were easy to administer. They were support measures that actually helped farmers get through that very, very tough time. At that time the government also had a drought task force in the cabinet. All we see at the moment is the Premier deferring to the Minister for Agriculture—that she is the person to go out and meet with these communities. What was interesting was that the Minister for Agriculture, in an interview with Warwick Long on the Country Hour recently, when questioned about why she had not been out visiting these communities enough, made it very clear that because she had been out in regional Victoria more than 70 times since she became a minister she was doing a good job. Mr Wells interjected. Mr WALSH: It is interesting, as the interjection from the Manager of Opposition Business said, that the minister is actually a country member. You would actually think that a country member would be out in the country most of the time anyhow. It is very, very disappointing for those drought‑affected communities, who are wondering why the Premier and the minister will not go out and see them. The other people I grieve for are the irrigation farmers of northern Victoria. The water price at the moment is unsustainable for most of the production systems in northern Victoria. The water market lacks transparency. They are very concerned about how the market is being manipulated and they want a more transparent market. It is a desperate time for our irrigators in northern Victoria. Our communities are hurting; they are saying, ‘Enough is enough’, and that Spring Street and Canberra need to start listening to the irrigators before it is too late. The dairy industry in northern Victoria is on the brink of collapse. There are dairy farmers, literally weekly, closing down their dairy farms, sending their cows to the abattoir. The dairy factories are seeing their milk supply decline; there is over a 20 per cent reduction year on year in the milk supply from northern Victoria. There is an absolutely catastrophic event developing in northern Victoria around the dairy industry. I do not believe it is satisfactory any longer for either government—in Victoria or Canberra—to say, ‘The rules stop us doing something different when it comes to water’. It is governments that actually write the rule book when it comes to water, and it is time that rule book was changed to make sure our irrigators get a fair go. In my electorate last year 55 000 megalitres of water was actually put into the Gunbower forest. Our irrigation dairy farmers of that area had to watch as the water went down the channel into the Gunbower forest—into a forest that in a drought would not have been flooded. That is enough water to effectively run 55 dairy farms—so 55 dairy farms could have had water if that water had been put on the market. If that happens again this year, I just think it will be catastrophic for our community. For those people to have to sit there and watch this water run out into the forest in the middle of a drought, when that forest would not have had water in a drought, while they cannot get water, something is wrong. Right up and down the river communities are hurting. We see with the Murray-Darling Basin plan over 700 000 megalitres of water evaporates from Lake Alexandrina every year. Now, one of the premises that the Murray-Darling Basin plan was actually formed on was that Lake Alexandrina was supposedly a freshwater lake. Since the basin plan was signed we have seen new science come out. We have seen Professor Peter Gell do the scientific work down there. He took the core samples and had that work peer-reviewed. It shows that Lake Alexandrina was always estuarine. It actually changed in the 1940s when the barrages were put in, and the core samples have now proved that. So it is time to go back and revisit that whole premise that there needs to be all this water going down the Murray River, all this water taken away from irrigators, to keep Lake Alexandrina a freshwater lake. It is time to revisit that. My suggestion to both the state and commonwealth governments is: let us build lock zero at Wellington, where the Murray actually runs into Lake Alexandrina. They want a constant height in their lake for recreational purposes down there. That is fine; let us use the barrages to manage that, and let Lake Alexandrina go back to being estuarine into the future. That would make just so much difference to our communities if we could actually get a significant percentage of the water that the commonwealth environmental water holder and the Victorian environmental water holder have back into the water market to increase the supply and lower the price. As irrigators have been saying, they have had 10 years now of the modernisation project, the project that started back in 2007 when John Brumby was the Premier of this state. At that particular time John Brumby promised that there would be 75 gigalitres—75 000 megalitres—of new high‑security water that would go to the farmers of northern Victoria every year, year in and year out. I can remember sitting in this place and having John Brumby lecture us that because this is savings water, so long as the system runs, this water will be there, year in and year out. So 75 000 megalitres of high‑security water was supposed to be made available to irrigators this year at the end of the modernisation project. I would urge the Victorian minister to actually make that water available this year. That water being available and allocated to irrigators would just make so much difference to the communities of northern Victoria due to the fact that there would be more water available but equally due to the fact that they would actually see that perhaps the Andrews government actually cares about them at all. It would send a powerful signal in both the availability of water and the fact that there was a decision being made by the Andrews government that actually supported regional and rural Victoria rather than taking something away from it. I grieve for those drought-affected farmers who are being ignored by the Premier, who are being effectively ignored by the Minister for Agriculture and who are not getting the support that state governments have given them in previous droughts. For some reason the Premier, the minister and the government have a deaf ear when it comes to regional Victoria at the moment. Members interjecting. Mr WALSH: On the interjection about being wrong, if you do not live in Bendigo, Ballarat or Geelong, great cities as they are, you are forgotten in this state. Members interjecting. Mr WALSH: Mildura? The Premier went there and he could not even go down the road to the Millewa. I grieve for those drought‑affected farmers. As I have said, I particularly also grieve for the irrigation farmers of northern Victoria. There is a catastrophic event developing up there around the availability of water, around the price of water. The dairy industry, as I said, is on the brink of collapse in northern Victoria, and that will have a flow-through effect on jobs in the area, on those that supply the dairy industry with hay and grain and on our export markets. There is demand for our dairy product overseas. We will not be able to supply those markets in the future. I would urge the Premier to get personally involved in these issues: make a visit, but do not just come and talk—come with a chequebook and actually do something.