Monday, 2 March 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Treasurer. Can he confirm that since he became Treasurer economic growth has almost halved, wages growth has stalled further, business investment and productivity have declined, underemployment has increased and household debt and net debt have reached record highs? And all this happened before the bushfires and coronavirus.
I can confirm that as of January this year the Australian economy is going to grow, according to the IMF, faster than the United States, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. I can confirm that under this government the minimum wage has gone up every year. The real minimum wage has gone up every year whereas under those opposite it did not. I can confirm that this government has passed through the parliament more than $300 billion worth of tax cuts, including ensuring that those earning between $45,000 and $200,000 pay a marginal rate of no more than 30 cents in the dollar. I can confirm that, for the first time in 11 years, under this government, the budget is back in balance. I can confirm for the first time in more than 30 years that welfare dependency is down to a record low. I can confirm to this House that the current account is in surplus for the first time in more than 40 years. I had a bit of spare time on the weekend and I got to read an excerpt in The Australian from Samantha Maiden's new book.
The Treasurer will resume his seat. Just before I call the Manager of Opposition Business—I suspect he's going to raise a point of order, which he can do if he wants—as much as I'm fascinated with what the Treasurer reads on the weekend, I am going to point out I am going to hear him to see if he's being relevant. The question contained references to seven different indicators: economic growth, wages, business investment, productivity, household debt, national debt and—I can't read my own writing, but there was a seventh. I'm going to hear from the Treasurer, but he needs to be relevant to the question.
The key point is that, to strengthen the economy, to deliver higher wages, to deliver more growth, to deliver more jobs, to deliver lower debt, you need to lower taxes. Those opposite took to the last election $387 billion in higher taxes that the member for Rankin and the member for McMahon cooked up. On the weekend, there was some very clear evidence that Labor elders like Bill Kelty didn't think much of it.
My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management. Will the minister outline to the House how the Morrison-McCormack government is continuing to deliver our response to the drought and bushfires in addition to addressing the impacts of coronavirus?
Tonight many Australians will be enjoying the produce of the people of Mallee, an agricultural engine room not only in Australia but around the world—an exporting powerhouse of the agricultural sector. It's important that we ensure our trade remains open during the coronavirus, but we haven't forgotten the impacts the bushfires and the drought have had on the agricultural sector. That's why there is not only over $150 million in direct support to families who have been impacted by these fires, to help them in the here and now, but a $2 billion initial investment in the recovery from the drought that's been going on for some eight years. Eight billion dollars is our commitment to the drought under our national drought strategy through our three pillars: supporting farmers in the here and now; supporting the community to support those farmers; and the future. We are the first government to look to the future.
In only the last two weeks we announced another initiative under the here and now, another $82.75 million under the Drought Community Support Initiative to give up to $3,000 to those farming families, the contractors who support them and their employees, to help them get some dignity and respect. That's on top of the farm household allowance. We've also ensured, with the Regional Investment Corporation, access to interest-free, repayment-free loans for two years that will save farmers up to $153,000 a year, taken out of the big banks' pockets and put back in farmers' pockets. But also, because we have had some rain, we're allowing them to recover. We're saying that you can use this for replanting and restocking, because your cash flow doesn't recover instantly. It takes time to produce a crop, to grow your progeny and to get money back in the bank. It's important that we look at this with a multifaceted approach.
We are also supporting those communities that are supporting the farmers, with the Drought Communities Program. There are an extra 52 shires right across into WA and the Northern Territory, where this drought has spread right across. It is to empower local councils to put in place a stimulus that keeps not just farmers going but actual local communities. Local tradies are moving through this as well. We are ensuring that we empower them. This is not a Canberra led solution but a local led solution to this recovery. We're looking to the future. We're the first government to put in place a Future Drought Fund, a $5 billion future fund, with a $100 million dividend every year.
Then, talking about coronavirus and the impacts on trade: we took pre-emptive steps some years ago, with a $50 million investment in more agricultural counsellors. We're taking them from 16 to 22, to put them in embassies and high commissions around the world to make sure that our farmers have market access and to spread our risk. We've seen the advantage of this investment some years ago only now, with the rock lobster industry, where the impacts in China meant that there has been a significant impact on market access. But, because of these agricultural counsellors, we're opening up access in the United Arab Emirates. This is about ensuring that, from the very start, we have talked about a plan to not only support through natural disaster but through coronavirus, because we understand that agriculture in regional Australia will not just survive; it will thrive.