Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Murray-Darling Basin Plan, National Security
Earlier this month, the Centre Alliance political party—for those who don't know they are the remnants of the former Nick Xenophon party, a party which, by the way, Nick Xenophon is no longer a member of, which is a shame because he is that party—announced what could only be regarded as an ill-informed, irresponsible and just plain wrong policy. That may be a reason why Nick Xenophon is no longer a member of that party. They called for the ban on the export of cotton. I represent the river in South Australia from lock 6 all the way to the mouth. So you can understand that I've spent a lot of time understanding river politics. What I don't understand is how Centre Alliance, including Rebekha Sharkie, the member for Mayo, who has an involvement in relation to the river and represents some of the Basin in South Australia could come to this decision.
Farmers who have a water allocation, if they don't grow cotton, will either grow something else or sell their water to someone who does grow cotton. There will be no water returned to the river. I was very pleased that this ill-informed, irresponsible and, quite frankly, wrongheaded policy was called about by people across the community. They cited, if you like, the water intensive nature of cotton. Cotton takes about seven megs per hectare to grow. Almonds, predominantly a South Australian crop, take about 15 megs per hectare to grow. If we are banning cotton then what are we saying about South Australian almonds?
I have news for the people of the river land in my electorate: they are also attacking other commodity groups, because wine grapes take more than seven megs a hectare to grow, as does citrus. So the Nick Xenophon Team, or if you like the Centre Alliance—the new party—is effectively saying, 'No more almonds, no more citrus and no more wine grapes in the river land.' It's absolutely wrongheaded and ridiculous. Don't take my word for it. The National Farmers' Federation said:
"The shadow of an impending federal election has the Centre Alliance Party acting nothing short of hysterical.
"Senator Patrick's stunt has everything to do with profile raising and nothing to do with the national interest. …
The press release goes on:
In particular, Ms Simson—
The president of the National Farmers' Federation—
… said the Centre Alliance Member for Mayo, Rebekah Sharkie was acting ignorant to the livelihoods of her electorate.
"A political system that determines what industries can exist would jeopardise Mayo's horticultural sector. …
Of course, that's the point. Farmers in Australia should determine what they grow not this place.
My question to the Centre Alliance team is this: if it's inappropriate for people to grow cotton at seven megs a hectare an annual crop, and you have a candidate running in Barker who grows potatoes—irrigates from the river—why is it okay for potatoes to extract from the river at eight megs a hectare but not cotton at seven megs a hectare? Perhaps that candidate hasn't had an involvement in this policy. It's wrongheaded, it's attention grabbing and, quite frankly, the people of South Australia have seen through it, as has the National Farmers' Federation.
I thought that would be the most stupid thing that has happened in politics in February but I'm wrong. Earlier in this place we saw an alliance between Labor, the Greens and the Independents, who I'm now going to refer to as 'Labor in disguise', effectively vote to weaken our border protection laws, laws that have stood this in country in good stead for a very long time.
Those in this place will remember that 50,000 people arrived on 800 boats when we had weaker borders. There were 1,200 deaths at sea and 800 children in detention. Our policies have firmed our borders and returned us to the position where we decide the people who come to this country and the circumstances in which they come, and the people of Australia have consistently voted for stronger borders.
We are now in a situation where we have weakened those borders. I expect there are people smugglers in Indonesia and other places right now celebrating that decision. They would be celebrating that decision and be emboldened to action. I say to this place and the people of Australia: we now have weaker border protection laws than we had this morning; people smugglers and that insidious trade have been emboldened; and what happens from now on is on the heads of those who sit opposite and their friends—the Labor Party in disguise on the crossbench.