Wednesday, 23 November 2022
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Consideration in Detail
Michael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Hansard source
RMACK () (): Since coming into office, Labor has made a number of questionable decisions when it comes to agriculture. That said, I do appreciate the assistance given to local government areas by the agriculture minister, who doubles as the emergency services minister. When I contacted his office today about the local government area of Cowra, in my seat of Riverina, as well as one in the electorate of the member for Parkes, that being Lachlan, and one in the electorate of the member for Farrer, that being Carrathool, he promised money for the first two and that he would seriously look at Carrathool. I'm sure that, given the need for assistance because of flooding, that will eventuate. I appreciate that he has been to those flood affected areas, because one of the worst hit areas has been agriculture. Many of the crops have been wiped out, which is devastating for those farmers.
I'm also pleased that the minister for infrastructure is in the chamber because I had a good meeting with her earlier this evening in relation to roads. I appreciate the fact that the government is going to address this as far as emergency funding is concerned. I've been calling for this for some time. Whether it is through the funding streams already there or whether the government looks further at it in the budget context next May, the minister has given me assurances that she understands. She is from a regional electorate, from Ballarat in Victoria, and she knows as well as any regional member does—I appreciate that the member for Leichhardt is here—that our roads are very important to us. The weather events in recent weeks and months have made the roads not just atrocious but dangerous. I thank the government for what it is doing in this area to address that.
That said, there are a number of questions that I would put to the minister. Workforce shortages are a huge thing, and the agriculture visa, of course, is very important particularly to the National Party members but to all the regional members of the coalition. The agriculture sector throughout Australia is facing chronic workforce shortages. Indeed, I contacted Kim Houghton from the Regional Australia Institute earlier this week. He told me that there are 93,000 vacancies in regional Australia at the moment. But according to the National Food Supply Chain Alliance, Australia is 172,000 workers short from paddock to plate. They are huge numbers.
There are plenty of vacancies in Australia, and that's why, in government, the federal coalition introduced a major reform—the dedicated ag visa—to bring in the next generation of migrant workers to help build regional Australia. Given the severe shortages in the ag sector in workforce, the government's decision to stop the dedicated ag visa and replace it instead with the PALM scheme is disgraceful. This move makes it so much harder for farmers to find workers. Just 10,800 workers have come to Australia through the PALM scheme since June, and our farmers cannot get the workers they need and are only planting or producing at 60 per cent capacity. You add the level of floods to that, and it makes it just that much more worse. My question is: as part of the memorandum of understanding with Vietnam, when will the implementation details be finalised, Minister? When are the first workers from Vietnam expected to arrive in Australia to help our farmers? It's a serious question, and the opposition would really like an answer to that to help agriculture.
In the time remaining, and whilst I've got the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government in the chamber—I appreciate that she's doubling as the representative for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in the House of Representatives—I would also like to ask what her vision is for water infrastructure, particularly Wyangala Dam. Raising it by 10 metres to 95 metres adds 650 gigalitres of capacity to the Central West area of New South Wales. It's good for agriculture primarily and brilliant for flood mitigation. Forbes has been flooded, if you count the four peaks this year, eight times in the past 12 years. Before that it was, on average, every seven years since 1887. They are resilient people, Minister, but they are very tired. They are getting weary of sandbagging. You know that, I know that, everybody in the Central West knows that. We haven't got a commitment from state Labor. Will you make that commitment, as part of federal Labor, to invest in that vital piece of water infrastructure?