Thursday, 12 November 2020
Matters of Public Importance
At the outset, I just want to say that it is always an honour to be an MP in this place. It's something I'm very grateful for, and I'm also very grateful for the chance to be able to serve on the front bench. I just wanted to publicly record my gratitude to my colleagues, to the leader: thank you very much for this opportunity. I also wanted to record my enormous gratitude for the attention I have received from the National Party. Two days in the job, and so much love—a lot of attention! In fact, some of it has been quite extraordinary. You might be interested to know that our friends from the National Party, particularly in New South Wales, reached for the ventilator, the 'hyperventilator', and put out a media statement that says 'Labor picks inner-city MP as ag spokesman'.
I am very proud, friends, to represent the area of Mount Druitt. This 'inner-city' area is 50-plus kilometres away from the central business district of Sydney. Instead of reaching for hyperventilation, maybe if they'd reached for Google Maps it might've helped! I noted that our good friend the member for Kooyong, the Treasurer, also wanted to get in on the act. He picked out the fact that I was from an area that, he said, didn't have a sheep station. This is the member for Kooyong who, at one stage, was the minister for Northern Australia! I never knew that they stabled the colt from Kooyong in that northern Australian area known as Melbourne! But I'm very grateful for his attention as well.
I'll tell you what else I'm very grateful for as the shadow minister for agriculture. I follow in the footsteps, absolutely, of people like the member for Hunter, but I also, importantly, on the Labor side, follow in the footsteps of giants like John Kerin, the member for Werriwa, or the then member for Hotham Simon Crean, who was a minister for agriculture. These were people who cared deeply about the regions, and they cared deeply about agriculture. And, importantly, they didn't always think they were the smartest person in the room. They listened; they learned; they stood up. I want to acknowledge another person in the New South Wales state government who was also recognised as an extraordinary spokesperson for agriculture, and that was Richard Amery, who represented the seat of Mount Druitt! He did the same thing. They all cared.
The Deputy Prime Minister gave me a bit of attention too, quoting my critically acclaimed speech—critically acclaimed by myself!—for the Eddie Graham lecture. As to all this attention about a suburban based person having the temerity to think they're able to represent the regions, it's easier to focus on that than to focus on this: I acknowledge, firstly, that there are a lot of people who support the Nationals in those rural areas. But the question you've got to ask is: do the Nationals support those people back? Do they support them back when they need that support? This is the track record of Nationals representation in this place. The worst unemployment hotspots in the country are in Nationals seats. This is the stuff that the Deputy Prime Minister didn't quote into Hansard yesterday from that very speech. The worst health records and life expectancy in the country are in Nationals seats. Nineteen of the 20 electorates in the country with the highest life expectancy are Liberal. However, every single Nationals seat in Australia has a life expectancy in the bottom third of all electorates. They promised for ages they'd build a dam, and they haven't built damn one—pardon the French! Not one! And there's the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility that, in five years, had—in the words of the leader—no actual infrastructure fund.
We need to ensure that, in the regions, there is delivery. These are the everyday Australians who are relying upon delivery by this government and are always let down. It's comical, in part, when you don't deliver, but, when you seriously just keep making those announcements and don't deliver, it's disrespectful. You're treating as fools the people who depend on you, who turn up and say: 'We're hurting. We're going through a bushfire. We're going through a drought. Have you got a plan?' And the Nationals and the government say: 'No.' 'Have you got money that we could actually use today to make our lives easier?' 'Well, no.' 'So what have you got for us?' 'A media release; an announcement.' There's one after another with these people. They continually say that they've got something in the pipeline, but they never deliver. They just want to be able to rattle it off.
Look, for example, at the Morrison government. They supported the National Farmers Federation's ambition to grow farm-gate output to $100 billion by 2030. In July 2019 at the Dubbo Bush Summit, the Prime Minister did what he does best—he makes all these big promises; he doesn't follow through—claiming: 'That's why, today, I'm announcing the agriculture minister, Bridget McKenzie, will draw together a national plan to enable agriculture, fisheries and forestry to become $100 billion.' That all means one thing: jobs. Despite the PM having committed to the 2030 road map in 2018, they haven't developed a comprehensive plan.
On 26 October 2018 at the drought summit, they announced the government's plan for the drought, a $5 billion Future Drought Fund off in the never-never. We're two years on from that. How much has been delivered for people who suffered through the drought? Nothing.
An opposition member: A doughnut!
Absolutely, a doughnut—an elusive fund, with nothing delivered. The agriculture minister loves to announce, for example, that he wants to see new ideas, smarter thinking and application with these research and development councils that he has for regional and rural Australia. He's commissioned reports. He's had inquiries into the RDCs. We've had reports, we've had reviews into the reports and then we've had new reports into those reports. I have to say he has had some success. The crop that is flourishing most under the minister for agriculture's watch is consultants' invoices. I don't know if there's a Latin name for them, such as 'consultantus invoiceus'. I don't know what it is, but that's the only thing he's been able to deliver.
An opposition member interjecting—
Actually, I should have used that! The only thing he's been able to deliver is consultant reports, but there is nothing there for when people need it.
On biosecurity, they have let the nation down. They said they'd look after us through the pandemic. What happened with the Ruby Princess under the minister for agriculture's watch? When he was asked about how to deal with it, what did he say? He said that the biosecurity area of the department of agriculture isn't responsible for human health. Really? The department of agriculture, responsible for food and so many other things, is not responsible for human health? He doesn't even know his own act.
They do not have an ability to follow through on their announcements. How many things have we seen? One Minister for Agriculture, the former Minister for Sport, made all these promises about what they would do with sports funds, and the only thing they delivered is that they skewed them to electorates, and she lost her job. The Prime Minister said, back in January when the heat was on, that he would deliver for all those communities. Remember all those community groups that put that effort in. They applied for those grants. In good faith they expected that money. They wanted that support, and they were let down, because they were never going to get the support at all, because the fix was in. It was always going to see money go to the government's mates and to those areas where they were chasing the votes. They said they would fix it up by coming up in this year's budget with something. They made an announcement at the Press Club. And what's happened now? They didn't deliver. They are constantly promising on one hand and not delivering on the other.
They are talking about all this money they'll spend on infrastructure. In fact, I got the Deputy Prime Minister to name a suburb in one of his responses this week. It was the first time he acknowledged Marsden Park, which I've been trying to get infrastructure for. At least he has finally acknowledged it now. But he's a minister who doesn't deliver. Last year, there was a $1.7 billion underspend in infrastructure, with all the needs that we have for infrastructure plus jobs. When you count it out over six years, they have underspent by over $1 billion every single year. But they always spend on the ad campaign. As I said before, in part it is comical, but it is downright disrespectful when there's a big difference between the announcement and the delivery, and that's absolutely what they should stand condemned for.