House debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2018


Treasury Laws Amendment (Supporting Australian Farmers) Bill 2018; Second Reading

11:36 am

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

What an embarrassing contribution from the member for Parkes, full of fluff and full of platitudes. Oh, my God! We couldn't have academics making a contribution to one of the most serious challenges facing this parliament and our country! We couldn't have policy based on fact! We can't have long-term planning! We just have to trust people like the member for Parkes, who, of course, is a farmer! That makes him the expert! He's practical! His approach is practical! I heard the member for Forrest saying the same thing, declaring herself a dairy farmer. Well, here's an idea: how about some of these members start declaring an interest in some of these matters. If I were a financial planner and I came in here to speak about a matter relating to financial planning, they'd be all over me like a rash. Conflict of interest, they'd be saying.

Now, let us not have this great boast from those on the other side that, because they are farmers, they don't need policy contribution from any of the experts. That's a ridiculous proposition, and it's an embarrassing proposition for this national parliament. Farmers don't want just sympathy and platitudes from their members of parliament; they want a government that reacts properly, thoughtfully and in a timely way. We are in the seventh year of this drought, and this is a government that did nothing until the media started paying this issue attention. Yes, we had some concessional loans. We had some concessional loans which, of course, were a replication of concessional loans programs that the former Labor government had in place. But concessional loans have been the policy response of choice for this government. No matter what the problem: 'Oh, we'll set up some concessional loans.' Which takes me to the point the member for Parkes made: this continual misrepresentation of what this government is spending on drought. They say $1.8 billion. Well, how did we get to $1.8 billion? Pretty simply. What they do is count the full capital value of all loans provided for, whether they're taken up by farmers or not. Have a think about that. They put a billion dollars aside for drought loans and they count that as a contribution to the drought assistant package whether or not farmers take those loans.

That takes me to the contribution of the member for Calare. I listened carefully to the member for Calare. Of course it wasn't that long ago that the member for Calare was boasting that the member for New England's so-called Regional Investment Corporation in Orange was going to create 200 jobs. Think about that. Then it was 100 jobs. I'll tell you how many jobs the Regional Investment Corporation has provided so far—one, and it's an interim job. This Regional Investment Corporation is no longer mentioned by the member for Calare. I wonder why that is. The answer, of course, is that he's moved beyond the political phase of that campaign or that idea and he's now realising what a joke the member for New England's proposition was. We all know it was a response to another very bad state by-election result for the coalition in 2016. They said: 'We'll have to do something about that. We can't have the National Party losing Orange. We'll create a pork-barrelling exercise and put a regional investment corporation into that town.' That is a regional investment corporation which still has no office, still has no staff and still has no real job to do.

We need a government that is serious about drought reform and drought policy, not a government that comes late to the party and makes three announcements within two months because the media has started taking notice. The only thing that has occurred more often in this country than drought itself has been the review of drought policy, including the one we started in 2009, the Productivity Commission's review, which was manifested in the 2013 intergovernmental agreement on drought.

Speaking of that agreement, I've got a confession to make. I changed my positioning on the speakers list, hoping to follow the member for New England. I was hoping to respond to his contribution. Alas, he's not here. I've been around this place long enough to know he may have good reason not to be here, so all I can do is express my disappointment that the member for New England hasn't presented himself to the House to make his contribution and my disappointment that I won't have the opportunity to respond to him. But I still hope he makes his way in here at some point to explain himself and to explain why, over a five-year period, he stalled drought policy reform in this country, he didn't progress the intergovernmental agreement on drought policy and he abolished the Standing Council on Primary Industries, the key COAG committee which was to progress that reform. He does need to come in here and explain himself.

He will talk about concessional loans and he will talk about the provisions in this bill. Labor support the provisions in this bill. We support anything that will help farmers through drought after a five-year hiatus on drought reform policy. We must. We don't agree absolutely with any of the policies this government has put forward, but we've been prepared to support them because they are the only thing on offer and it's the only thing an opposition can hope to do—urge the government to act and support anything that it does, within reason. There's nothing wrong with an immediate write-off or an investment in storage. That can only help. I do note, though, that the Productivity Commission rejected that proposal because they argued there's no market failure obvious and there's no broader community outcome or benefit in it. I'll challenge that somewhat because I would argue that, if this helps farmers better prepare for and protect themselves from drought, there is a broader community benefit. We know that it's not just farmers affected by drought; the communities around them are affected by a drop in income and therefore a drop in consumer spending in their towns.

Not only have we had a five-year hiatus but we don't even know who is in charge of drought policy in this country anymore. We had the member for New England, and then he was gone, and now we have Minister Littleproud, and he's still floating around, but we have the Drought Coordinator, Major General Day, and now we have the drought envoy, and there appears to be no coordination between them. I welcome the member to New England to the debate. I'm glad he turned up at my urging. I would have been most disappointed if he hadn't. We don't know, after a five-year hiatus, who is in charge of drought policy in this country. Is it the envoy? Is it Minister Littleproud? Is it Major General Day? We simply don't know.

Those on the other side can't have it both ways. They come in here with their platitudes and unthoughtful contributions, but they also want to tell us how well the farmers are doing. Thankfully it is true that some farmers are doing it okay. Some farmers have managed to better prepare for drought than others. Sometimes those reasons are merely geographical, sometimes it's about access to infrastructure, but it is true that some have done better than others. But it's counterintuitive for those on the other side to come in here on a daily basis and claim credit for the things that are doing well but not accept responsibility for the others.

Thank goodness the Prime Minister doesn't seem to be in charge of drought policy, because he told us via tweet last week, by authorising a video, that drought is a necessary evil. What it does, he said by authorising the video, is it allows you to wipe out the bottom 10 per cent who are struggling most. What an amazing thing for a Prime Minister to say. I know the Minister for Health would have been shocked by that as well. The Prime Minister tweeted and authorised, and therefore promoted and endorsed, a video that claimed drought is a necessary evil because it wipes out the bottom 10 per cent who shouldn't be there anyway.


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