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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (13 November) . . Page.. 3503 ..

MS TUCKER (11.30): There is no doubt that the current drought affecting most of Australia is causing considerable hardship to many people, particularly in rural areas. The cost of the drought in lost production will be enormous, and the drought is already starting to affect city people through the imposition of water restrictions in various places and increased food prices.

Against this backdrop the recent establishment of the Farmhand Foundation by a group of business people to raise funds for the immediate relief of the people suffering the effects of drought has great emotional appeal. The foundation was launched on 3 October, and the public appeal, concert and telethon have already raised $13.5 million for farming families.

While I do not wish to put a dampener on the sincere desire of many in the community to help those people most affected by the drought, I think it is important to question whether the means of assistance promoted by Farmhand is the most effective way to deal with this terrible situation, particularly given the Liberals' desire to get the ACT government to contribute taxpayers' money to this fund.

The Assembly needs to be aware of the speculation that there are hidden agendas behind the establishment of Farmhand, particularly its link to the potential sale of Telstra. The speculation was clearly raised in the ABC Media Watch program on 7 October. This program highlighted that the people who established the Farmhand Foundation have direct and indirect links to the Telstra Corporation.

The chairman of Farmhand is the chairman of Telstra, Bob Mansfield. Farmhand's principals are John Hartigan, the CEO of News Ltd, Telstra's partner in Foxtel; Kerry Packer, the owner of Channel 9, Telstra's other partner in Foxtel; and Sam Chisholm, chairman of Foxtel and a Telstra director. Then there is ad man John Singleton, whose agency represents Telstra and who owns a share of 2GB alongside Alan Jones, who is chief spokesman for Farmhand and whose breakfast show is sponsored by Telstra.

The odd person out seems to be Mr Richard Pratt, chairman of Visy Industries, but he has been running his own campaign to get the government to support his plan to replace irrigation channels with pipes as a way of stopping water loss, presumably using recycled plastic manufactured by his company after its acquisition last year of Southcorp Packaging.

The Media Watch program suggested that it is not coincidence that Farmhand has been established at the time the government is trying to push through the full sale of Telstra against the resistance of the rural sector. The sale of Telstra would give a wonderful boost to funding the proposals being put up by Farmhand to drought-proof Australia. It all sounds like a repeat of the Liberals' original sales pitch to sell Telstra back in 1996, when it promised to use the money to set up the Natural Heritage Trust.

This raises the other concern I have about Farmhand, which is its other objective to promote long-term strategies to help drought-proof Australian agriculture. Alan Jones, who is the spokesperson for Farmhand, has used his radio show to promote grand schemes of turning our eastern rivers inland over the Great Dividing Range to provide irrigation water, as with the Snowy Mountains scheme, and building huge pipelines from places like the Ord River to the farmlands in southern Australia. Such ideas have been

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