Thursday, 13 February 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I'll take that interjection—virtually all of them, Member for Moreton. We have very few visa workers. The Casino community owns that meatworks. We have three generations of two families who work there, and we have very few visa or foreign workers there. They're proud of it, and so they should be. On the free trade agreements we've implemented—obviously, we had the President of Indonesia here this week, which was an historic occasion, and we've done a further trade agreement with them. What we've done as a government is get literally hundreds, if not billions, of customers for our agricultural producers. We've given them hundreds of millions of extra customers and better access to markets where they can sell their product. And that has had a real impact. The drought has been very devastating, but, behind the drought, over the last number of years, the prices for the majority of agricultural products—almost across every agricultural product—has gone up. And that, as I say, hasn't happened by mistake; it's happened because it's been a focus of ours. We've had some wonderful trade ministers, starting from Andrew Robb, since we've been in government, and it has had real results on the ground and created extra jobs and growth and prosperity, especially in regional Australia.
There's another thing that's very important. I'm, again, very proud of the government and its focus on infrastructure. Almost since day one, back in 2013, we've wanted to have a focus on being an infrastructure government. Just to give you some examples—we've obviously got a $100 billion infrastructure program over the next 10 years—one of the biggest infrastructure projects in regional Australia for many years was in my patch. It was the dual duplication of the Pacific Highway between Woolgoolga and Ballina. That project alone directly employed at any particular point of time around 2,000 to 3,000 people. The flow on from that is huge—the indirect jobs that that brings when you have so many people coming to work in a program.
We have, again, some really targeted infrastructure programs that are very important to regional Australia, things like the Roads to Recovery Program—that didn't always exist. The Roads to Recovery Program came from John Anderson, a previous Nationals leader, who understood that regional Australia needed more help beyond what local councils could provide. The Roads to Recovery Program, now widely accepted by both sides of parliament, was the result of a Nationals leader.
The Bridges Renewal Program is a new one. I know Warren Truss, the previous member for Wide Bay, was a champion of this program. Why is that important? Take Kyogle. They have a very small rate base, but they have something like 300 timber bridges, which is an enormous piece of infrastructure to maintain for a council that would struggle to maintain those with the rate base they have. We see that. We understand that. We understand the importance of that, because the area is an important economic driver. They produce great produce around Kyogle, so we instituted that program to make sure we could help them out.
I won't go through it all, but I tell you what, the Building Better Regions Fund, again, is about increasing efficiency and increasing productivity and increasing jobs in regional Australia. It has been a real focus of this government, and it doesn't just happen. It is one of the reasons that we've had the record job growth that I started with. With some of those things the opposition may well say they agree with that infrastructure. They may well agree with free trade, even though they couldn't nail many deals.
I tell you one thing we do disagree on—and I think the last election highlighted where Australians sit on this—is tax. This is one of the major philosophical discussions that we have in this place and where we disagree, because we have been arguing about tax cuts in this place since we got here. We obviously, as you know, Deputy Speaker, were arguing for small business and business tax cuts, and the other side have always opposed that. I don't think they understand that we live in a competitive world, and that, if we want our small businesses and if we want our large businesses to survive and flourish, we have to match and we have to be internationally competitive. We have one of the highest tax rates for companies in the world. We did get through the tax cuts for the smaller businesses, and that was very important. Why do we understand that? We understand that because a lot of us on this side have managed a business or run a business. We understand that when you give businesses a tax cut they will put more of that money back into the business, they have more money to invest in the business and they have more money to employ people in the business. I think it's a great shame, because I actually think that up until the last parliament that Australia had really had a bit of a bipartisan approach on tax cuts. Believe you me, probably one of the glory days of the Labor Party were the Hawke-Keating years. They understood tax cuts. They were cutting company tax rates, large and small.