House debates

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Motions

Productivity Commission

4:45 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move the following motion:

That this house move that a Parliamentary Inquiry be immediately undertaken into the Productivity Commission and its reports, questioning its wider functions as well as reviewing a series of reports that have been prima facie culpably erroneous and misleading.

And that this:

1. Inquires into:

a. Whether the Productivity Commission has misled the Parliament of Australia.

Whether the Commission's advice has continuously failed to achieve even the most minimal standards of objectivity.

Whether in fact it has repeatedly worked within an ideological framework that has led to continuously and culpably biased outcomes. And that such outcomes have done serious structural damage to the Australian economy.

b. The Productivity Commission's recommendations have resulted in serious destruction to a number of Australia's major strategic industries, namely the motor vehicle, white goods and clothing industries.

c. That the inquiry inter alia evaluates the extent of the misleading and erroneous information and the necessity for abolishing the Productivity Commission and the recommendation of parameters for instituting a new commission that is:

i. Non Canberra based

ii. More widely representative of the Australian Community

iii. Made up of Commissioners that are properly qualified and with 'hands-on' experience in the field of production and commerce

2. And that the house takes note that the Commission's most recent report on Agriculture prima facie, contains the most patent and demonstrable errors of facts, says that Ethanol will add to the cost structures of farmers and will not reduce Co2. Clearly when a hectare of sugar cane absorbs each year 73 tonnes of Co2 from the atmosphere and puts around 20 tonnes of burnt ethanol Co2 back into the atmosphere. And whereas Co2 from the burning of the residual sugar cane fibre will into the future feed ponded algae then clearly this report is at worse erroneous, at best fatuous. Its remarks on the sugar industry are quite extraordinary since their proposed "Free Market" regime imposes a monopoly buyer upon almost every sugar cane farmer in Australia. A recommendation that clearly could not come from anyone but the most ignorant and irresponsible of commentators.

Leave not granted.

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Kennedy from moving the following motion forthwith:

That this house move that a Parliamentary Inquiry be immediately undertaken into the Productivity Commission and its reports, questioning its wider functions as well as reviewing a series of reports that have been prima facie culpably erroneous and misleading.

And that this:

1. Inquires into:

a. Whether the Productivity Commission has misled the Parliament of Australia.

Whether the Commission's advice has continuously failed to achieve even the most minimal standards of objectivity.

Whether in fact it has repeatedly worked within an ideological framework that has led to continuously and culpably biased outcomes. And that such outcomes have done serious structural damage to the Australian economy.

b. The Productivity Commission's recommendations have resulted in serious destruction to a number of Australia's major strategic industries, namely the motor vehicle, white goods and clothing industries.

c. That the inquiry inter alia evaluates the extent of the misleading and erroneous information and the necessity for abolishing the Productivity Commission and the recommendation of parameters for instituting a new commission that is:

i. Non Canberra based

ii. More widely representative of the Australian Community

iii. Made up of Commissioners that are properly qualified and with 'hands-on' experience in the field of production and commerce

2. And that the house takes note that the Commission's most recent report on Agriculture prima facie, contains the most patent and demonstrable errors of facts, says that Ethanol will add to the cost structures of farmers and will not reduce Co2. Clearly when a hectare of sugar cane absorbs each year 73 tonnes of Co2 from the atmosphere and puts around 20 tonnes of burnt ethanol Co2 back into the atmosphere. And whereas Co2 from the burning of the residual sugar cane fibre will into the future feed ponded algae then clearly this report is at worse erroneous, at best fatuous. Its remarks on the sugar industry are quite extraordinary since their proposed "Free Market" regime imposes a monopoly buyer upon almost every sugar cane farmer in Australia. A recommendation that clearly could not come from anyone but the most ignorant and irresponsible of commentators.

The first serious commission report was on the motor vehicle industry, and it was a report to the Hawke government, if my memory serves me correctly. The Hawke-Keating government proceeded to abolish quotas and to cut motor vehicle tariffs from 57.5 per cent in 1983 to 22.5 per cent by 1996. The Productivity Commission called it the ORANI model. It was named after one of their wives. The Productivity Commission projected that a decrease in motor vehicle prices would take place because the cheap imports would be allowed in with no tariffs. Well, just the opposite occurred. The average price of a standard Holden and Ford rose from $13,268 in 1983 to $26,000 in 1996. It was a 100 per cent error factor. That was their first foray—a 100 per cent error.

In 1987, 86 per cent of Australia's motor vehicles were Australian made. By 2009, only 21 per cent of Australia's motor vehicles were Australian made. Again, the Orani model said that over 10 years there would be a 20 per cent intrusion. Over five years, there was a 63 per cent intrusion. They were out 300 per cent. The Orani report was named after the wife of one of the senior departmental officials. She would be well advised to sue for divorce with punitive damages claims for defamation thrown in!

That was the start of the Productivity Commission's advice to Australia. It was 100 per cent wrong on one element and 300 per cent wrong on another. It advised Mr Keating to abolish the wool scheme. I remember vividly when it was introduced. It took the price up 300 per cent. Every year for the next 20 years we saw something we very seldom see in Australia—a nice production line with a nice acceptable price. That enabled us to have 20 years of untold prosperity in inland Australia. We thank the great Doug Anthony and the Country Party for what they achieved.

Mr Keating abolished the wool scheme, and he completely destroyed the wool industry. The Productivity Commission's advice was, 'Deregulate.' There are people on this side of the House who know what happens when you deregulate the labour market. I can inform them that the same happens to a farmer. When the wool industry was deregulated, we dropped to 30 per cent of our income. Wool was bigger than coal. In 1984, Mr Keating abolished the scheme and deregulated us. That was 'Mr Free Market' himself. It was the biggest export item that this nation had and he completely destroyed it. Today we have 72 per cent fewer sheep than we had in those days when the wool industry was earning us $6,000 million a year—in today's money about $20 billion a year.

I will just reel off the great advice the Productivity Commission have given us in the field of agriculture. They advised that there should be a deregulation of the sugar industry. Well, Woolworths and Coles wrote them a letter of thanks because the price went up 20 per cent to the consumers and the price went down to the farmers by 25 per cent. Good ol' Woolworths and Coles, the boys in the middle, picked up $350 million a year in extra profits. Then they deregulated the egg industry. The price went up to the consumers and the price went down to the farmers and good ol' Mr Piggy in the middle got an extra $350 million. Just from two deregulations alone, the benefit did not go to the consumers. The price went up for the consumers. There was terrible detriment to the farmers. Piggy in the middle got an extra $700 million.

Next comes the big one—dairy. They said, 'Let's deregulate the dairy industry.' In this case, the price to the consumers went up considerably and the price to the farmers went down. I carry around this wonderful history of Australia. In this history book it delineates what happened to the dairy industry. It quotes the letter that was sent to the North Queensland dairy farmers that said: 'We are paying you 59c a litre, but tomorrow, after deregulation, we will pay you 42c a litre.' That was a wonderful outcome! Piggy in the middle got $1,200 million a year more and half the dairy farmers in Australia went bankrupt. We had 15,000 and now we are down to about 6,500. I had 240 farmers in probably the most prolific concentrated dairy industry area in Australia—we now have 36, the last time I looked—and a lot of them exited the industry in the most terrible way.

This Productivity Commission has been an absolute disaster for this country. We now have no manufacturing base. The motor vehicle industry is gone. The whitegoods industry is gone. I might add, the last factory was in Orange. The conservatives have held that seat since it has been a seat in parliament, and they have lost it. Two years ago the last factory of one of their major employers closed. It was the last whitegoods factory in Australia and it closed. I feel sorry for the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia because I am sure that he actually agrees with everything I am saying here, and God bless him for it.

We now, this year, have no motor vehicle industry. Thank you, Mr Productivity Commission, for your advice! We now have no whitegoods industry in this country. Thank you, Mr Productivity Commission, for your advice! We have virtually no wool industry left. Thank you, Mr Productivity Commission, for your advice! In the giant sugar industry that rescued Australia from the Great Depression and is still one of our four major agricultural export items, we are down 20 per cent of our production. (Time expired)

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

4:59 pm

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I am not as au fait on the sugar industry or the Productivity Commission's report as the member for Kennedy is or certainly the Deputy Prime Minister is, so I will defer to the Deputy Prime Minister to speak on behalf of the government in the near future on that. But in terms of this actual suspension of standing orders motion, the government will not be supporting a suspension of standing orders to debate the member for Kennedy's motion because we have our own significant legislative agenda that we want to keep debating in the House of Representatives tonight. Of course, the next item of business to be debated is the Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Bill 2017, with puts into effect the recommendations from the Heydon royal commission. The member for Bendigo knows all about corrupting benefits, because she is a CFMEU member in this House. I am not sure of the union of the member for Bass, but he is certainly a former union leader and delegate who supports the union movement. I certainly would not make any accusations against the member for Bass about taking corrupting benefits, but he supports a leader, as does the member for Rankin, who was knee-deep in corrupting benefits issues when he was the secretary and the national secretary—

Dr Chalmers interjecting

The member for Rankin interjects on me, but the simple reality is that the member for Rankin, the member for Bass and the member for Hunter sit quietly on the benches while the government gives example after example of the kind of corrupting benefits that we would outlaw through the legislation that is the next item of business on the agenda. That is why standing orders should not be suspended, because we want to move to the corrupting benefits legislation to ensure that people like the member for Bass, who is now leaving the chamber, hanging his head in shame—the member for Bass is running out of the chamber, embarrassed by his association with the Leader of the Opposition, as should members of the Labor Party on the frontbench be embarrassed about their association with the Leader of the Opposition, because the next item of business is the corrupting benefits legislation.

The government would much rather talk about the corrupting benefits legislation and deal with the issues raised by the member for Kennedy around the Productivity Commission in due course than allow us to be thrown off course when we want to deal with the corrupting benefits legislation. There are litanies of examples—the member for Bass knows what they are—where the Leader of the Opposition, when he was the secretary of the AWU in Victoria or the national secretary of the AWU in Australia, was involved in negotiations and signed enterprise bargaining agreements with businesses that were close to the AWU. He did not personally take money, but his union took money and benefited from those arrangements that they had with various businesses when he was in charge of the AWU.

Let's have a look at a few of those. One of those, of course, was Visy Industries—a very good business. It gave $200,000 in 40 payments to the AWU in the period when the Leader of the Opposition was the state secretary in Victoria. Now, why were they in 40 payments? Can the member for Bass explain why they were in 40 secret payments to the AWU? Why were they being disguised? If it was all entirely above board, if there was absolutely no reason to hide these particular payments, why were these payments made secretly from Visy Industries to the AWU in that period? It might have had something to do with the fact that they were negotiating six enterprise bargaining agreements at the time. But that is not the only example. There was also, of course, Alcoa. Alcoa gave $90,000 in eight secret payments to the AWU between 2005 and 2006, while the Leader of the Opposition was the state secretary or the national secretary. The member for Bass might want to explain why those payments were disguised in eight small payments that were made to the AWU, without being revealed to their members, while they were negotiating five enterprise bargaining agreements.

The House should move on to the government's business, in this case, the corrupting benefits legislation, rather than deal with the motion moved by the member for Kennedy.

5:04 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

I have nothing but the greatest respect for the member for Kennedy. Over 24 years in this place, and before that in the Queensland parliament, he has been a great champion for the people of north central Queensland and, indeed, all of that state and, indeed, all of the country. I should say that, throughout the course of the sugar debate—which I think is what this motion is largely about—it is only the member for Kennedy who has serious conversations with me as the opposition spokesperson. It is only the member for Kennedy who has been lobbying me on behalf of canegrowers. I have not heard from One Nation and I certainly have not heard from Minister Joyce or anyone representing the government. There has been no greater fighter for Queensland canegrowers than the member for Kennedy.

But the opposition will not be supporting the suspension, because we cannot support the motion in these terms. I am not sure what has brought this unusual motion on at this unusual time, but I have no doubt that more than anything else it is about the current debate in the sugar industry and this particular report, which the minister for agriculture finally released this week. He received in November. It was his initiative—one of the initiatives of his white paper—but having received it in November, he snuck it out only this week without any response whatsoever. Why is that so? Having commissioned the report, the minister now finds that the commission has been broadly critical of just about everything he has done in agriculture. It is pretty voluminous; there is a lot of reading in there and a lot to learn about how Minister Joyce has made a mess of his portfolio. Of course, we now learn through the newspapers that, having wrecked the joint, Minister Joyce plans to flee the portfolio and leave it for someone else to clean up the mess.

This report is specifically critical of Minister Joyce's intervention in the sugar market. Indeed, this report is critical of the Queensland LNP's intervention in the sugar market. This report says that the Queensland legislation is flawed and a re-regulation of the sugar industry in Queensland, or anywhere in this country, will be a bad thing for growers, millers, people who work in those mills and the broader Australian economy and, therefore, a bad thing for the broader Australian community. The Productivity Commission

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Hunter will resume his seat. The member for Kennedy, on a point of order.

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It is just a reasonable request that I am putting in, that you say whether you are for arbitration or whether you are for a monopoly. That is all I am asking you.

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very happy to answer that in one moment. The Productivity Commission is not always right. No-one is arguing that it is, but we want evidence-based policy in this place, and it is the pre-eminent adviser and the body that gives guidance on microeconomic policy, including regulation.

I will answer the member for Kennedy's question. I am against precipitous compulsory arbitration without notice or without consultation. In an attempt to grab back the initiative from One Nation Queensland and having had the Treasurer say on Monday that the Queensland dispute is all fixed—the Treasurer has fixed it; it is in hand; it will just take another couple of weeks to cross the t's and dot the i's—last night, the Minister for Agriculture, no less the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Treasurer walked out to the cameras and said, 'We are going to have a sugar code. We are going to have a code of conduct under the Trade Practices Act in the sugar sector.' There was no code released, no consultation undertaken, no speaking with the millers, no speaking with the growers; we are just going to have a code of conduct. Extraordinarily, we learned today, confirmed by no less than the Minister for agriculture on Sky News only an hour or so ago, that this code of conduct will go to executive council without being seen by anyone in this place or in the other place, and without being seen by the millers, the growers or any member of the Australian community.

There are two precedents being set here: this will be the first mandatory code of conduct containing compulsory arbitration; and this will certainly be the first code of conduct to go to executive council without any consultation with anyone, sight unseen. This is extraordinary and will send a chilling breeze through the business community right across this country. Every sector tonight, as we speak, will be asking themselves: is this how this government works; are we now going to have mandatory codes of conduct with compulsory arbitration without any consultation or warning? This is economic vandalism at its worst. Those who will be hit most will be the growers of Queensland.

5:09 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I think this is incredibly important. The member for Kennedy and I clearly understand that in some instances we do need regulation. We need to make sure that we do not just have a monopoly reign supreme over the welfare of canegrowers. We heard what these canegrowers said. I went to North Queensland. I went and had meetings with the canegrowers. I went to a meeting where they expected 20 to turn up; we had 450. At the next one we had 450. What goes wrong in this place is that so often people go out and listen to the concerns and then come down here and do something else. We heard the concerns and we acted on those concerns. I know they are the same concerns held by the member for Kennedy and rightly so; we are on the same page.

The Productivity Commission tells us in this report that they believe in more regulation in the live cattle trade. That is another thing the member for Kennedy and I are on a unity ticket about—we do not want further regulation on the live cattle trade after the Labor Party absolutely decimated it. There is not one of them here. There is not one person from the Labor Party here. That is the sort of respect they have for the farming community.

We on this side have turned the farming community around. There has been 23.7 per cent growth in agriculture to December 2016. We made sure that we looked after these farmers, made sure they did not have a foot on their throat and made sure they had a choice in who they could sell to so they got a fair deal through the farm gate and a better return for them. We made sure the live cattle trade was open so those people doing it tough up in the Gulf got a fair return. But the Labor Party person cannot even sit on the benches. They are not even here. They desert the working men and women of Australia.

And here we have this ridiculous scenario as well where the Labor Party with the Greens moved a motion that there is no future for the coal industry in Australia—no future for those AWU workers, no future for those CFMEU workers. The Labor Party have forgotten about a group of people. They have forgotten about labourers. They have forgotten about the group that they were initially formed to serve. No, they have evolved. They have evolved into St Kilda. They have evolved into Paddington. They have evolved and moved away from what was started at Barcaldine. No, that was in the dim dark past. There is not a labourer amongst them, not one person who has actually gone out and done a day's work. Have you gone out and done a day's work, Member for Rankin?

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Where? What did you do?

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I painted a basketball stadium.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

He has painted a basketball stadium—there you go.

Madeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What have you done?

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I have still got a farm. I work all the time out there drenching my sheep. I will be doing cattle work in the next couple of days. You see, you have got to keep your hands to the actual core of what people are. That is the issue. That is what is missing here.

What we have over there, Member for Kennedy, is a heap of spivs who are standing by, wanting greater regulation on the live cattle trade. They believe that tree-clearing laws are not much of an issue and they do not have to worry about it. In fact, Member for Kennedy, in their 100 positive policies for agriculture, they recommend greater controls on tree clearing. That is where they are; they are with their Greens mates. They are supporting them. They are run by the Greens. They are so worried about the preferences in Annandale that they have forgotten about the timber workers in Heyfield—250 timber workers. They do not care about them; they care about the possums. They put possums before people. That is where it is.

Now we have the member for Gorton's brother running around this building, as he well should, trying to protect those jobs and nobody from the Labor Party is in this chamber standing up to protect those jobs. They will not go into bat for those jobs. They will not stand up for the people of Hazelwood. They will stand up for the people of Heyfield. They stand behind a report that says 'greater regulation for the live cattle trade'. This is what they have evolved into. This is where they belong; they belong with the Greens. They should just join up with them and pay the membership.

People in the past, the Mick Youngs, once great members of the Labor Party, would look in horror at what the Labor Party has evolved into. He was a former shearer. You do not have any of those, do you? There are no former shearers. We have got 'Wacka' Williams. We have got former shearers but you do not have them. The member for Rankin is another one. Those opposite believe in 'spivdom', but we are proud of what we have done in agriculture. We have turned it around. We are proud to stand behind building dams. Do they believe in building dams? No, they are going to take the money out of the dam fund. They do not believe in building dams.

Madeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Why?

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Why? Because it will affect Greens preferences. We are building the inland rail; they just talk about it. We actually do the things. (Time expired)

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for the debate has expired.

Question negatived, Mr Katter dissenting.