It is a pleasure to rise tonight to speak on and pay tribute to the hard work of a significant contributor to the agricultural sector in Tasmania, and that is Terry White, who is a passionate Tasmanian farmer who operates Highfirth Seeds at Wattle Hill in Sorrell in Tasmania’s glorious south-east, which I’m sure you’d be very familiar with, Mr President. Specifically why I am talking about Mr White tonight is his involvement in and contribution to the excellent event known as Old Mates Day, which is a day that brings together like-minded people, mostly from the agricultural sector, to catch up for support and camaraderie, which I think is an admirable thing, given the amount of time these people spend on the land and often in isolated circumstances.
Old Mates Day, as it’s known, was triggered by the demise of the Bridgewater livestock sales in southern Tasmania, which is where most of the communication between farmers and butchers and livestock agents and associates over many generations happened. It was where they caught up and exchanged information. The sales weren’t just business; they were also social. Once that source of contact disappeared from these people’s lives, they sought other ways to get that contact. So Mr Terry White instituted what’s become known as Old Mates Day.
Farming, though, as all of us have acknowledged at various points in our contributions in this chamber, is a massive contributor to the nation’s economy, and Tasmania is no exception to that. Indeed, anyone who travels around Tasmania knows that farming is embedded very much in our daily lives. If you look at the national figures around farming and its significance, and when you consider that there are 134,000 farming businesses in Australia and the vast majority—some say 99 per cent—of which are family-owned and -operated, it points out how important this sector is to small communities and to the families who live in those small communities. Each Australian farmer produces enough food to feed 600 people—150 here in Australia, and the balance, 450, overseas. Australian farmers, interestingly, produce almost 93 per cent of Australia’s daily domestic food supply. All of these figures are sourced from the National Farmers’ Federation’s compendium of information. We do know that the Tasmanian agricultural sector is a diverse one, but it is a key pillar of the Tasmanian economy, with an annual farm-gate value of $1.44 billion as at 2014-15, growing by six per cent on the previous financial year.
As we know, and as we saw in the election campaign in Tasmania, farming has some significant challenges of an environmental sort; we have significant floods, but we also have droughts, often coming in close succession, in addition to bushfires. But the challenges that don’t get as much airing as the significant environmental challenges are those around isolation and the mental health issues that flow from that, including depression. In these circumstances, as I’ve alluded to before, it’s incredibly important—it’s paramount, in fact—that farmers and those who live on the land do get together and talk. That’s why events like Old Mates Day are so important, and it was a pleasure to support this event.
Farming, obviously, is a physically demanding profession. It’s also psychologically demanding. It is characterised by high rates of stress and injury and also, sadly, suicide. One of the major issues we have to deal with as a country is access to support services in the mental health area for farmers. They have only a fifth of the amount of services available to them compared to their brethren living in the cities, according to statistics published by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. In Tasmania, though, we have great services with Rural Alive & Well, an excellent service I look forward to supporting into the future.
A recent research paper entitled Mental health in remote and rural communities found that country residents risk exacerbated mental illness because of insufficient early intervention and prevention services. In particular, farmers, young men and older people in remote areas are at the greatest risk of committing suicide. That is of immense concern to me, as I’m sure it is to my Tasmanian colleagues in the chamber tonight. Pleasingly, though, the Tasmanian government has recognised the importance of suicide prevention in our rural communities, for those who often do it tough and are at the whim of commodity cycles, by investing another $1.7 million in Rural Alive & Well over the next three years. This will provide certainty to that valuable service and will continue to provide that excellent service to these regional communities right across our state.
Back to Old Mates Day, and, as I said, it was an important opportunity for communities to join together to celebrate all that’s good about Tasmanian agriculture: the innovation, the resourcefulness, the sense of community and the pride that we have in this sector in being one of our state’s key pillars to the economy. This is something I pointed out in my first speech to this place, I recall right now. This year, the Old Mates Day motto for the 2017 event was ‘See a mate before it’s too late’. It was held at the Bream Creek Showgrounds in, as I said before, the picturesque south-east of our state. I’m told that many of the people who attended the event this year hadn’t seen one another for many years. As is the case, people just get carried away with their daily lives and work, and they have no capacity to get around and socialise. That’s why this event was such an excellent one. It’s a great initiative, and I put on record tonight—and I’m sure also on behalf of my Tasmanian colleagues—my thanks and appreciation to Terry White for his ongoing efforts and passion in supporting farmers from right across Tasmania in putting together this event. It’s people like Terry who characterise the strength and resilience of our regional communities and the quirkiness of some of our regional communities. I thank Terry and also all of those who supported him in putting together this excellent event. Organisations like Rural Alive & Well, the Tasmania Fire Service, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association and a number of parliamentarians across the political spectrum.
As I may have alluded to, I wasn’t able to make it on the day, unfortunately, but I was happy to on behalf of the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team provide a couple of hundred sausages for the hungry farmers to feast on while they caught up with one another. I have absolutely no doubt that this event will be an excellent and growing event for years to come. I commend all Tasmanian senators and members of the House of Representatives to support this event in years to come. Thank you.