House debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019


Dairy Industry

9:43 am

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | Hansard source

Sorry, Mr Speaker, but I didn't want to cast that aspersion on you, because it is the member for Hunter who is an absolute disgrace in what he has been trying to bring up here over the last couple of days. Instead of standing up for the agricultural sector, he wants to play politics—when there are people in pain. In fact, I was at the Australian Dairy Conference last night, which he was absent from. He could not even be bothered to turn up. He did not even bother to go and listen to their concerns. He only wants to politicise. Yesterday he tried another cheap stunt, a cruel hoax. When these people are on the bare end of their existence, all you want to do is play games. You have belittled this parliament by using their pain for your political gain. It is a disgrace to come in and give them false hope about an instrument that you, better than anyone else, know will never succeed. In fact, the report of the ACCC—the same report that you want to quote and the same organisation you want to use—said it was not even feasible. It's an absolute disgrace!

Let me tell you what you would do by putting in this floor price. You know very well that it sets an artificial price above what consumers are prepared to pay and that you get an oversupply. Remember what happened to the wool industry? Even I'm young enough to know what happened there. Do you know how long it's taken us to fix that up? We fixed it up with the trade agreements that we put in place. That's the other thing that you're going to put at risk. The member for Hunter will be prepared to put at risk the trade agreements that we put in place, the trade agreements that he and his side of the House have decided they don't want to support. It's the tinfoil hat approach that Labor has to trade agreements that have helped agriculture grow from a $30 billion industry to a $60 billion industry and will take us to a $100 billion industry. That is about leadership, not politics. That is what people expect us to do: come into this place and lead, not play politics.

So too can I say about this harebrained scheme of putting a floor price: let me go back to when the member for Hunter was Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in 2013, when he was pushed on this. He said:

I have an open mind, but also believe the industry is best left to the markets … I'm not interested in intervening in the market, I am interested in helping the market.

But it gets worse from those opposite, who are again playing politics at the expense of dairy farmers. The Labor-led Senate Economic References Committee in 2017, led by Senator Chris Ketter, came out and said, on page 71 of its report—and this is very important; the Labor Party supported it:

… the committee does not consider that direct government intervention, either through a floor price or milk levy, is appropriate.

Why is there such a change in policy from the Labor Party? It's called political opportunism at the expense of people's agony and pain. What I would say to those opposite is: instead of coming in here and belittling this House by trying to take advantage of people's pain by making a political point, go out and sit with them. Sit at the kitchen tables like I have.

Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting

Well, it's about time you did. It's about time you did a better job at that and at listening.

Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting

Please come to my electorate. I need a swing to me. The reality is that this is above politics; this is way above politics. What the member for Hunter has tried to do over the last two days is bring agriculture into the mire of politics. It's a disgrace! This place is above that. I thought we were, but there's been no bipartisanship. This has just been cheap politics—cheap, tawdry politics.

And it extends even further. We saw it extended yesterday when those opposite declared they would vote against the Future Drought Fund, a $3.9 billion fund that will grow to a $5 billion fund, giving a $100 million dividend every year. What the Labor Party said yesterday is that they don't care about agriculture. What they said is: 'We'll do a rolled gold promise'—another rolled gold promise—'of giving $100 million a year.' Well, that's worth nothing because you can't be trusted. You are only here to play politics. The Labor Party has proven they can't be trusted with rolled gold promises. They're going to hand that $100 million off. They'll do it for a couple of years and then they'll go, 'Oh, we're going to take it and put it somewhere else for something more important.' You shouldn't look at your phone. You know full well you can't look me in the eye and tell me you won't do that. I'm going to legislate to make sure that that dividend goes back into the agriculture sector and continues to make the agriculture sector grow, not treat it with disdain, which is what the Labor Party has come in here and done today. They have belittled a great industry. It's an industry that is driving regional and rural Australia, yet the Labor Party has decided to play politics with it.

It's great to see the member for Watson. I'm glad the member has come. I have to acknowledge that the member for Watson is someone that has been able to reach across the political divide and solve the Murray-Darling Basin Plan instead of playing cheap political tricks with something that is so important to this nation. A drought fund that will support agriculture in regional Australia for generations to come is something that's visionary. We've spent $1.9 billion already in the here and now, keeping farmers alive, and the $5 billion, which will give a dividend every year, will make sure that we make the agriculture sector even more resilient.

I'm sorry to say that I might only have been in this parliament for 2½ years, and it may be a little unconventional for a member or a cabinet minister to call out corporate Australia. Well, bad luck. I'm going to call them out. That's my job as the Australian agriculture minister. If someone does something wrong by regional and rural Australia and by the agriculture sector, I don't care whether they're corporate or anyone else. It wouldn't hurt those opposite, every now and then, to call out their union mates, the people that support them, the unions every day. It would be great to see the Australian Labor Party call out the labour movement, but they haven't got the intestinal fortitude to do it. I'm prepared to call them out and I will call anyone out. It goes to the heart of destroying agriculture.

To those opposite: this is another disgraceful act. When we could be debating the drought future bill, we are wasting our time on another political stunt. If that is the level of contribution that you bring to this House—is that all you can bring to this? If that is the level of contribution you bring to this House—and that is what you propose to bring if you sit on that side of the chamber—then the sad thing is not only that have you belittled this place but that you will destroy regional and rural Australia. Regional and rural Australia deserve better. They deserve to get out of this political mire that you are trying to put us in. I can assure you I'll do everything can I to protect them, whether it's against you or any corporate. I will never apologise to any corporate that hurts regional or rural Australia.


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