Thursday, 17 March 2016
Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016
Agriculture pretty much lives and succeeds or otherwise on the basis of a lot of the R&D and innovation which is done on its behalf and which it does on the nation's behalf. I rise to support the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016. I think that what is unique to Australia—from my experience in comparable countries around the world—is the way in which rural R&D is performed in Australia. The industries themselves vote on the amount and level at which the collection of levies should be raised. The Commonwealth government matches that funding up to the level of one-half of one per cent of production. Obviously, it works better for some than for others, because of the sizes and scales of particular industries. But it certainly works very well for broadacre farming, and it is more and more being embraced by various different agricultural activities.
This bill is incredibly important if Australia wants to continue to be recognised as a world leader in agriculture. I think the manner in which we present our agricultural production for inspection and sale around the world is a case in point. China has its issues, though we will not go into those today, but it pretty much prefers our produce to anyone else's in the world in certain aspects. That bears out the fact that we are tough on exports and what can be sold within Australia. But we should be tough, because the greatest thing that Australian agriculture has going for it is its reputation for clean, green, expertly produced and expertly presented commodities.
Rural research and development corporations need to be able to connect directly with the people on the ground—primary producers, who, through various levies and charges, directly fund this R&D in conjunction with the Commonwealth. This bill makes it possible for the rural research and development corporations to connect with the producer, who—ostensibly and along with the nation—R&D is there to assist. The people on the ground are the best qualified to inform those bodies of what will make their life easier—whether it is about innovation, where we want to go, or the actual plant or animal.
The producers—and I include myself and the member for Grey among them—are not only the ones paying the levies; we are also the ones who benefit directly from research in the sector. The research supports this—including a Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee inquiry into levies in the agricultural sector, which identified improved consultation with levy payers as important to ensuring the ongoing strength of the nation's R&D system. Currently, levy payers' information is able to be distributed to only a limited number of RDCs—those in the wool and dairy industries. The Australian agriculture sector is far more diverse than just the dairy and wool industries. All primary producers should be on an equal footing, as they are all paying levies and do deserve to have a say in the way in which those are directed. In fact, currently legislation limits primary producers' ability to have an input into how their levies are spent. The bill will remedy this by making it possible to provide this information to the other 13 RDCs. This bill will free the hands of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to distribute information on levy payers to the rural RDCs.
As stated earlier, research and inquiries into this have suggested the establishment of registers. The federal government are supportive of this as we understand the huge impact primary producers could have on directing research in their sector. The registers would include the name, address, contact details and ABN of any person who has paid or is liable to pay a levy or charge. This information would also be provided to the Australian Bureau of Statistics and used for the performance of its functions.
The federal government are committed to ensuring we are leading the pack when it comes to agriculture. For this to continue, we must improve the current system. We must ensure policy development and decision making is informed, and this bill is designed to do just that. Engagement with industry is vital, no matter what sector we are talking about. We do not make decisions about education without talking to those in the classroom, and we do not make decisions about health without talking to doctors and nurses. The agriculture sector should be no different.
We must create communication channels to ensure RDCs can align their research investments with industry priorities. That is the issue, because priorities change—just as markets change, as machinery changes and certainly as the weather changes—and this has huge flow-on effects. It will improve returns to the farm gate and ensure a sustainable, more profitable and stronger agriculture sector. The government will continue in its commitment to uphold the highest standard of security and privacy both for individuals and for commercial organisations. This confidentiality will not be compromised. The use of the information, and it will be subject to all relevant privacy considerations.
The bill limits the purposes for which levy payer information can be used to the following: to maintain levy payer registers; to maintain a register of eligible voters for polls conducted by an RDC in order to publish statistical, de-identified information; to fulfil an RDC's functions under its funding agreement with the Commonwealth; or to fulfil the functions of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This government has a focus on innovation and science, with the release of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. This bill builds on that agenda. There is no part of Australian production where R&D is more relevant and more necessary than agriculture.
Primary producers in my electorate of Calare and just west and north of me in the electorate of Parkes are doing some incredible things, and they need to be able to get their thoughts through to the relevant RDC. I should say at this point in time that, over the period of the decade from 2000, it is a fact that productivity increases did somewhat stall, not just because it was the longest drought of the lifetime of anyone in this parliament but because I do not think that much was going into research. I do not think innovation was coming forward. It is a fact that, over that decade, we stalled and we need to go ahead once again.
Over the last 50 years, up until that decade, almost annually, we had around a two to three per cent increase in productivity in agriculture. In fact, if you look at the charts, the only reason agriculture survived financially was increasing productivity rather than the particular profitability of what they were doing. That is obviously not a good situation—I always said, prior to the election, that profitability has to be the byword of agriculture. There is no point in increasing productivity if you are not making any more money. I do not mind saying that farmers are not any different from anybody else—they need to make money as well as support the nation.
I think this bill is an opportunity for all involved in the agriculture sector. We, as farmers, need to regenerate our minds as well as what we do. I have always believed that, in my father's time, if you worked hard and had common sense, you probably did okay. These days it has moved far beyond that. It is so technical; the science changes so quickly. You only have to look at cotton, certainly up in the electorate of Parkes around Moree, and you will see just how scientific the growing of cotton has become. It is one of the most maligned industries in Australia, I might add. They use far less water than a lot of other industries and they use it very efficiently. It is quite incredible. People should see it, just to see how modern it is.
While I am on this issue of R&D, I want to briefly touch on a couple of things. I am not somebody who went to university, but I often think that, if I did, gene technology is what I would want to do. It is quite amazing. It is a fantastic study. To talk to those scientists at CSIRO and elsewhere about some of the things they can do, and have done, is a revelation in itself. I sometimes wonder whether people realise just how far we can go with this. If you look at the Northern Territory, for example, where not every breed of cattle can survive well, what they have been able to do—and they have not finalised it—is irradiate a bull's reproductive parts to mitigate its own characteristics. They can then supplant it with a bull of far superior quality. In other words, you can have a scrubber running around up in the north with the best Hereford's reproductive capacity—or whatever breed you like.
The bull is tough enough to survive up there, to find the cows and all the rest of it—because fertility is a very big issue up there—but not only would he be doing that; he would not be reproducing himself but the finest bull in Australia, or the world for that matter. The problem, at this point in time, is that they cannot make it last—it dies back and his own reproductive capability re-emerges. But the fact that they can actually do this is just mind-blowing. That is the sort of thing that CSIRO and others have started to do. To me, a farmer and a grazier who loves cattle and sheep, I find this the most incredible thing of all—that they can actually even get as far as they have with that.
The other part about R&D and innovation is that we need more researchers. The mining industry had this problem 20 or 30 years ago. In opposition, I remember we went to them to find out how they pretty much solved it. Money was a great one, but you do not actually have to have a farm boy who is a scientist to do it. You can pinch anyone who is at uni and who is interested in it. There is a capability employment-wise of something like 4,000 people a year, within government departments at state and federal level, within the big corporate entities in agriculture and in pesticides and insecticides, and within veterinary companies—they all need this kind of research. The ability for employment is fantastic, but we need to get to the parents and those people who have perhaps even started at university in various scientific fields. We need to get them in.
R&D and innovation is so important. Let's not forget innovation here, because it does not matter how groundbreaking or great a discovery might be; if you cannot then make it a practical reality, it is not worth much to you. Innovation, to me, is about turning a proven idea into a reality, which is something the family farm does better than anyone. The big guys at corporates have a huge place in Australian agriculture. They can afford to try this stuff. But it is what I call the family corporates, the big family businesses and the smaller family businesses, that perfect it. They make it affordable or not. They are the ones who will decide whether or not they can afford to do it and continue with that.
I commend the bill. Whatever makes those doing the research more aware of what we need, what we must have and where we want to go can only be good, because the world prefers our goods over anyone else's, given the choice.
I rise this morning to speak on the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016. This bill makes it possible for the rural research and development corporations to identify and connect directly with the primary producers who fund their work. Recent reviews and inquiries, including the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee inquiry into industry structures and systems governing the imposition and disbursement of marketing and research and development levies in the agricultural sector, have identified improved consultation with levy payers as important for the ongoing strength of Australia's rural R&D system. Several of these inquiries recommended levy payer registers as a way for RDCs to consult more effectively with the primary producers who fund them. So this bill will amend the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act 1991 to allow for the distribution of levy payer information by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to rural RDCs for development of levy payer registers.
Rural research is critical to the profitability and prosperity of this nation. Agriculture and the innovation around it has driven the economy of Australia for the last 200 years. As the mining sector goes through a tougher time, agriculture once again is coming to the fore in its ability to strengthen the economy of this country but also to provide sustenance, comfort, food and fibre to the people not only of this country but around the world.
In the vast areas of northern and western New South Wales in the Parkes electorate some cutting-edge technologies and innovations are now in place. The productivity of the farmers in my electorate continues to grow because of innovation and research. It is important that we have government investment through the RDCs to oversee this research, but we need the connection with farmers as well. It is important that we as a nation have this research and continue to understand the important role that agriculture plays. One of the great frustrations we have seen in recent times has come from a seeming disconnect from what once was considered basic common sense on what drives the economy of a country—primary production, secondary industries and tertiary industries. There seems to be a sector now that thinks we can be a country of just tertiary industries and not only not highly regard our primary production but, in many cases, work against it.
I will give you the classic example at the moment. The global green organisations of the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the like are running a campaign against the chemical glyphosate, more commonly known as Roundup. They are citing a report that was put out by the World Health Organization stating that Roundup may be carcinogenic to humans following on from a study that was done on mice. The reality is that Roundup has the same level of carcinogens in it as red meat, coffee and hair shampoo. That was mentioned in the report, but the green lobby have not taken the full report in context and have taken that piece out of it. So now we have these calls around the country for shire councils and others to ban glyphosate on the grounds that it causes cancer and is harmful to humans.
The grain-growing economy of Australia is in such a healthy state largely because of the use of chemicals such as glyphosate. Indeed, in the early 1980s when this chemical was first invented and was in its early stages, I was involved with my brothers in early trials with the New South Wales department of agriculture. Once again, there is that constant ability of our country to look at new ways of innovation—in this case, at zero-till farming using glyphosate to spray the weeds instead of cultivating. Very soon it was evident that, in the climate we live in, this was a new and superior way of preparing the ground for growing crops. Following on from work that was done by Sydney university, by Jeff Esdaile at Livingston Farm at Moree and by others at other places, now zero-till farming is pretty well universally accepted. Over the last decade or so, as we have had a drier than average weather cycle, farmers have remained profitable because they have been able to store moisture, not lose it through cultivation and excessive growth of weeds. They have produced crops that their fathers or grandfathers would not have been able to. This constant need to be looking at different and innovative ways of doing things is so important.
The member for Calare mentioned cotton and the gene technology that has gone into a modern cotton plant. Cotton farmers work on this and lot of work is also being done by the Cotton CRC based in Narrabri, which has been a huge boost to the cotton industry and also to the community of Narrabri. Minister Joyce has been very firm in moving CRCs to regional areas, and Dubbo is going to have part of a grain CRC in the next little while. The Cotton CRC based at Narrabri has done amazing things, sponsored amazing innovation and has been a wonderful thing for the cotton industry and the Narrabri community.
Now we have farmers who know, remotely, the exact water level in their soil and the amount of available soil moisture. They have devices that monitor the contents of the leaves of the plants, so they know what the respiration is. They know exactly when to water, so they are growing superior yields with less water. As an aside, it has put some pressure on the telecommunication systems out there because now we have huge amounts of data going through the mobile telephone systems as farmers are using this remote technology more and more and being very precise.
With cotton, there are now more kilograms of fibre produced per megalitre of water and litre of diesel than at any time in our past, and Australia leads the world in this. I am amused at our green lobbyists and protesters who will be protesting about gene technology or GM crops while wearing cotton T-shirts with slogans emblazoned on them. I do not know where they think the cotton comes from to make their T-shirts—maybe it comes from the good cotton fairies. Once again, I speak about the disconnect that we have between what really drives the economy of agriculture in this country and the perceptions of our population.
It is not just in cropping but also in livestock. The member for Calare also mentioned gene technology. A couple of weeks ago I was visiting the Taylor family and their very well-regarded Mumblebone Stud at Wellington. I spoke with George and Chad Taylor about identifying certain genetic traits of merino rams and breeding an animal that produces a very even line of a certain micron wool while also taking into account carcass weight, birth weight, growth rate, fertility and a whole range of other parts of the animal that would normally take generations to breed to. Through this identification of certain genes within the animal, they are doing this much more quickly. The Taylors have also been able to react to the—I have to say, at times misplaced—global campaign to stop the process of mulesing. The Taylors have been able to speed up the process of breeding an animal that is highly productive in the wool that it produces but for which the need for mulesing has been eliminated. With that come lower or almost non-existent levels of flystrike, which is incredibly damaging to production and to the overall welfare of the animal.
The same thing is happening with beef cattle. Because of the work that has been done in the many beef studs throughout my electorate on selective breeding and identifying genes through artificial breeding programs, we are seeing animals that are vastly superior to anything that we have seen before. Basically, if you are going to have an animal that is going to be eating a certain amount of grass, it is best to be producing the most amount of produce of the highest quality for that amount of input. It is all about profitability, and I cannot agree with the member for Calare more strongly: it is profitability that breeds innovation and it is profitability that allows farmers to be conservationists as well. I support this bill. I would like to acknowledge the work that has been done by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and also his passion to put agriculture once again at the forefront of the mindset of the Australian people. In my eight-plus years in this place, I cannot remember when agriculture has played a more dominant part in debates in this place and been part of budget papers by the government. I have never seen a higher awareness than we have at the moment, so I acknowledge the minister for that. I strongly support this bill.
I am pleased this morning to rise to speak on the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016. Just before I commence, I note that this is the last parliamentary sitting day before the budget. With the election due at any time, this could be the last opportunity that I get to speak during this parliament. I would just like to say that to rise in this parliament and speak is one of the greatest opportunities that any Australian citizen can have. In this parliament we should all take that opportunity and understand how valuable it is that we can be here and add our voice to debates on matters of public policy.
Early in this debate, the member for Hunter made several comments about section 46 as it applies to primary industries. I wish to respond to the points that he raised in this debate. First, when we talk about section 46 in our competition laws, the first question we should ask is: why do we even have competition rules? We say we believe in free market competition because history shows that free market capitalism has been the greatest tool of wealth creation known to mankind. It has been the most effective weapon ever to lift millions, if not billions, of people out of poverty. We have also seen that it is the best solution that we have for our environment. One only has to look at the environmental mess that was created in the centrally planned economies of the Eastern Bloc, China and other socialist states that became the world's worst polluters. They were stuck with outdated technologies. They had no sufficient wealth creation to generate the money for the clean-ups. If we had the entire world going down that track, we would be facing an environmental apocalypse. Technological solutions are improving our environment and will continue to improve our environment, and they can only be achieved through the workings of the free market.
When we talk about the free market, it is perhaps paradoxical that, in order for that free market to be achieved, we need some rules or regulations for the free market to operate. If you do not have those rules to govern competition, you go back to feudalism. It is a paradoxical proposition that those who believe in free markets and what they achieve should be the strongest believers in competition regulation. If we look through the history of competition laws, or antitrust laws as they call them in the states, I would suggest that they were designed to do three things. We sometimes say that our competition laws should be there for the benefit of the consumer. I say that is putting the cart before the horse. The benefits to the consumer come at the end.
I go to the three most important things regarding why we need competition laws. The first reason is to provide equality of opportunity to the person who decides they want to run their own show, want to have a go by themselves and do not want to be an employee of a large corporation. They want to try their own luck with their own ideas. That is the most important principle that has underwritten the wealth creation in the world over the last several hundred years. The person who said that best was Theodore Roosevelt over 100 years ago, in 1912. I would like to quote a few lines from a speech that it gave about the importance of providing opportunity. He said:
The important thing is this: that, under such government recognition as we may give to that which is beneficent and wholesome in large business organizations, we shall be most vigilant never to allow them to crystallize into a condition which shall make private initiative difficult.
It is of the utmost importance that in the future we shall keep the broad path of opportunity just as open and easy for our children as it was for our fathers during the period which has been the glory of America’s industrial history—that it shall be not only possible but easy for an ambitious man, whose character has so impressed itself upon his neighbors that they are willing to give him capital and credit, to start in business for himself, and, if his superior efficiency deserves it, to triumph over the biggest organization that may happen to exist in his particular field.
That is why we need effective competition laws: to provide equality of opportunity.
The second reason is to provide protection from predatory practices. Someone can risk their own capital, go into business for themselves, set up that business and know that they can compete without the larger incumbent players in the market using a predatory pricing scheme or geographic pricing to drive them out of the market. The third reason is to prevent overly concentrated markets. We sometimes make the mistake when we look at competition policy of saying that it is okay, you only need two or three competitors in a market for there to be competition. That may well work for the consumer, but it does not work back up the supply chain. This was noted back in 1953. I think this quote sums it up the best. This is from the National Farmers Union in the USA in 1953 during an inquiry into the Robinson-Patman Act, their Anti-Price Discrimination Act. They said:
The Robinson-Patman act has been referred to as the Magna Carta of small business. We consider it the Magna Carta of agriculture also. The farmer must have competition in the market place. If he is to deal with giant monopolies either in buying or selling, he perforce becomes an economic slave.
By coincidence, there is an example of the dangers and the problems of overly concentrated markets in the supply chain in today's papers. In The Sydney Morning Herald today there is an article about Woolworths stretching its payments to its suppliers from 30 days out to 60 days. This is what happens when the market is overly concentrated. When they are forced by such a demand, a supplier must have the ability to say, 'Get stuffed.' It is fundamental to the workings of the free market that in commercial negotiations between two parties either party has the ability to say, 'Get stuffed.' But when the market becomes overly concentrated and they are faced with Woolworths wanting to negotiate to push their payment terms from 30 days out to 60 days, what opportunity are any of these suppliers going to have to say, 'Get stuffed'? None. They just simply have to cop it. Some of the suppliers today talked about Woolworths' payment system, saying:
"Their payment system is broken and deliberately so. Payments come slowly and in dribs and drabs," said one supplier, who supplies products to all Woolworths divisions, including home improvement and BIG W.
"One of my terms is 28 days and I have invoices that are 90 and 120 days old," the supplier said. "They're way outside payment terms."
Another supplier said: "Invoices aren't being paid on time. You get a contract with settlement terms and they never meet the settlement terms. In any one week we'd be chasing 30 invoices at Masters and Woolworths. Sometimes they haven't paid at least 20 per cent of the invoices."
Although pushing out their payment terms might well make Woolworths more efficient, it simply transfers the costs back onto those suppliers, so the entire supply chain becomes less efficient, and the people that are damaged are the consumers.
Given the history of the three reasons why we need competition laws, we should go through Australia's response to them. The first is to provide opportunity. You need laws to prevent anticompetitive price discrimination because, where a firm dominates a large share of the market, it can put pressure on the suppliers to give it preferential terms way beyond any economies of scale. This gives it a competitive advantage and puts its smaller competitors at a competitive disadvantage. That is why the USA have the Robinson-Patman Act, an act that goes back to 1936. That is why they have the Interstate Commerce Act, which goes back to 1887. But from day one we have not had an effective law against anticompetitive price discrimination in this country, and we still do not have one today.
Secondly, there is the issue of predatory conduct, geographic price discrimination and predatory pricing. Again, our laws have failed. You only have to read Justice McHugh in the Boral case back in the 1990s, over 15 years ago. He noted the failure of our laws to prohibit predatory pricing. He said:
Conduct that is predatory in economic terms and anti-competitive may not be captured by s 46 simply because the predator does not have substantial market power when it sets out on its course to deter or injure competitors …
As written, our law only applies to companies with a substantial degree of market power, and in predatory pricing schemes, by definition, when you set out on that scheme you cannot have a substantial degree of market power if you have a small, pesky competitor that you want to wipe out. Justice McHugh said:
Section 46 is ill drawn to deal with claims of predatory pricing under these conditions.
That is the current state of our laws. Further, when it comes to acting when the market is overly concentrated, in the USA they have divestiture powers that allow for the break-up of companies that become too large and dominate a market too much. It has been argued here in Australia that we should not have the same laws as the home of free-market capitalism because it is unfair to the shareholders if a divestiture is ordered. But economic history tells us the exact opposite. If we look at when the US courts have used those divestiture powers, the winners have been the shareholders, because it has been found that the sum of the parts is worth more than the whole. That is exactly what happened in the USA when Standard Oil was famously broken up into over 30 separate small companies. If you were a shareholder in Standard Oil, for every one share that you had, you were given one share in each of those 36 other companies. Within one year of that break-up audit, the value of those individual shares in each of the new companies was worth more than double that of the original shares, so that is not something that shareholders should be worried about.
That is the state that our competition laws have been in for almost a century, so it has been pleasing that the Harper review identified that our competition laws are not working and are broken and that changes need to be made. We would hope that the Labor Party would discuss and look at supporting some of these changes, but unfortunately we know the Labor Party oppose them, because they like centralised control. They like the idea of a few large companies dominating each sector because it is simply easier for them to unionise those employees. We have seen that with their disgraceful decisions and actions on the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. What they have done is put independent operators at a competitive disadvantage to drive them out of business, to drive them into unions, under the guise of safety. This is a disgrace. (Time expired)
I rise in parliament today to speak on the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016, a bill which I have a strong affinity for. It covers areas such as the Grains Research and Development Corporation, which I was intimately involved in establishing many, many years ago now. It should be noted that farmers generate a $12 return for every dollar that is invested in R&D over 10 years.
I would also like to speak briefly to thank those people who have helped me on my 17½ year journey as the federal member for Groom. That journey will end when this parliament concludes and I leave this place to pursue the next chapter in my life. I came here with a burning passion to represent not only my electorate but all of regional Australia and to improve opportunities for all Australians. Being a minister, cabinet minister and shadow cabinet minister for the vast majority of my time here has given me an enormous opportunity to do just that.
There has never been a good time to leave parliament and my decision has been an agonising one for me personally. Time waits for no man, though, particularly someone who had laryngeal cancer at 47 and is now 60. If I want to most effectively use the vast experience I have gained from my 15 years on the front bench for the coalition in the areas of innovation, industry and resources and do something more for Australia, particularly regional Australia, now is the time to grasp the next opportunity.
I would like to thank the people of Toowoomba and the Darling Downs, who for nearly two decades have supported me to be their representative in this parliament. I want to thank the Queensland Liberal Party and the LNP for choosing me to be their candidate for the last six elections. I also owe a debt to John Moore, who served in this parliament for 26 years, including as a cabinet minister. I am very grateful for his endless encouragement and advice, which continues to this day. He has stood by me during my whole time in parliament.
As a cabinet minister under the Howard and Abbott governments, I was privileged to be supported and advised by the best group of professional public servants in Canberra if not all of Australia. With Mark Paterson, Secretary of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources between 2001 and 2007, and his department, we changed the direction of industry support in Australia while putting in place policies which allowed the resources industry to position itself for the biggest resources and energy boom this country has ever seen.
Again between 2013 and 2015, I joined forces with Glenys Beauchamp, secretary of industry and then industry and science departments. Together we forged a trusting and extremely effective working relationship between my ministerial office and her department during one of the more challenging periods of industry, innovation and science policy. Bringing industry and science together to work towards an internationally competitive industry sector and putting the 'I' for 'industry' back into CSIRO will succeed in bringing the collaboration between industry and science that Australia needs so much. As well, we were confronted with the challenges from the resources sector as the boom burst and commodity prices plummeted. The depth of knowledge and experience in both my ministerial office team and the department was priceless during this confronting and challenging time.
On that note, I would particularly like to thank John Ryan, who was deputy secretary of the department during my time there. John's intellect, experience and knowledge of the resources and energy sector at an international level saw him make an enormous contribution to public policy in Australia. I was indeed very fortunate to have his guidance and advice during the entire eight years I was a cabinet minister in this portfolio.
My greatest asset during my time in this place, though, has been my staff. I was never afraid to hire advisers who were smarter than me or who had a greater interest in ensuring good public policy rather than politics for politics' sake. Together they formed a dedicated and accomplished group, never afraid to tell their minister when he was wrong, providing me with near flawless advice.
In the pressure cooker environment of politics, I was proud of the cohesiveness of my ministerial teams, an example of which was that between 2001 and 2004, in that first term of my ministry, not one staff member left my ministerial team, and that was with the added pressure of having me away on sick leave with laryngeal cancer for most of 2003. I think that must almost be a record for a ministerial team. More recently 'Team M', as they chose to call themselves, formed themselves into a fantastic group of people using every bit of their talent and intelligence to get results, which did not go unnoticed by the rest of the offices on the blue carpet. They were an extraordinary group of people who worked together to ensure that the outcomes that we produced in that portfolio were the best ones we could possibly get.
In my electorate office I was fortunate to have a group of women and men who made me look good in Groom, even when I was not there. This was in fact for more time than I care to think of and often more than 200 days a year. While it is always difficult to single out one person, my special thanks go to Colleen Robertson. Colleen Robertson has kept me organised and where I should be when I should be there not only for my time in politics but in fact almost continuously since 1991. Yes, that is a quarter of a century.
In the end though, no-one survives 32 years in public life and all the scrutiny and pressure that that brings without a strong family around them. It was there that I hit the jackpot. My father, Jim, kept telling me I would be a good politician and constantly encouraged and supported me to do a job I did not ever aspire to do, while my mother, Isobel, continually reminded me to stick to the facts and to speak in words that everybody understood. My sister, Louise, sets the standards in our family and ensured that I kept mine high, while my brother Rob's positive attitude to his unlucky life showed me how to never complain about the cards that life deals you. My brother Neil, born with cerebral palsy, proved to me that fierce determination will get you where you want to go. I will always be grateful for their support no matter what came along and the enormous strength that gave me when I most needed it.
Finally to my daughters, Kate and Laura, and to my wife, Karen: we have walked this road together every step of the way. Kate was born the week before I was elected to the Queensland Graingrowers Association State Council, along with another fellow called Warren Truss, who you might know. And so I entered public life. For all of Kate's 31½ years and Laura's 28 years, they have watched me walk in and out of their lives on a weekly basis while their mother, Karen, performed miracles and was the bedrock, cornerstone and glue that kept us all together while we dealt with everything that was thrown at us.
My life in politics has been an enjoyable and fulfilling time, but it has not been without its sacrifices and ups and downs. It has given me and my family experiences and opportunities we would never have had as a farming family in the Boondooma district. For that, we will always be grateful. While, as they say, I was a volunteer and Karen, Kate and Laura were conscripts, we end our political life content with what we have done. I have never wanted to die wondering what could be done to make Australia a better place and I have to say that I have given it all I have got.
As to my legacy, that is for others to judge. Although, that said, I would be remiss not to mention the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing. Being a cabinet minister with a close relationship with both Prime Ministers Howard and Abbott, I was able to continually demand that this project be built. Without my authority and persistence and position, the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing simply would not have become a reality.
Can I conclude by expressing my concern about where politics in Australia is heading, particularly in the last five years. This is a very different place now to the one I came into in 1998. In 17½ years in this place, I have never been warned once, let alone ejected by the Speaker from this chamber. I was hoping a few members would be here to reflect on that. That is not to say that I have not done my share of injections, but I have always seen it as important to behave with discipline and respect for others. In my maiden speech in 1998, I said I came to this place with a history of bipartisanship and I intended to continue that approach. I leave having achieved that as best I could with particular success in the resources policy arena and, in particular, in my partnership with my co-ministers, Martin Ferguson and Gary Gray. It is fitting that the shadow minister for resources, the member for Brand, is at the table at the moment. Being bipartisan is not easy in modern politics. It often attracts criticism from your own side, but it did bring good policy outcomes regardless of which side was in government at the time and, more importantly, it gave the resources industry and its stakeholders greater confidence in the government of the day.
Science is another area of policy which I am familiar with, which is crying out for a similar bipartisan approach and one which would reap rich rewards for Australia if that were the case. Bipartisanship is not the norm in 2015. The fierceness of personal politics and the lack of respect for other people's views, combined with a win-at-all-costs, winner-take-all political attitude, may provide a spectacle for the media but is destroying public confidence in this institution. Is it any wonder that when politicians regularly denigrate their political opponents—and the media are only too happy to join in—we now find ourselves being referred to in the general populous as 'clowns' and this place as a 'circus'. Political commentator Chris Kenny nailed it when he said in The Australian newspaper last week:
… the combination of shallow journalism and shallow politics is ruining our governance.
The word 'politics' is from the Greek language and is supposed to be the practice and theory of influencing other people. I doubt the ancient Greeks aspired to do that by obliterating the reputation of their opponents in order to convince others of the value of their own argument. Remember, it is the Greeks who are seen by many as the founders of civilised society—worth thinking about.
Finally, I wish you, Prime Minister, and the Turnbull government every success to go on and win the election this year and get on with delivering the good job of good government in Australia. We all depend on it. Thank you.
on indulgence—The member for Groom has, in so many ways, eloquently captured the broad elements of his career in this place. A career that served the interests of our nation, the people of Queensland, the primary producers and those workers in the resources sector so well. We can learn so much from his example.
When Ian Macfarlane became the resources minister our country had an LNG export industry which was a curiosity, and we exported less than 100 million tonnes of iron ore a year. This year we will export in excess of 700 million tonnes of iron ore and we will become the world's largest exporter of LNG. LNG is being exported from our east coast, our west coast and our northern coast—all from assets that received, at some point or another, an approval granted, provided, advised, supported and encouraged by the member for Groom.
But in that massive, new, innovative industry the member for Groom, as minister, pursued alternatives. The member for Groom, innovative, thoughtful, courageous and ever pursuing the best options for our country, worked as hard as he could to try and deliver a gas-to-liquids export industry out of Gorgon. We do not now have that liquids export industry, but what we do have is the world's largest carbon geosequestration and the world's most technologically advanced LNG production facility, which, as we speak here today, is generating in excess of 8,000 jobs in the construction of that project and spending in excess of $1 million an hour for eight years to build the world's largest single-point resources project.
Our country has greatly benefited from the contribution of the member for Groom. That benefit will continue to serve our nation for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years to come—and we all thank you for that.
on indulgence—The member for Groom spoke about the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, and there is no doubt that it would not be underway had it had not been for his advocacy and determination. But the range I want to talk about, in respect of the member for Groom, is not the Second Range Crossing; it is the long range.
The member for Groom has always been a long-range thinker and a big thinker—a thinker and a dreamer as big as the country from which he sprang. As the member for Brand described, he laid the foundations, working, as he said, with his counterparts in the Labor Party, often with the bipartisanship that is, as he said, all too rare. But he did that with the long range in mind, to set Australia up not just for next year, not just for the next election, not just for the next decade but for the next half century.
The member for Groom has, as much as anybody in this place, built Australia's prosperity and future. He saw the long range and he went for it. He is a great Australian, a great friend, a great parliamentarian. He will be sorely missed when he does not return to this chamber after the election. But his patriotism, his commitment to Australia, his passion for the long range, the big view and the big vision—his passion for the big country which he loves so much—I am sure will see him making an enormous contribution to our nation and its people for many, many years to come. We salute you, Ian, and we thank you for your outstanding service to Australia.
Honourable members: Hear, hear!