House debates

Thursday, 30 November 2023


Nicholls Electorate: Albanese Government

4:55 pm

Photo of Sam BirrellSam Birrell (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I thought I might take the opportunity to sum up the year and how things that have happened in this place have affected my electorate. My electorate had a tough start to the year, because there was a lot of flooding last year and some hailstorms that damaged the fruit crops. But I must say with disappointment—and I don't take any joy in reporting this, but—I don't think the Albanese government has governed well for the people of Nicholls this year.

Obviously the dominant thing that happened this year was the Voice referendum. I think it was undercooked, underprepared. In my view it created unnecessary divisions. There was a high 'no' vote in my electorate, I'm sure because people didn't want the Constitution changed in that way. Unfortunately, that has led to many Indigenous people thinking that it was a rejection of them and their culture. I emphasise I do not believe that is the case. But I think it just shows that we've got to be very careful when we have these debates and put these referendums forward. We are still dealing with the division that that undercooked and underprepared referendum project delivered, and that's a source of sadness for me.

Today, there was some legislation passed in this place that has devastated my community. Against all the advice and all the warnings from people who live in basin communities, this parliament did pass the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill, the updated Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which removed some of the protections that had been put in the plan in the first place. They were protections around the extra 450 gigalitres that was sought to be delivered but that could only be delivered if it could be proven to have no socio-economic detriment.

I've said many times in this place, the definition of socio-economic detriment is: does it have a detriment to society and does it have a detriment to the economy? This legislation clearly will, and it won't achieve the environmental outcomes that it seeks to achieve. I'm so disappointed that the minister's not across her brief enough to understand that or to even understand that when you're not across your brief you go into basin communities and ask them what they think, because I think we could have come to a much better arrangement that would have delivered not only great environmental outcomes for the river—the 'Golden River', which I grew up on—but also prosperous communities and with all the benefits we have from the great Australian farming produce that is produced in the Murray-Darling Basin, particularly in my area of Nicholls.

Again, it's a great disappointment that people didn't understand the harm that buybacks did last time and, therefore, couldn't project forward and understand the harm buybacks will do this time. We will try to work through that. I can tell you, the Albanese government came here and said we're governing for everyone, but my people in Nicholls don't feel that based on that legislation and other things.

There was some really disappointing news about infrastructure and regional infrastructure. We have some great pieces of infrastructure that were built and are being built under the previous coalition government. I thank the member for Gippsland for being here, because he and I ran—we ran across a bridge. The member for Gippsland built a bridge and got over it, which is a great piece of infrastructure that links the two towns of Echuca and Moama across the Murray River. It's a great example of what can be done by governments who have a focus on building things and not reviewing things and not trying to find excuses why things need to be cut.

The road network in my region is in a parlous state. That's causing all sorts of problems around safety and around being able to get our produce to, particularly, the Port of Melbourne, where it needs to go to earn those wonderful export dollars for Australia. It's affecting our ability to do that, and the money that was going to the councils to help fix those road projects isn't going in the way it used to.

I urge the Albanese government in the coming year to focus on all of those things. Try and understand: What's the engine room of the economy? Where's the money made? And do something serious about this cost-of-living crisis that's forced mortgages up in my electorate and all sorts of other prices up. We need these businesses to survive and thrive if we're going to go forward.

Merry Christmas to everyone. I hope we can have a better year next year in terms of the governance of the nation.


No comments