House debates

Wednesday, 30 May 2018


Attorney-General's Portfolio; Consideration in Detail

6:04 pm

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great pleasure to be here with my parliamentary colleague the Hon. Melissa Price to talk about the importance of the actions that we're taking in the Environment and Energy portfolio. As you know, for the first time, these two portfolios have been integrated in order to not only tackle the very thorny and difficult issue of climate and energy policy but also to continue to deliver good outcomes for our environment. What's important in this budget is that we are investing in our energy future. There is money to follow through on the Finkel review recommendations. There is money to create a consumer access data platform to ensure people get better deals from their retailers, to continue the work of the COAG Energy Council, to ensure that we have a robust fuel security system—we're conducting a significant review in that regard.

When it comes to the environment, there is a huge amount of money—the largest ever single investment—in the Great Barrier Reef, in the restoration and management of this great wonder of the world. It is more than 2,000 kilometres in length, larger than the size of Italy and Japan. It is absolutely vital that we tackle the issues related to water quality, to better management practices by the farmers to avoid pesticide, nitrogen, and sediment run-off, to tackle the crown-of-thorns starfish, to invest in the science so that we create more heat-resistant and light-resistant coral to withstand some of the challenges that the Great Barrier Reef is going through right now. That amount of money, which is over half a billion dollars, has been warmly received by the science community, by the tourism community, by the farmers and by all those with a vested interest in the future health of the reef.

There's also more money in this budget for our Antarctic Science Program, which is internationally regarded. There's money to improve the Bureau of Meteorology's information communications and technology system, bearing in mind how central the bureau is to our defence, to our transport infrastructure, to our agriculture sectors and, indeed, to the broader community. And there's more money for heritage protection and for a new flagship national heritage program which will promote our amazing Indigenous sites as well as other sites throughout the country.

This budget sees more money put into the environment and more money put into energy policy. When it comes to energy policy, the National Energy Guarantee will be absolutely critical to delivering lower power prices and a more reliable system, as well as to meeting our international emissions reduction targets under the Paris agreement. Emissions today are, on a per-capita and GDP basis, at the lowest level in 28 years. When the Labor Party were last in office, they were expected to miss the 2020 target by over 700 million tonnes. We came into government and not only did we abolish the carbon tax, which saw the biggest single reduction in electricity prices ever on record, but we've actually turned around our 2020 target, and now we're expected to beat it by significantly more than 200 million tonnes.

The other work that we've done is intervene in the gas market to see more gas provided for domestic customers rather than exported overseas. Again, the Labor Party ignored the warnings from AEMO and from their own energy white paper which, as a result, saw gas prices go up quite dramatically. We've intervened, and the ACCC said prices have come down by up to 50 per cent. Labor did nothing about the networks, the poles and the wires, which are up to 50 per cent of people's power bills. We've abolished the limited merits review which, if the Labor Party had done it, would have saved consumers $6.5 billion. Whether it's the National Energy Guarantee, whether it is Snowy 2.0 and investments in storage, whether it is a better deal for customers from their retailers or whether it is abolishing the limited merits review or getting more gas into the domestic market, we're delivering a more affordable, reliable, and cleaner energy future, as well as significant investments in our environment.

6:09 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's interesting to hear you, Minister, talking about the portfolio and the combination of environment and energy. Clearly, it's a challenge to give appropriate weighting to the environment side of that portfolio. You talked recently about how Australia has one of the richest and most complex ecosystems in the world. That's very true. In my own electorate, which is World Heritage listed, we have unique flora and fauna—including koalas and platypuses—and we have a New South Wales government that wants to put a road through them. I think that really goes to the question of how much protection those areas get in this budget.

You've also acknowledged climate change as one of the threats to the 150,000 different species that we have, yet I note there was no new funding for climate change in the budget. There was nothing specific for it. You didn't have to blink and you'd miss it; it just wasn't there. I think that's disappointing.

I'd like the minister to explain the reports that there's a 25 per cent cut to the biodiversity and conservation division of the Department of Environment budget for the coming financial year. That's reported. I'd like to know if that report is accurate. I'd like to know what is the exact size of the cut? This cut's also reported to result in a loss of 60 full-time equivalent staff positions. I want to make the point that that's 60 out of a total base of approximately 200 full-time equivalent staff. So we're talking a cut of a third of staff. It does seem to me that you need people on the ground for the protection of the environment that you talk about, to protect these endangered species—in fact, to protect species not endangered so we can ensure that they remain healthy. So can the minister explain how the department will manage with a cut this size? I've heard these cuts described as 'kneecapping', as 'an absolute calamity for the Australian environment'—

Government Members:

Government members interjecting

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's how it's been described. We already have one of the highest rates of extinction. It all comes at a time when we've had the largest step backwards in conservation history with the removal of the Coral Sea as a marine park. In fact, there has been more area taken from conservation areas than in any country ever. So that's why I'm interested in these cuts.

The first national review of threatened species monitoring has found that one-third of the 548 endangered species and 70 per cent of our threatened ecological communities were not being tracked at all. It has been reported that the poor performance has been driven by factors likely to be exacerbated by these job cuts. It worries me that that isn't a priority.

The same, of course, could be said for the heritage division of the department, because over the years they haven't been a priority. I note that, in your five minutes of speaking, you spent about 10 seconds talking about heritage. That seems to me indicative of the priority that it has. The minister knows my interest in Thompson Square in Windsor, and I note that the minister took the step of writing to the premier of New South Wales. Yet what worries me in his analysis of Thompson Square and the decision not to emergency-list it nationally is that no-one from the department of heritage went on that site. This site has the oldest brick-barrel drains in the country, convict-made brick-barrel drains. No-one from the heritage department has even been there. What does that say about the funding that has gone to the department in order to adequately protect not just colonial history but also Indigenous history? I think that does raise questions, and I'd like to hear the minister's view on the funding for the heritage department—not for the money that you're offering people, but for the resourcing that you have within that department to adequately assess things, by going on site, on the ground, and really looking at what constitutes national heritage.

I'd also be interested to know how the government plans to maintain the biodiversity that it so clearly values, and the welfare of Australia's vulnerable native wildlife when it's cutting staff and resources from the divisions responsible for tracking these threatened species. How many threatened species are awaiting the development of recovery plans? How does this number compare to the number of threatened species awaiting recovery plans five years ago? What is the department going to do to monitor the effectiveness of recovering threatened species, and how do they know when a species has recovered? I'd really appreciate answers to those questions.

6:14 pm

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to, first of all, express my great appreciation to the minister for the recent close to half-billion-dollar investment in the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, my electorate from Cairns up to the Torres Strait actually takes a very considerable area of the reef. I'm pleased to see that we are continuing to invest in what has been world-class management. It really annoys me when I hear arguments in the media—it's inevitably in the southern based media—where they're talking about saving the reef. When you think about this, you see it's absolute nonsense. It is actually designed to prompt those in metropolitan areas who know absolutely nothing about the issue to open up their chequebooks, to be a fundraiser to these particular organisations. I think that it does a huge amount of damage in our area, particularly in relation to our tourism industry. The reef tourism operators in many ways are part of the custodians of the reef.

I just noted the previous speaker's comment in relation to the Coral Sea. Let me assure you that the best way to totally destroy an ecosystem is just to kick everybody out, lock it up, and think the lockup mentality is the best management tool. I'm just telling you now that a lockup mentality is not good management. These areas need to be utilised. There's a thing called sustainability. And, provided that that is followed, whether it be through extractive industries like fishing or whether it be through recreational use, that has to be the key criteria. And the management that we're seeing happening up there at the moment in this beautiful area is, I think, a credit to Australia in that we are leading the world in reef management. And we're not 'saving' the reef. The reef doesn't need to be saved. It needs to continue to be managed and to make sure that we have best practices there to make sure that anything we do on there is sustainable and, when there are issues confronting the reef—we talk about the recent bleaching. I understand the bleaching. The bleaching is an event caused from hot currents that come from South America. I can assure you that, by destroying our own industries along the eastern seaboard, that's not going to stop those warm currents coming across from South America. What's going to help to influence those is what they do in China, what they do in India and what they do in the United States. That's what's going to make the big difference there to get those changes that will have an impact.

In the meantime, we have to do best-possible practice. I've got to say that, again, we had that $2 billion that we announced earlier on and now another half a billion dollars, and some of the work we're doing there, particularly in relation to inflows into the agricultural sector, have made some very significant inroads. But one of the things I'd like to see and I'd encourage you to consider, Minister, is something like a Clean Seas program mark II, where we start to look at outflows from all our coastal cities. That will help to complement the work to make sure we deal with those issues as well.

I've got to say to you: congratulations on the efforts to date. We'll continue to maintain our status in that area. I'd like to ask the minister to explain how, given our record in Great Barrier Reef investments, those investments will benefit my electorate of Leichhardt. I know that there are many benefits, but I'd like you to explain those too, if you could, for me. Thank you very much.

6:19 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm going to begin where the minister began, which is talking about Australia's carbon pollution levels, because the minister wasn't telling the full story. If he were interested in being accurate and fair, he would have noted that, last year, pollution levels in this country rose by 1½ per cent. Australia's carbon pollution went up by 1½ per cent according to the government's own figures. As worryingly, in the last quarter alone carbon pollution in Australia went up by 0.83 per cent. Annualised, that is 2½ to three per cent. So my first question to the minister is: will he admit that he has failed as the environment and energy minister for this country? Pollution levels are up. He is a failure. He should come clean and admit that he has failed as minister. It is a legitimate question and I look forward to his answer.

Further evidence of his failure is that wholesale energy prices have doubled in his tenure. Wholesale electricity prices in this country have doubled in his time as minister. They have doubled because of this government's policy vacuum around energy policy since September 2013. Their first energy policy was to abolish the Renewable Energy Target. When that failed they then had the Emissions Reduction Fund, which did absolutely nothing for energy in this country. Then we had the glorious 12 hours of this government's commitment to the Emissions Intensity Scheme. Who can forget that glorious 12 hours! The minister did a great interview with Fran Kelly. It was quite a good performance, but the fossils in his party room were freaked out that he retreated and surrendered within 12 hours. It was the shortest war in the history of the energy crisis in this country—his commitment to the Emissions Intensity Scheme. Then we had the Clean Energy Target for six months, under Alan Finkel, and now we've got the National Energy Guarantee. Normally when you have an energy policy launch you have inches of documents, but this policy was an eight-page letter from the Energy Security Board. What is the price of all this? A doubling of wholesale energy prices. The Clean Energy Council's chief executive said yesterday that there is still no long-term unifying energy or climate change policy in this place.

Secondly, what is the impact of the National Energy Guarantee, with its hopelessly inadequate 26 per cent target? We had the Clean Energy Council saying that the NEG is unlikely to encourage new renewable energy to drive down power prices as our old coal-fired power plants continue to close. The Smart Energy Council chief executive said the NEG effectively places a cap on renewables and removes the investment initiative and support for additional large scale renewable projects to come online. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who are the premium analysts around the world in this area, said that after 2020, when the current Renewable Energy Target is met, investment under federal policies would be likely to fall off a cliff because the National Energy Guarantee, as currently floated by the federal government, would require very little effort to achieve.

When the minister's own department was asked at estimates last week whether they agreed with this analysis, their strongest response was 'we're unsure'. They didn't rebut it; they said they were unsure about Bloomberg New Energy Finance's analysis that renewable energy investment, because of their renewable energy target, falls off a cliff. And they couldn't be stronger because they also admitted at estimates that they have done no modelling on the impact on renewable investment under the NEG. Bloomberg also said renewable energy investment is likely to taper in 2018 and then collapse. The former CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Oliver Yates, said it is low-ambition energy, it is woeful and it locks inaction in place. Minister, what do you project renewable energy penetration to be by 2030 under your 26 per cent NEG? What is your planned trajectory post 2030 for Australia's decarbonisation? And what is the state of play of the Finkel recommendation around a three-year notice period? These are all important questions and I look forward to the answers.

6:24 pm

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always interesting to stand in this place and follow on from our learned colleagues across the chamber.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What's important in this is that, as a government, we are focused on improving our environment in a whole range of areas. There is far more to our environment than energy policy. My question to the minister in a little bit will be around energy policy because it is very important in that it affects the lives of everyday Australians—not just individual households but also businesses. We need to ensure that we have an energy policy that allows business to grow, prosper and employ Australians. That's what I see we are seeking to do with the energy policy that has been put forward.

Before I get to that, I want to touch on the issue of the environment more broadly because I haven't heard a single word from those opposite about the day-to-day lived experience of our local environment. The member for Leichhardt, in his contribution, showed how critically important that is on a day-to-day basis with what we're doing on the Great Barrier Reef. I would like to take this opportunity to ask the minister to speak more broadly about the portfolio and what we're doing to ensure that the lived environment that Australians live in every single day is being improved on a day-to-day basis. I look back at some of the stuff that my mother has done up at Mount Tamborine with rainforest regeneration and building riparian corridors on waterways to improve water quality and reduce erosion—practical, on-the-ground environmental measures that make a genuine difference to the lived and built environment that we all live in every single day.

My first question to the minister is: could he please update the House on what we're doing in that space? I think it's part of the discussion that we don't have regularly enough. As a government, we're doing some really good stuff in that space that would be very helpful. I've touched on the National Energy Guarantee already in terms of the importance of ensuring that we have affordable, reliable electricity—that we do not again see the situation that occurred in South Australia and that we do not see that occur in other parts of Australia. We know that to employ people and to be able to afford to provide services and products—not to just the Australian marketplace but to the global marketplace that we are now competing in—businesses need affordable and reliable energy. I ask the minister: with the National Energy Guarantee and the other measures that we've been taking over the last six or 12 months in the space of energy, what have we been doing to ensure that we drive down electricity and gas prices, on a wholesale basis, to ensure that business can compete? We look at the free trade agreements that we have successfully signed across the globe to create the opportunity for business to export. If I look at a large business such as Teys abattoirs, which employs 800 people in my electorate, the energy costs are a major impediment to their cost-competitiveness on the global marketplace. So, Minister, can you please share with the House how, through the National Energy Guarantee, we're seeking to ensure that energy prices are affordable and reliable to ensure that businesses and households can maintain and use the energy they need on a day-to-day basis?

6:29 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have several questions for the minister. I'm sure that he would agree that Australia's precious environment is vulnerable and must be protected in a way that is considered and sustainable. Obviously, the Great Barrier Reef is arguably Australia's most precious natural asset. It's of great economic benefit to Queensland. Many people come from all around the world to see it. Recently, we heard Sir David Attenborough, one of the most respected naturalists in the world, say that Far North Queensland is his favourite part of the world. I'm not just saying that because I'm married to someone from Cairns!

I was very surprised to see and hear in the budget that the government has provided funding to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Initially, I was obviously very supportive. I will always support anything that can be done to support Australian tourism—Queensland tourism in particular. The Labor Party under the member for Grayndler has done great things for tourism in the past. We will always support investment in tourism. I know that the member for Shortland is a great supporter of all things Queensland. I know that he's passionate about Queensland.

Mr Conroy interjecting

I know he's a big supporter of Queensland and will be very proud of any investment in Queensland, particularly those supporting the Great Barrier Reef.

When it was announced that funding of $444 million will all go to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, I was very surprised, like many people in Australia. It's a foundation that Labor funded.

A government member interjecting

I recognise that Labor funded this foundation when it was in government. Labor committed $3 million a year to the foundation, and we actually maintain a good working relationship with them. But funding of $444 million to one foundation that employs how many people? Six full-time members and five part-time members. That's a completely different ball game. It shows a complete error of judgement on the part of this government. What did Neville Wran say about the member for Wentworth? 'Fearless, but his greatest flaw was his lack of judgement.' And we see this again. This is the largest donation that any Australian government has made to a single foundation for environmental projects.

The foundation itself described the funding—after they consulted with those many scientists that they have—like winning the Lotto, the scale of funding ordinarily overseen by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. No, we have this Minister trying out for the Lodge early. He's outsourced this massive funding grant to one organisation. The Great Barrier Reef

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

Yes, it is funding, Minister. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, located in Townsville, in the member for Herbert's electorate, only found out about it a week before it was announced. When questions were asked in Senate estimates last week, it became clear that the process, if there was one, was at best chaotic. Senate estimates left us with more questions than answers. We can't get an answer about when the decision to provide the funding was made and who made it, or whether any advice was received by the minister before the funding the announcement was made.

Minister, was there any due diligence given before it was decided to entrust $444 million of taxpayer money to the foundation? Did the Minister consider the Reef Trust for this large funding grant? The Reef Trust is described on his own department's website as:

… one of the key mechanisms assisting in the delivery of the Reef 2050 Plan, focusing on known critical areas for investment—improving water quality and coastal habitat along the Great Barrier Reef …

The Reef Trust is considered a collaboration between the federal government, the Queensland government and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Great runs on the board. Was the Reef Trust considered as an option before it was decided to give $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation? Was advice sought about whether the Reef Trust was a suitable candidate for the funding? Did you even use something called Google to see whether there were other entities available? With such a large funding grant, why was there not a competitive process undertaken to ensure that this funding was used to best benefit the Great Barrier Reef? Why was this very large funding grant of $444 million not kept in-house and spread over different areas? Why was it necessary to give $444 million to one organisation over a one- or two-month period? Why was it to be allocated in this financial year? (Time expired)

6:34 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to start by assuring the member for Macquarie that there are no reductions in the department's funding or average staffing levels—as we adjust our programs, like the conclusion of the Green Army.

In response to the member for Forde, I would like to acknowledge his deep commitment to the environment and also just remind him of the largest investment in the Regional Land Partnerships: some $450 million over five years from 2018-19 to 2023. These practical, on-the-ground types of programs will cover things like protecting threatened species, which I'll talk a little more about shortly, Ramsar wetlands, threatened ecological communities, the natural heritage, outstanding universal value of world heritage properties, soil biodiversity, and vegetation, and supporting agricultural systems to adapt to change. The list goes on.

Today I have the great pleasure to talk about good news. We don't get to talk about good news too much in this place—certainly the media's not that interested. But I want to talk about the good work that this government is doing with respect to Australia's threatened species, because we have got a wonderful story to tell. Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, where I announced we would invest some $400,000 how in a raft of new projects to protect some of Australia's most vulnerable species. Our government's contribution, I'm very proud to say, has leveraged an additional $750,000 from a variety of organisations—providing cash and in-kind contributions, which of course is an excellent result for the nation as a whole.

These latest initiatives represent just a tiny fraction of our overall investment since we took office back in 2013. This government recognise the importance of protecting and preserving our threatened species. In 2013 we appointed Australia's first Threatened Species Commissioner and in 2015 we launched the first national Threatened Species Strategy. Last year, we invited the private sector to join the fight against extinction, through the threatened species prospectus. Over the last four years, more than $255 million has been allocated to some 1,200 projects across Australia. Sally Box, who joined me at Tidbinbilla last week, is now Australia's second Threatened Species Commissioner—

An honourable member: Doing a fine job!

I agree. She's doing an outstanding job. Dr Box will ensure we focus our efforts and broker really positive solutions for our environment that support Australia's threatened plants and animals. This work is underlined by the new initiative that we announced last week. At Tidbinbilla the federal government is going to provide 80,000 to support the creation of a predator-proof area that will help to recover brush-tailed rock wallabies. This is the cutest animal. It has a tail about a metre long. It really is quite the rock star in its own environment. We enjoyed that experience very much. In addition to the immediate benefits, the research we gather will guide the future reintroduction programs for the rock wallaby. It is a great example of this government's commitment to preserving Australia's wildlife and demonstrating what can be achieved through collaboration. I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Zoos Victoria and the ACT government to this project at Tidbinbilla. They are also committed to the work with threatened species.

This enclosure at Tidbinbilla is just a small part of a large investment. In Victoria, scientists will join forces to extinction-proof threatened orchids. In the Northern Territory, feral cat control will protect the critically endangered central rock rat. In South Australia, a project on Kangaroo Island will improve habitat for the Kangaroo Island gannet, the hooded plover and the eastern curlew. The project will greatly increase the number of cats culled nationally, helping us reach the target of two million cats culled by 2020.

Kangaroo Island is one of the five priority islands where we hope to completely eradicate feral cats. The government is proud to support that goal. Next month, I have the pleasure of going to Kangaroo Island and meeting up with the Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife group who, with our support, will manage the delivery of this critically important initiative. One other project I would like to mention is in Queensland. We are partnering with the Macadamia Conservation Trust to develop replica collections of the endangered Bulberin nut tree.

You've heard me talk before about my very large electorate of Durack. It spans 1.8 million square kilometres. It boasts an incredibly diverse landscape. It's no surprise that 20 per cent of all of the threatened species in Australia are found in my electorate. Their protection is something that I take very seriously, as does the Minister for the Environment and Energy, as does our government. As the Assistant Minister for the Environment, it is my commitment to ensure the government continues to deliver on its strong record. I have no doubt that, with the programs I have mentioned and the further programs that this government is responsible for, our mission is to ensure the survival of our most special— (Time expired)

6:39 pm

Ged Kearney (Batman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The disaster that is this government's climate change policy is of monumental proportions. It is totally clear that this is not a priority for the government despite what the minister and his colleagues on that side of the room try to tell us. They are burying their collective head in the sand, having no idea how to undo the damage their divided and dysfunctional party room is really doing to our economy and to Australia's future. The PM has completely abandoned his once strident belief in combating climate change, and the Treasurer made no mention of climate change in his budget speech—not one! This beggars belief.

The budget delivers zero dollars to combat climate change. Pollution levels are rising. Polar ice sheets are melting. Sea levels are rising. We're seeing reduced rainfall in important agricultural regions, more extreme heat episodes and intense weather events. The health impacts are alarming, and we are heading for economic changes that will not benefit workers and their communities. In fact, this government teeter on the brink of recklessness on this issue. They place all Australians at risk of serious climate events growing in intensity, at risk of falling behind the rest of the world and our international competitors in the renewable energy sector, at risk of leaving whole communities bereft without the means of making a living because, as the world relies less on thermal coal, our communities that rely on that industry will have no plan for a transition. If we only had a plan, a decent plan, Australia could be leading the way in this region and leading the battle against climate change. With certainty instead of chaos, we could be encouraging clean energy production, sustainable industries, investment in sustainable communities and jobs.

Labor has a plan. It is comprehensive, it is ambitious and it is achievable. It will tackle this wide-ranging and complex issue, and give policy certainty to investors craving opportunities to set up in Australia. It will give industry already here the ability to plan for the future and start making changes that will ensure our economy is sustainable and clean. It will also go to the problem of supporting workers as the world moves to a cleaner, more sustainable future. Workers who rely on polluting industries and whose future is uncertain need to know that they will not be left in the lurch, that they will be helped to transition to new jobs, with training, with options like redundancy pooling that we've seen in the Latrobe Valley, with plans to diversify their communities' economies—future proofing them.

This is not an easy thing to do. It will require thought and resources and collaboration with the major companies in the industries who might—just might—have to sit in the one room and share information that once might have been deemed unsharable. But this is possible and it has been done. It might require those companies to work together for the benefit of the workers and their families in the region. It will require the goodwill and cooperation of unions who represent the workers and their families by negotiating fair and reasonable outcomes. It will require the government of the day to coordinate the processes and to build a policy framework that foresees the future of these industries, with expert analysis, timelines and dedicated financial and human resources. You see, if you're a vulnerable worker worried about the future, worried about how you will support your family, worried about everything then it is hard to support change. If you know there is a plan for and your family, you can be part of the change. No-one should be abandoned. No-one should be left bereft when, with proper planning and foresight, we can do our best for everyone.

I have had firsthand experience of this. I was lucky enough to be part of the development of a just transition policy at the ACTU. We had a massive consultation day with over 200 people there. We drew together the coal-fired power station operators, the owners, the workers and the unions. We had government—state and federal—represented. I take the opportunity to thank Mark Butler and Pat Conroy for their attendance that day. We had the environment sector, the small business sector and the local community, and we agreed on a way forward. It formed the groundwork for the excellent work done by the Daniel Andrews Victorian government when ENGIE announced it was closing Hazelwood. And when the other companies pull out one by one, we will be ready. In fact, it could form the basis for a just transition for any sector of our economy that is undergoing change. It is a plan, and that is what is sorely lacking from this government.

6:45 pm

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't know how the member for Batman can keep a straight face as a union leader who sold out the blue-collar workers of Australia. They sold out the blue-collar workers. It is a sign of everything that is now rotten in the Labor Party. They have the member for Hunter, who sold out workers in his own electorate, and a union leader who sold out her own members. The Labor Party is too concerned with its green left flank, winning seats like Batman and other inner Melbourne seats, and abandoning the thousands and thousands of blue-collar manufacturing workers across this country. The member for Batman should take some truth serum—

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Batman ignores the real facts. The member for Batman ignores the fact that on her watch we had—

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The minister will resume his seat for a moment. Members in the chamber, I need to be able to hear what the minister is saying. The level of interjections is far too high.

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

The Labor Party, with its motions in this parliament to support the closure of coal, are selling out the workers of Australia and also lifting up energy prices. The member for Batman should go back to her electorate and the socialist green collective of which she is a part and tell them that when Labor was last in government they doubled power prices. So the pensioner in Parramatta, the small business worker in Shortland, the cafe owner in Richmond have all paid more for their power bills as a result of the Labor Party's policies.

The Labor Party, when they were last in government, were predicted to miss the 2020 target by 750 million tonnes. We are now on track to beat that by nearly 300 million tonnes. The abatement task for 2030 has improved by 60 per cent in just the last few years. The outlook for emissions reduction is three times better than when the Labor Party were last in office.

The member for Batman and the member for Shortland raised the issue of renewables. There is a record spend on renewables under the Turnbull government. It was even admitted by the member for Port Adelaide's press release of today. We will meet and beat our Renewable Energy Target. Our emissions reduction—

Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The minister will resume his seat. The member for Hunter.

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Under standing order 66(a), I ask the minister: will he accept an intervention from me?

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The intervention is not accepted. The member for Hunter will resume his seat.

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

So not only is the emissions trajectory improved from when the Labor Party was last in office but we have seen a record spend in renewables. We have also seen an attempt to reduce the power prices by intervening in the gas market, which the Labor Party ignored, by passing legislation to stop the gouging of consumers by the poles and wires companies. If the Labor Party had done that when they were last in office it would have saved them $6½ billion. We are getting better deal from the retailers and also promoting the Energy Security Board's recommendation of the National Energy Guarantee.

There were a whole lot of other questions raised in relation to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation is a very reputable organisation with an independent scientific committee, which has been supported in the past by the Labor Party. Of course, this is a record financial commitment by the coalition into supporting the barrier reef, which will support the member for Leichhardt's electorate and many others in Queensland. The member for Macquarie also raised the issue of the 19th-century Thompson Square and the brick barrel drains. I have written to the Premier of New South Wales about the importance of that site.

We on this side of the House know that the work that we have undertaken to invest in heritage; the work that we've undertaken to invest in the reef; the work that we have undertaken to protect our threatened species, which the member for Durack outlined; and the work that we have undertaken to reduce power prices is all making a difference to people's lives. Look at what we do, not at what Labor says. (Time expired)

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

6:50 pm

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great honour to speak tonight about this year's budget and the commitment that this government is making to build on the $4 billion agricultural competitiveness white paper that we put in place. Not only are we making sure that farmers get more money in their pockets but that small regional communities that support them are also benefitting, because the more money that goes into farmers' pockets the more they spend in these small regional communities, so I have a responsibility as the minister for agriculture to empower not only agriculture and make it more vibrant and more profitable but also those small regional communities.

What this year's budget does is focus us in on where we have contributed, not only through the competitive ag. white paper but also through our trade agreements with China, Japan, South Korea and Peru, and now through the TPP-11, a $13.7 trillion marketplace that we are going to give our farmers access to. Those are real options that we are providing to our farmers. But to unpack those trade agreements we need to unpick the technical barriers that exist. We've got 15 agricultural counsellors around the world in embassies and high commissions, and we're going to up that by another six. We're going to give real grunt to these trade agreements; we're going to put boots on the ground. It means that we are giving our farmers more market access, commodity by commodity, working through them in a systematic way.

We're also making sure in this budget that we're keeping our clean, green image. That's our trading advantage. That's something we should be proud of. We're making continued investment in that, which builds on the $200 million that was put in place under the competitive ag. white paper for biosecurity. That's a significant investment, and we're going to double-up again this year and make another significant investment in biosecurity.

We're going to the gas roots as well. We're looking at pests and weeds, making sure that we eradicate those pests and weeds in partnership with farmers, so that they get greater productivity and profitability. The estimated cost of the pests and weeds that pervade the landscape of this nation is around $4 billion to $5 billion a year, so it's important we unlock that potential and ensure that we give our farmers the opportunity in partnership to eradicate these—also in terms of biosecurity risk of our exports. It is also important that we've looked at forestry. We're going to empower the forestry industry. There's a $20 million investment in the forestry industry to unlock the potential. We're currently seeing record prices in forestry products. We're going to look at investing strategically in new technologies that will mean we get better returns for our forestry industry. That's an important part that we're also looking at.

One of the things that have really struck me since becoming agriculture minister as I've got around the country and made sure that I have got to as many farms, to as many machinery sheds and packing sheds and listened to farmers is the labour constraints of them getting their food off the vine, off the tree, out of the paddock and on a boat overseas. Wherever I've gone the issues around that have been raised, so it's important we make investments that make sure we can map that, that we get the science behind the labour requirements we need and where and when. So we're making a strategic investment and ensuring that we can give that science and make sure that we can make the decisions predicated on ensuring that that product comes off the tree and onto the boat as quickly as we can. This is about empowering our agricultural sector, pulling the right levers to get greater productivity and greater profitability for our farmers, and making sure we understand the drivers to the farm gate and post the farm gate.

That's an important step that this budget moves towards, and I'm proud to say that we've done that in a systematic way. But we've also made investments in terms of agvet chemicals, ensuring that research and development and getting those products that aren't readily used or are used to a smaller extent are getting the attention they need, because that also builds the productivity that we need in this nation to keep the agricultural sector moving.

I've signed up to the NFS ambitious vision of a $100 billion industry by 2030. That's achievable, but it's going to take some work and it means government has to get out of the way. We have to empower the agricultural sector to do what they do best, which is grow the best food and fibre in the world. We have to allow them to do that, and this budget sets that foundation. It builds on the ag competitive white paper and the $4 billion investment we made. We're going to continue to invest to empower or agricultural sector and our regional communities to thrive to the next level.

6:55 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome Minister Littleproud to appropriations in detail. This is his debut. I can inform him tonight that I'm in a pretty good mood. I'm feeling pretty mellow. I just issued a challenge to him in the House of Representatives. Tomorrow I will be amending export bill, which imposes additional fines on the live-ex sector. I will put in an amendment which mirrors the private member's bill of the member for Farrer. I will be inviting him to support the amendment. I've done the right thing and I've foreshadowed the amendment for those opposite who share my concerns. I put it seriously to the government that it should give very serious and genuine consideration of those amendments if they are serious about doing something about community expectations in the live export trade but also helping us work together to ensure that there is a long-term future for other aspects of the live trade.

I'm going to help the minister—before I go there, I should say I welcomed the minister's attempt to show his vision for the agriculture sector with us. I was a bit surprised that he mentioned the now widely discredited white paper, which now seems to have been replaced with the NFF's paper, which he also seems to be endorsing. I don't know if you need an NFF white paper if you've already got a white paper yourself. On the $100 billion value of the industry: great. I think it's underdone. I think you get to $100 billion if you stick on the same trajectory we've been on for the last 10 years. I think we want better than that.

I'm going to start with a Dorothy Dixer for the minister. I know he will find it very easy to answer. I would like to know, very seriously: what is the problem with sharing information about the awassi incident with the Western Australia government? If there's a legislative barrier, how can we work together to overcome it? I would have thought that the minister in WA has responsibility under their own animal welfare act. The minister said he was serious about getting to the bottom of the awassi incident. On that basis, I would have thought he would be happy to share the information with the Western Australian government. If there is barrier, how can we work together to overcome it?

6:58 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I share the minister's bullish vision for agriculture. Indeed, I share the member for Hunter's bullish vision for agriculture. Minister, you haven't had the great privilege of coming to the greatest electorate on earth, and I extend that invitation here and now.

One of the limitations to achieving that herculean objective is going to be the ability for industry to meet agriculture's labour demands. Minister, I, as you do, visit constituents who have invested their hard-earned money in their agricultural endeavour. I visit people who with their own hands have grafted orchards. They make wine. They raise cattle. They raise lambs. I've seen people picking pistachios. But the reality here is that we will only achieve this objective if we find the labour force to do it. I should say as an aside that we will also need to attract the capital to do it, but that's not where my question is directed. My question speaks to and talks about agriculture's labour demand.

Everyone in the House will understand what I say when I say that my electorate suffered a significant loss in the form of the Thomas Foods abattoir at Murray Bridge: 1,500 workers processing meat in my electorate at Murray Bridge. This is a multispecies abattoir. It's both large body and small body. There were 1,500 workers, Minister. Of those 1,500 workers, 500 were Australian; 500, effectively, were on 417 visas; and roughly 500 were on 457 visas. Given the size and scale of this enterprise—to the minister—it is not just small operators who are struggling to source labour. It's even the very largest. Indeed, that particular abattoir is the largest employer in my electorate. It's even the very largest of employers that are struggling in rural, regional and remote Australia to find the workforce they need to deliver the products, as you say, onto the boat and into export markets.

It's one thing for us to have signed world-leading trade deals with the powerhouse economies of northern Asia. It's another thing to have signed them with the TPP-11. It's another thing entirely to be able to meet the demand of these markets. So, at the same time that I see unemployment in some of these rural communities, particularly amongst younger people, and at the same time as we're having—or did have, in recent memory—a debate around the backpackers tax, I have a circumstance in my electorate where I've got high rates of unemployment and yet I've got very high levels of foreign labour.

When I sit down with employers throughout my electorate, they're very keen to use a more sustainable mix of Australian workers. But the reality is that they're forced to use foreign labour because that is the only labour they can source. And I should say thank goodness for the 88-day rule. I'm fairly certain that, if it weren't for that rule, we would have fruit going rotten on the tree and grapes going rotten on the vine; we would have kill slots at abattoirs simply unfilled or unable to be filled; and who knows what would happen to our credibility on the international stage in terms of our ability to meet orders and commitments?

Minister, my question effectively is: what is the government doing to better meet these agricultural labour demands? Minister, this is—and I'm confident in saying this—both the single largest concern for rural constituents who have invested their hard-earned in their rural enterprise and the single largest risk to the federal government in terms of improving our terms of trade when it relates to agricultural exports. We have constituents throughout rural, regional and remote Australia who want to invest and are investing, but, without the labour force to do the work to ensure that these products are delivered to market, we simply won't achieve those bullish targets that, Minister, you're setting for yourself, that I set for myself and that, quite frankly, our nation should expect of us all.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the member for Hunter. I'm going to alternate the call, Minister.

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll answer that question, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Hunter is okay with this?

Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting

You're happy with that? I call the minister.

7:03 pm

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

To respond to the member for Hunter's question about sharing information with the WA minister around the Awassi Express incident: there were limitations with respect to the export legislation, as I understand. In fact, I've now given orders for that to be changed, in the light of that. That has happened. But—

Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting

No, it's effective as of 1 July. But let me make this clear: the department, as the regulator, has to perceive a degree of confidentiality in terms of the information of the investigation that it's undertaking. It's only natural. It's a good thing. That allows a proper prosecution to take place, if one is to take place. But here's the kicker. At no point—at no point—did I ever get a formal request from Alannah MacTiernan, the Western Australian Minister for Agriculture and Food, for sharing information. This is a stunt. This is nothing more than a political stunt.

The member for Hunter said that he was here in a bipartisan way to help us work through this export industry situation that we're in. Well, here's your opportunity. Don't play politics. Alannah MacTiernan has lost her way on this. She's overreached, she doesn't understand the powers of state and federal governments. The reality is that this is nothing more than a cheap stunt. She's never written to me. In fact, the only thing that she's asked for was some cooperation. Do you know what we did? We wrote back and gave her the process under FOI in which to get the information, so she got the cooperation. There are restrictions around law. Is the alternative agriculture minister saying that he would ignore the law? Is that what he's saying? You can't be the minister and flout the law. That is what is in front of me. This is nothing more than a stunt. It's a shame that it's transcended into this. I thought the member for Hunter was smarter than to tie his boat to the Western Australian agriculture minister. The reality is: you have been misled, unfortunately.

Can I also say, just to answer the member for Barker's question—

An opposition member interjecting

It is a poignant question. We are at crossroads, but we are making steps. We're engaging with Horticulture Australia and the NFF to ensure that we get the settings right. Obviously I have to engage with other agencies to make sure that we get the settings right with Home Affairs and Michaelia Cash in workforce planning. We are working in a strategic way, but what we need is the science. The investment in the budget will go towards getting that science to make sure the decisions that we make are predicated on science. Unfortunately, those opposite have left that behind recently. They've gone on emotion, not science.

7:06 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I asked the minister a very genuine question about the Awassi Express investigation. I think it's reasonable to ask why the Western Australian government doesn't have access to that information. I acknowledge there may have been a legal barrier. I gave the minister that courtesy and he chose to give a highly politically charged answer. He can't have it both ways. First, he says he's issued an order and then, only through prompting from my intervention, he told us that the order doesn't take effect until 1 July. I thought he might want to answer why it doesn't take effect until 1 July. There might be a perfectly reasonable legal answer to that. He could have taken the opportunity to explain that.

Obviously, the Western Australian government has community expectations too. They want to exercise their right to investigate the matter themselves. The minister now says he's happy to put in place an order so that they can, having just argued that they shouldn't, but he's not going to give them access until 1 July. He said he was never asked and then he said he responded by saying, 'You've got to take action under Freedom of Information.' You can't respond to correspondence you never received! He can't have it both ways. He can't say they didn't write to him and then say he responded in certain terms. Unbelievable. I give him the opportunity to explain why the order does not take effect until 1 July.

I'm pleased to hear the minister talk about biosecurity—probably his most critical responsibility as the minister. I note that he's crowing about a vision for the sector, but they've been in government for five years. After five years, he's going to spend $20 million and have another forestry plan. We've already had a number of them in five years, and we're supposed to be thankful that now we're going to spend $20 million creating another plan. I want to ask him a serious and genuine question about biosecurity. As he knows the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity is coming to its expiry date. I think we had an excellent review of the intergovernmental agreement. It's almost compulsory reading, I think, for anyone who is interested in agriculture and biosecurity in particular. There are 42 recommendations. I could ask the minister whether he's going to embrace the recommendations, but he'll flick it back off to an AGMIN process, no doubt, but I'll give him the opportunity. What I really want to know is when he's going to take this matter back to the state ministers. When will we have a response to the IGAB review? It was, I remind him, due in mid-2018. We're pretty much in mid-2018. The habit of the last minister—and I know that the minister, on a daily basis, is striving to do better—was to have AGMIN meetings, as they called them. They're no replacement whatsoever for the SCoPI process, which this government abolished. It's unbelievable. They abolished the COAG progress.

You can't have a proper and adequate biosecurity framework in this country if you're not working hand in hand with the states. The first act of this government? They abolish the COAG committee that was in charge of these things, the Standing Council on Primary Industries. I can see the minister frowning. I don't think he's ever heard of it, by the expression on his face. We now have this AGMIN process. The former minister had the habit of having it meet once a year. I'm concerned that it was supposed to be renewed in the middle of this year, and AGMIN might not be meeting until the middle of next year. I want to know when that agreement will be reached so that we can get on with consolidating our biosecurity framework.

7:10 pm

Photo of Andrew BroadAndrew Broad (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I've got a really great question. It harks back to the great vision of going from $60 billion worth of agricultural exports to $100 billion. We have the current minister, who wants to grow opportunity, and this is how you grow opportunity. In my patch, we had the overhang of Senator Penny Wong as the water minister, which was shutting down our irrigated agriculture, and we saw the investment of $103 million so that we could grow more product. We had a trade minister who wanted to take our product overseas, and we've signed free trade agreements with Korea, Japan and China and signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I used to be on the Treaties Committee, and we did inquiries into these free trade agreements. Time after time, the unions would come in and say, 'These are terrible agreements.'

The alternative minister for agriculture used to be in the right faction, but he's moving across to the left faction, because he already wants to ban it, he already wants to tax it and he already wants to shut it down. This is the same old, same old Labor. Can I just remind people of a little bit of history here? In 1974, under the great Gough Whitlam, 40,000 cattle in Victoria were shot because there wasn't a market for them. Ban it, tax it, shut it down. Same old Labor. In 1992, thousands of sheep crossed Australia. Who was the Prime Minister in 1992? I think it was a Labor Prime Minister—that's it. Ban it, tax it, shut it down. I had great visions for Joel.

Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting

I really had great visions for you. 'Here is a man,' I thought, 'for the first time in the Labor Party that actually has a passion for regional Australia.' At his core, he actually—I know this; I shared a COMCAR with him and we drove down to—

An honourable member interjecting

No, no. I shared a COMCAR and drove down to the Nuffield scholarship. We talked about agriculture. I thought, 'This guy has actually got a vision.' Unfortunately, he's moved from the right to the left faction. Not only has he moved from the right; he's moved to the wrong faction. He still wants to ban it, tax it and shut it down. In our policies—

An opposition member interjecting

Think about this for a moment. We invested in irrigation infrastructure—a great thing. The next thing was that we needed to take these products to the market, so we've spent $240 million on rail to get those things to the market. People have got confidence. Of course, when you've got confidence, what are you going to do? You're going to spend a little bit of money. If you're going around the vineyard, Dave—you'll have to come and have a look at this—you hop on those little mule things. Do you know those things?

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Andrew BroadAndrew Broad (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They happen to cost just under $20,000.

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

Instant asset write-off.

Photo of Andrew BroadAndrew Broad (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Instant asset write-off. The great vision to move from $60 billion worth of agricultural exports to $100 billion worth of agricultural exports doesn't just happen. You actually build the water infrastructure, you build the rail infrastructure to get it to port and you build the market opportunities—Korea, China, Japan and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They reckon they're eventually going to take a million tonnes of Australian wheat to Peru. I've got to say, it doesn't just happen. In contrast to the person who I had great hopes for as the alternative ag minister, who was on the right faction and is now in the left faction—he wants to ban it, tax it, shut it down.

Can the minister outline what the coalition government is doing to support agricultural exports, including addressing non-tariff measures for trading partners, so that industry can take up the opportunities of the free trade agreements?

Not only do you need a free trade agreement; you need to have people over in those potential markets who are working with the people who are producing the product, working with the exporters who are taking the product, and ensuring that those products can make their way to market. The great contrast in this—and this is why I am very supportive of asking you this question—is that you appear to have a vision. You appear to have the process to turn $60 billion worth of exports into $100 billion worth of exports—as opposed to the alternative minister, who wants to ban it, tax it and shut it down.

7:15 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

My very diligent chief of staff has pointed out to me that I made a terrible error. I said that after five years the government is going to have another plan for forestry. But she has pointed out that they never had a plan, so that was a mistake. In 2015 they had an issues paper, in 2016 they had a discussion paper and now, in the budget, they have announced that they are going to develop a plan. So I stand corrected on that point.

The minister has generously indicated that he will answer my further question on the Western Australian government's interest in the Awassi Express, and I thank him for that. I will give him the opportunity to answer two questions when he rises to his feet. The second question is around the other intergovernmental agreement of great interest to me, and that is the one on drought. That intergovernmental agreement also expires in July this year. When will the matter go to ag min again? Do we have to wait another year? What happens in the meantime? Is the current intergovernmental agreement rolling over and will it remain in place until then? What work, if any, has been done, as envisaged by SCoPI when the states agreed to the intergovernmental agreement, to assess the effectiveness of the objectives laid down in the original intergovernmental agreement?

On the matter of farm household support, given that many recipients of farm household support are now reaching the end of the three-year qualification period for that assistance, what indications can the minister give to farm families coming off farm household support that there will be additional alternative assistance available to those still facing very severe drought?

Government Member:

A government member interjecting

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take that interjection. The member offered me a bottle of Grange if I didn't mention a certain regulator tonight—one which has been moved from one point to another. I'm going to resist the temptation and take him up on that offer. He should walk out in embarrassment. He claims to be an advocate for the forestry sector. Given what I just said about this government's paltry performance over five years with another plan, he should hang his head and walk out in shame!

Given that the drought remains protracted and severe in both Queensland and New South Wales, what message does the minister have for farm families coming off farm household support in the near future?

7:18 pm

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a pleasure to make a contribution to the debate tonight given that the largest contributor in my electorate is, without a doubt, agriculture—through the horticultural sector, through the meat processing sector and through the saleyard. It is the largest employer. I remember coming into this chamber and speaking on an industrial relations issue. On the other side, it was wall-to-wall high-viz vests directing traffic—there were that many members there taking up the cause. But when it comes to debating our second largest exporter, agriculture, they are like crickets on the other side of the room—there are only a very few members. Agriculture is such an important part of my electorate. We currently have Eat Local Week underway. We have incredible exporters and we send product around the world. The Lockyer Valley, which is in the top 10 fertile valleys in the world, is often referred to as the salad bowl of Australia. But the reality is that we mostly produce vegetables—carrots, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, all the brassicas, and leeks, capsicums and tomatoes. There is a little bit of salad there, but most of it is vegetables; it is fibre. It's very labour intensive. As I said in my opening statements, that's where we get our high labour content from. We do rely on international labour to get our products to market.

More recently, I had the good Minister for Agriculture, Mr Littleproud, in my electorate, who, with the Prime Minister, made an announcement of $51 million to assist our growers to get product into international markets, because we have such an appetite for free trade agreements. At face value, those sitting at home in their lounge rooms watching this stimulating broadcast tonight would be asking: 'What's the inhibiter for growers in my electorate and around Australia getting product into other nations?'

Australia has an aggressive appetite for free trade. I suggest that, behind those free trade agreements, Australia has a very clean, green image that it wants to maintain and, behind that, we have biosecurity protocols that we have in place to protect Australian product from being contaminated because that's what gives us a competitive advantage. That's what allows us to go to the global markets, to put product on shelves overseas, and maintain that environmental dominance, maintain that product quality dominance that we have in so many product ranges. But those protocols can be an inhibiter when we are trying to put product into markets around the world. As a result, this government, through the announcement that the minister made the other day has budgeted there's $51 million to try and start breaking down those barriers, of which I know the minister will make a contribution to.

I suggested in my opening comments that my electorate was the biggest contributor to GDP. I have no fewer than 2,483 agricultural businesses in my electorate registered with the Australian Taxation Office. In addition to that, just to throw context to the gravity of how much we rely on agriculture, we're also integrated and linked with the transport sector, and I have no fewer than 11,240 registered single transport operators. My question tonight to the minister is: can the minister outline the coalition's investment and measures in the budget to strengthen the biosecurity systems? Why is this important to Australia and to my electorate of Wright?

7:23 pm

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to pick up where the shadow minister for agriculture—the member for Hunter—left off in asking the minister about the intergovernmental agreement that was signed between the Commonwealth and New South Wales in 2013, particularly the point about managing drought assistance. To give the minister some understanding, I represent the fair City of Maitland, which has a very rich history in agriculture. It was the food bowl of New South Wales for many years. As my late father said, 'That dirt would grow babies.' It is rich, alluvial, Hunter floodplain ground.

We are seeing a drought in the Hunter like never seen before. It is terrible. The Maitland saleyards, which are a major part of our local economy, are currently putting cattle through at $350 less per head than this time last year. And we have farmers now shooting. That is not what you want. They're worried about losing their breeding stock. It is dire in the Hunter. But the thing that is most dire is that our farmers locally have absolutely lost confidence in this government and what it is going to do for them. In 2013, the government removed exceptional circumstances and said there would be a plan in concert with the COAG agreement with the states, that we would look towards drought-proofing for the future, that we would look towards upskilling our farmers, giving them some tools. When we knew that more droughts would be coming in the future, SCoPI was put in place. Now that has all been torn asunder. Nothing has happened. The previous minister for agriculture abrogated his responsibility. That plan winds up very shortly. There's been nothing done to replace it, and farmers in my electorate of Paterson are absolutely desperate. Not only are they facing the day-to-day trials and hardships of drought; they're now saying, 'We've been left'. This was signed in 2013. Not a dot has been done, and they want to know what's going to be on offer to give them a hand into the future. So, minister, I'd like you to tell me how that's progressing.

One of the matters that was raised was that we would have the Regional Investment Corporation that would administer loans to the agricultural sector in general, not just the drought stricken areas. That organisation, as I understand it, is due to commence its responsibilities on 1 July. No staff have been advertised for yet. There is no CEO. How are these loans going to be administered if this hasn't even occurred at this very late stage? I would very much like some detail on what is going on there. I would like some detail on SCoPI and how we are going to move the agriculture sector forward more broadly. In very specific terms, how are we going to face down things like the drought that we are seeing in my part of the world?

Can I just say, I talk to a lot of people in my area about agriculture and they really have felt completely abandoned. I know that our recent agriculture minister is fairly new, and he has been pretty busy doing a lot of stuff in relation to live export. I know that has probably taken up a lot of his time. But food production and maintenance of the breeding herd in areas such as mine are absolutely critical to agriculture. What is going on with that intergovernmental agreement? What is the way forward? There is no more exceptional circumstances. What's going to replace it and how are we going to help farmers who are absolutely desperate at the moment? How are we going to help them to put food on their tables?

There is also the Household Assistance Package. As the shadow agriculture minister pointed out, that's wrapping up. You put a three-year time frame on it, but the drought is still going—in fact, it's worse than ever in Paterson and the Hunter. How are we going to on a practical level assist people? With an eye to the horizon in agriculture and the technologies that are in place, how are we going to turn things around in the agriculture sector? In my seat of Paterson but also more broadly across the country, it really is very dire.

7:27 pm

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll answer some of the questions that the member for Hunter raised, particularly around that order—I didn't hear it because of the interjections. It was put in place for 1 July for its practical application. That's why it has taken us time—the department has advised me—to be able to practically apply it.

In terms of the biosecurity intergovernmental agreement, at AGMIN in April this year, we spoke about and accepted all 42 recommendations. Part of the budget measures is about addressing our financial contribution to that. We now have to get the states to make their contribution. They have to make the contribution to 2016-17 levels. So it is now down to the states to do that. I reach out across the aisle and ask you to work with your state Labor colleagues to come on that journey. We are hoping to have that done offline during the rest of this year.

In terms of drought, I don't intend to be lectured by those opposite about drought. When we took over, there was nothing in the cupboard. There was zero, zilch. Since we've come to power, we've put over a billion dollars on the table, not just for farms but for communities. A billion dollars—$880 million through concessional loans; 7,900 families have had access to farm household assistance; 2,400 of those have come off it. Of the 2,400 to come off it, 85 per cent have said that the farm household assistance program helped them through, because it's not just about putting dollars in their pockets to put bread and butter on the table. It's also about building resilience in their business. We assign them a case manager that builds resilience in their business. It goes far beyond that.

I don’t intend to be lectured when my electorate has been in drought for seven years—seven long years. But what we've done is put an environment around it to make sure that the concessional loans—also making sure that these smaller shires—we've done a drought community program where each shire gets $1.5 million to go and build projects in that community using local contractors.

That's because it's not just the farmers that hurt during drought; it's the small businesses that hurt as well. That's what those opposite don't understand. They don't live out there, and they don't care. The reality is that it's these small communities and these small-business owners that hurt from it. That's the reality. Not only are we making sure that we're looking after farmers in keeping the money flowing but we're also making sure that we're going to keep contractors going as well.

We're building that resilience for when the next drought comes, with respect to pests and weeds, with $25.8 million just for drought communities to be able to tackle pests and weeds. For dog fencing, in the state of Queensland alone, there is $13 million that we put in. The state government are only just catching up to us now, even though this is a state responsibility. And then they tried to claim $18 million which the Longreach Regional Council undertook themselves through a loan process to lend out to their ratepayers, and it was paid back through their rates.

This is the shysty attempt of everybody on that side to say they understand agriculture. But do you know what? Let me go further. Let me go further about the RIC, because that is delivering concessional loans. But do you know why we've got a delay? Because you didn't allow us to get it through. But do you know what? What you've done has just highlighted my first parliamentary win in my first parliamentary week as a minister in getting the Regional Investment Corporation Bill through. It blew you away! You didn't even see it coming, nor did Senator Wong. You did not see it coming. But let me just finish on this.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the member for Hunter.

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Under standing order 66A, I ask the minister whether he will accept an intervention from me.

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, why not?

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Hunter will take his seat.

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

Sit down! Let me just say that the greatest endorsement of this budget, of the agricultural budget, came in the budget reply speech by the Leader of the Opposition, because he did not commit one cent extra to what we have. So the Labor Party have effectively endorsed our budget, lock, stock and barrel. They don't understand agriculture. They don't care about it. There is no vision. There is no vision for agriculture by those opposite.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Paterson?

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Under standing order 66A, I seek an intervention.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the answer's no.

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The answer's no, Member for Paterson.

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

Since I've got the floor again, I'll just make that final point: not one brass razoo was committed by the Labor Party in their budget reply speech. But I do give the member for Hunter some credit. He did get the Leader of the Opposition to at least say the word 'agriculture'. That's a first. In his last major public speech at the National Press Club, he couldn't even say the word 'agriculture'. God forbid that those opposite ever get in, because they don't care and they don't understand about agriculture.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 19:33