The NSW Drought Petition had both sides of politics in a stir during a debate in state parliament on Thursday.
Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson jumped in to speak about the 21,000-signature petition as soon as it was brought up, taking the honour away from Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison who was supposed to speak first.
Mr Anderson said the petition – started by Fairfax Media’s Maitland Mercury and supported by Fairfax mastheads across NSW including those in the New England North West – was “playing politics”.
“[It’s] misrepresenting the approach of the NSW government to this very important issue, and playing down the support and assistance measures available to our primary producers,” he said.
His colleague, Myall Lakes MP Stephen Bromhead, said the Labor party was “playing politics with something so important to rural and regional NSW” and accused Ms Aitchison of not doing any research on the topic.
However, Cessnock MP Clayton Barr challenged their account of the government’s actions on drought.
“If the job’s already being done and being done well, no one will sign the petition,” he said.
“So to say that the petition was pointless, or that people don’t know what’s going on, or all those people out there don’t understand what they’re doing … this government and the two speakers we’ve already had have basically called those 10,000 people out there silly.”
Ms Aitchison and Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen ended up in a slinging match; he called across the chamber to state her credentials on drought and farming.
“There are people out there who cannot put any water on their vegetables that they are growing for market, there are people going broke, there are people who don’t even have water to drink, … who have had to sell the last of their breeding stock. What is going to happen to them?”
Mr Bromhead and Mr Anderson reiterated the government’s support, which included a $500 million emergency package announced in late July, several weeks after the petition was launched.
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