House debates

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Regional Australia

3:21 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Franklin proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The government's continued failure to adequately represent farmers, producers and regional communities.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:22 pm

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

What we've seen from this government in the last few days has shown the true colours of those on the other side who purport to represent the farmers, producers and those of us living in regional and rural Australia. They're much more focused on themselves and their own jobs rather than the needs of those who made sure that this country got through the global pandemic and that Australians were fed. These are the farmers and producers who have recently been through drought, through fires, through the pandemic and who are now dealing with a mouse plague.

We on this side of the House are focused on the needs of farmers, producers and those in regional Australia. We tried last week, repeatedly, to talk about the mouse plague. This is a mouse plague that is now affecting four Australian states—four Australian states! We've asked the government repeatedly: where is the national plan for the mouse plague? Where is the national plan for the mouse plague? We got nothing. Absolutely nothing! I have written to the government several times about this issue. The New South Wales agriculture minister has written to the government and has asked for the government to do something about this mouse plague. But, no—nothing. Still nothing.

We have houses burnt down due to mice chewing through wires. We have cars dying because of the mice inside the cars. We've had a prison evacuated because of the number of mice. This is actually a really serious issue. The New South Wales Farmers Federation has said that there's about a billion dollars—$1 billion—worth of damage to crops in New South Wales because of this mouse plague. And what do we get from the government? Absolutely nothing! We didn't even get the minister to stay for this MPI to talk about farmers and producers in regional Australia. He has absolute contempt for them. What we've seen from the government, with the new Deputy Prime Minister's election, is of course more contempt—more contempt for those people living in regional Australia and for those farmers and producers.

But we've also had really serious issues raised by farmers and producers about workforce. They can't get any labour: they can't get their produce picked off farms. This has been a structural issue. They have been in government for eight long years, and for eight years they have done nothing about addressing this. They've made promises after promises after promises about delivering for farmers, yet the workers haven't shown up. They promised 25,000 vetted workers under the Seasonal Worker Program. The minister says about 7,000 have arrived in Australia, but why are the workers not able to come in? Why are they not training Australians? The workers can't come in, because, of course, they've stuffed up the vaccine and the quarantine. There's no vaccine rollout. We can't get Australians vaccinated fast enough, because they didn't do their job. There's no national quarantine system, because they haven't done their job. We've got proposals from premiers for facilities in regional Australia to have quarantine near hospitals, near airports—meeting all the government's criteria—but they won't even look at it. They won't even do an assessment of the one for Toowoomba from the Queensland government. There's nothing from this government to try to help the people of regional Australia.

Then, of course, with the workforce, they've had this national strategy sitting on their desk since October last year! October! They haven't even responded to the report. It's got recommendations in it about how the government can deal with the short-term issue and then, long term, fix the structural issues in terms of workforce. What have we had from this government? Last week we had another announcement about an agriculture visa. They promised that three years ago, and they still haven't delivered it, so they've done absolutely nothing. But they've changed leader, because apparently it's all going swimmingly; they've done a great job for regional Australia.

When I talk to the farmers and producers and people in regional Australia about the serious issues of the mouse plague, about labour, about biosecurity, about the issues affecting them on farms, not once have I heard anyone say, 'The solution is Barnaby Joyce.' Not once has that been uttered to me. Quite frankly, I am astounded that they have changed the Deputy Prime Minister, not because they care about the people of regional Australia, not because they think this will make a difference to the lives of those people—those farmers, those producers—that are doing their best for Australia under difficult circumstances because this government's not helping them. No, they've done it because Barnaby wanted the job. That is the only reason they have changed deputy prime ministers. We still have no explanation from them on why they changed leader in the Nationals—nothing—and no proper explanation about how this is going to benefit the farmers, the producers and those living in regional Australia. They've done nothing about all the really serious issues, yet they come in here and they try to talk about farmers. They talk about regional Australia. They say the word 'farmer' and 'region' an awful lot, but they actually do very little to deliver for the farmers and the producers and those that are on the land in regional Australia.

We hear all these promises; they don't deliver on them. And we hear it when it comes to grants in particular, and I'm sure the member for Ballarat will have more to say about the sports rorts and the grants that they haven't been delivering to those seats that need them. I know that, when it comes to the Building Better Regions Fund, the largest electorate in my home state of Tasmania, the electorate of Lyons, has had $800,000 over eight long years under the Building Better Regions Fund. That's it, out of this fund that's been operating for eight years. It's the largest regional electorate in Tasmania, and why do you think it's got no money? I think it's because it doesn't appear on their little spreadsheet, because it's not the right colour code. It's just shameful how they go around allocating government funds, how they talk about helping farmers and regional Australians and then they do the exact opposite. They no longer stand up for regional Australians and for farmers; they like to pretend they do. All the farmers and producers in regional Australia that I talk to raise serious issues with me about the plague, about the labour force, about biosecurity. They don't come in and talk about the issues that they do in this place—about themselves. They're talking about really serious things.

Let's talk about net zero emissions and climate. There are some great quotes, of course, from the new Deputy Prime Minister and some of the things he's said. The bottom line is the farmers want to be part of the solution. The National Farmers Federation has committed to zero net emissions by 2050, and indeed some parts of agriculture—Meat & Livestock Australia—have committed to zero net by 2030, so they want to be part of the solution. They know that the jobs in regional Australia are going to rely on us having access to markets, because the rest of the word is going this way. Also, the technology that creates the jobs in regional Australia is going to be reliant on us having that target. But, no. What we've heard from the Deputy Prime Minister is there's no way we're going to have a target while he's Leader of the Nationals. Well, the farmers will be disgraced by that. The farmers want to be part of the solution. They're out there. They're innovating. They're doing great things every day. They've dealt with the drought. They've dealt with fires. They're dealing with mouse plagues. This government is doing nothing to lift a finger to help them—absolutely nothing. They pretend they do all the time. They're doing so little to try and help the farmers in regional Australia.

Let's talk about the women in regional Australia. We know that nobody said Barnaby is the solution to the issues they're facing in regional Australia. Let's have a look at what some of the women who live in regional Australia have said about the change of Deputy Prime Minister. I want to quote Victorian Nationals MP Steph Ryan, who said:

I've never made any secret of the fact that I think Barnaby Joyce's previous actions didn't really make him eligible for the top job.

Then we have the National's WA leader, Mia Davies, who says she's 'disappointed' Barnaby Joyce is back three years after she led calls for him to resign. She said: 'It remains to be seen as to whether or not Barnaby can rebuild trust with voters that I think has been broken.' Nationals MP Michelle Landry said:

I think that if he became leader again there would be women out there that would be unhappy with that.

Then we've got the former chair of the women's council and ex-Nationals member Jess Price-Purnell, who said:

It's actually pretty devastating. My first reaction was a word I can't say on a recording. I think we've now just taken a 10-year step backwards.

That's from a former female candidate inside the National Party. These are women who know Barnaby Joyce well; who have worked with him. This is what they say about him. This is why he should not be Deputy Prime Minister—

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Franklin will pause for a moment. I've given a little bit of latitude on not using the correct title but you've done it a number of times. I'll just bring you back to that.

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

The Deputy Prime Minister should not be in the job he's in. If those on the other side were focused on the farmers, the producers and the people living in regional Australia they would not have changed leaders. They would've actually done something about the really serious issues that those living in regional Australia are facing, that those on the land are facing—those who are trying to make a buck out of actually producing the food and the fibre that we all need and that we all relied on during the pandemic.

This country did do some great things during the global pandemic, and our farmers and producers were part of that. They've got nothing back from this government for all of their effort and all of their energy. Instead, the government are more focused on themselves. Indeed, we see that they're still in turmoil. That is the story of this government. They're still divided. (Time expired)

3:32 pm

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

It's great to get up and talk to an MPI that talks about representing farmers, producers and regional communities, because it's something that this side of the chamber gets very well—and I'm sure they do internally. If you were to look at a map of Australia and if you were to look at the representation of that and the landmass you would see blue for Liberal and green for the Nationals all over that map, because in regional Australia, where there are larger seats—bigger landmass seats—that's where the Nationals and the Liberals have such strong representation. We take up regional communities. Regional communities are represented largely—very largely—by the Nationals and the Liberals. It's a structural issue for the Labor Party that they have so few regional seats. That's because regional Australia know that Labor don't get them. Regional Australia know that Labor do not understand them, and that's why the Liberal Party and the Nationals have such strong representation in regional Australia.

Deputy Speaker, you, like me, are a regional representative, and you know that regional Australia, right now, as we've come out of COVID, has been an absolute powerhouse for this country. We have a whole lot of different sectors that are just powering, Deputy Speaker, and you know that as a regional representative. The agricultural sector is powering, the mining sector is powering and domestic tourism is powering—in, I am sure, your region as well, Deputy Speaker. It is in my region—it is absolutely powering. People from the cities have discovered just what a great place Australia is to have a holiday and they're flocking out to the regions. So right now we are flourishing.

The one thing I would agree with the member for Franklin on is staff shortages. We have staff shortages in everything, because everyone is so busy. Everyone is so busy, in just about every sector. They're looking to grow and expand, which is obviously a good thing. A lot of it's on the back of what we've done as a government. One of the most popular things in my area is the instant asset tax write-off. I was talking to an agribusiness that supplies tractors and farming equipment just last week, Ongmac in Lismore. They have had a record year, as have a lot of the businesses in my region, on the back of the policies of this government.

Going to agriculture: we have an agricultural sector worth about $70 billion this year. Obviously the ag sector can fluctuate a bit with the seasons; right now, we've come out of a drought and a fire season that was crippling. The latest season has been a very good season across most of the country. We're looking to grow that sector to $100 billion by 2030. Economically, regional Australia, through a number of sectors, has been a real powerhouse as we have come out of the COVID recession.

We have done other things as a government that are really important. Regional Australia is a big exporter, a huge exporter, of a number of different products. The free trade agreements we've negotiated as a government, the most recent one with the United Kingdom just a week or so ago, are exceptionally important for regional Australia. That's why we are focused on it and that's why we have done so many deals since we've been in government, because we get regional Australia and regional Australia gets us. That's why it votes for us and not Labor.

I also want to look at infrastructure. I will go through a few infrastructure projects in my region, which are reflective of regional Australia across this nation. We have an unprecedented infrastructure program going on across the wider regions. I'm going to take you all on a little tour of my electorate. Kyogle, up near the New South Wales-Queensland border, is quite a small shire with quite a small rate base. They had 300 wooden bridges—all built around the same time, all decaying at the same rate—and had an unprecedented backlog that they couldn't, as a small rate base, cover. We and the state government—fortunately we have a coalition state government in New South Wales as well—working with the council, have together cleared that backlog from about 300 bridges that they had about seven or eight years ago to 20 bridges.

Now, why are those bridges important? Some of those bridges might only have three, four, five or six properties at the end of them. But those bridges are as important to them as the Sydney Harbour Bridge is to Sydney. It's a very productive area. They're growing things, selling things and exporting things. Those bridges are also important for kids to get to school and get to hospitals in emergencies. We saw the priority in that. That's why we went in to bat for them and made sure we helped them with that backlog.

Also in Kyogle, a beautiful part of the world—I encourage you, Mr Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien, to go for a tour through there; I know you're a motorbike rider—Whiddon aged care came to me a few years ago. We, as a federal government, as you would understand, Mr Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien, fund the places at an aged-care facility, and then the provider will usually build the infrastructure. Because of the size of Kyogle it didn't add up, so we as a government have gone in and helped them with the infrastructure side of that as well. We've helped them upgrade some really important roads that are really important economic drivers. I helped the Kyogle Council upgrade one of them, Culmaran Creek Road, because it is the home of Mara Seeds. If you haven't heard of Mara Seeds, it's a really big soy production area; they have a soy processing facility. In fact they supply Vitasoy with 80 per cent of their product. So that road was crucial for the economic driver of that region. We helped them with that and a number of arterial roads as well.

If you come over to Lismore, close to where I live: we have been working with the Lismore council and a whole lot of other areas in Lismore to make Lismore a sporting precinct. We are doing a $40 million upgrade of Crozier Field and Oakes Oval, where they play soccer and cricket and rugby league—all the major sports. We will get a whole lot of preseason games when it's completed. We've already had a preseason League game and a preseason AFL game. These are economic drivers. We have done a hockey upgrade and a baseball upgrade just last week, and this is why this is important: that upgrade we did with baseball means we can now host national tournaments. The national Little League tournament was held in Lismore, at the baseball facility. We had hundreds of people there in our community spending money at the cafes and at motels, because we get it; we get regional Australia. We have done the same with hockey.

We have Norco in Lismore. Norco produce great dairy products—great milk, probably the best milk in the world, and the best ice cream in the world too. In fact we are working with Norco to do an upgrade of the Lismore ice cream factory; we are going halves. They employ hundreds of people there. It's a really important economic driver for Lismore. We are going halves in upgrading the ice cream factory so it can be the latest state-of-the-art facility and be world's best practice. Again, we as a government get regional Australia, and that's why regional Australians vote for us and Labor. A number of years ago I worked with the local university to get the Farming Together program, which encourages the growth in mutuals and co-ops. It's a great model where the producer or grower becomes an owner of the processing plant, so we formed that as well.

Part of the Ballina shire is in my electorate, although the airport isn't. The airport at Ballina is a major economic driver. In fact, through COVID last year, Ballina airport was the either second or third busiest airport in the country because people weren't leaving the country, but they were looking for somewhere to go, so they were flying into the Ballina-Byron Bay airport. They came to me a year or so ago saying they needed to widen the runway. It's a 30-metre wide runway and now it has to be 45 metres wide for the new generations of jets. We saw the importance of that, so we've put up half the money for them because, again, we know that that airport is an economic driver for our region. We get the regions, Labor don't. That's why they vote for us and not Labor.

I now go to Richmond Valley and Casino. There's been a lot of misrepresentation in this chamber over the years I've been here, none more so than when people called Rockhampton the beef capital. It's not; we know that Casino is. I've worked with the Richmond Valley Council to do a $14 million upgrade of the saleyards. The council contributed, the state government contributed and federal government contributed to have state-of-the-art saleyards there. We also have the meatworks across the road, the Northern Co-operative Meat Company. They employ over 1,000 people when they're at full tilt, a really important economic driver for the region, not just Casino. We've given them some assistance to completely upgrade their frozen storage area, which will enable them to produce a new product. We get this, we understand this. We're also helping them do an industrial precinct because we know that, although high streets in towns are important, probably the most important place in a regional community is the industrial precinct. Getting land so businesses can set up is very important, and we're helping them there as well.

In Clarence Valley we have Grafton, a beautiful part of the world, as is the Lower Clarence. We've done a lot of work there. We've just finished the duplication of the Pacific Highway, a $5 billion project with the Commonwealth government contributing 80 per cent of that. It's a huge economic driver and it's saving lives as well. We've just finished that and it's been a wonderful project over the last seven or eight years. Yamba Welding & Engineering is getting Defence contracts. There are riverside precinct upgrades in Maclean and in Grafton itself. With headspace we've increased mental health services. We get regional Australia; Labor don't. (Time expired)

3:42 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday, we saw politics at its absolute worst. In the middle of a pandemic, with the vaccine rollout stalled, with COVID outbreaks in two of our most populous states and cases in a third state, with quarantine not working, instead of fighting the virus, we saw a government again fighting itself. That's what we saw yesterday. If you want to see a contrast between how regional Australia is represented on one side of the House and on the other, the member for Page and the member for New England exemplified it today. If you look at some of the magnificent women who represent regional Australia on this side of the House, there is the member for Franklin. There is the member for Eden-Monaro. There is the member for Macquarie. There is the member for Richmond. There is the member for Bendigo. We've got the member for Dobell. We've got the member for Paterson, the member for Cunningham, the member for Macquarie. All of these fantastic women represent regional Australia. What have we seen for the National Party? It's back to the future, these dinosaurs who think that they know and understand the complexity of regional Australia. What an absolute joke. What a joke they have become. No wonder, when Independents run against them, whether it's in the state seats or whether it's federally—for example, in the electorate of Indi—they lose office because these guys have had it.

If you want to look at where they have had it, look at the way they are behaving when it comes to climate change. Those of us who live in regional Australia and represent regional Australia know; we get it. We know the National Farmers Federation gets it. We have to be part of this change because this change is happening. We need to participate in it, make sure we shape it, take advantage of it and make sure we get the jobs in our regions because we know it is in our economic interests to do so. Yet these dinosaurs in the National Party, who have gone back to the future with Deputy Prime Minister Joyce, do not get it at all and they are holding this country hostage when it comes to the renewable energy jobs of the future. That is what these dinosaurs in the National Party have done, and the Liberal Party are complicit in it because they know they cannot govern without them. They are absolutely and utterly tied at the hip to these dinosaurs and their policies that are taking us back into the past.

If this country is to move forward, if regional Australia is to grow the jobs—of course we want to see jobs growth in the resources sector. We want to make sure that we're able to export our commodities. We want to make sure that we are growing the best produce we possibly can, exporting it and using it in our domestic market. We want to make sure that there are Australian jobs in freight and shipping, taking it around the country and taking our products to the world. We want to make sure regional Australia is part of the future and has future jobs growth. That's what we want to see, and the magnificent women on this side of the House who represent our regions across this country are fighting for that every single day.

Yet, what we're seeing yet again is this dinosaur Deputy Prime Minister basically taking us back to the future when it comes to renewable energy. We've seen it over and over and over again. This country will not grow jobs in regional Australia. It cannot grow jobs in regional Australia while the Nationals continue to hold this country hostage when it comes to climate change. We know that the National Farmers Federation, the meat and livestock corporation, every National Farmers Federation branch in the states and territories, the Country Women's Association and the Business Council of Australia are all saying that if we do not participate in the renewable jobs of the future in our regions we will miss out. We are already decades behind where we should be to get these jobs—decades behind.

Again, what we are seeing time and time again is a National Party that is not representing regional Australia. Frankly, if you look at the faces of who they've got on their side of the fence representing regional Australia, they are not reflective of those communities. How many women have you got who represent the regions? How many women have you got in your party that actually represent the regions? Where's the diversity of people representing regional Australia in the National Party? It is simply and utterly not there.

We know on this side that our regions are ready. We are ready for a revolution. We are ready for growth in jobs, but we need help. We need help in getting regional housing. We need help in growing renewable energy jobs. We need assistance, not pork-barrelling, in the seats that the National Party holds continuously. I know that every one of the women on this side representing our regions will fight this Deputy Prime Minister every inch of the way. (Time expired)

3:47 pm

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I agree with the previous speaker that they have some wonderful women on their side of the chamber, and they take up the debate. But, unfortunately for them, when it comes to our agriculture sector, what our farmers want is action. When it comes to truly helping our farming communities, they look to see the actions, they look to see what you're actually doing when you go to Canberra, they look to see what your policy actually is and what it is going to do for their business and their sector. If they looked at us recently, they would have said, 'Here they are working as hard as they possibly can to get that free trade agreement signed with Britain.' The impacts of that are going to flow through to the farmers in the next few years.

If we happen to be talking about the Murray-Darling Basin, what is the most important thing they could do for those farmers? They could correct the inaccuracies around the Murray-Darling Basin. They could correct the overtake of water away from agriculture towards the environment. They could correct that if they wanted to, but, unfortunately, those on the opposition side, from Labor, don't want to. They don't want to correct the damage that has been done by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. They just don't want to change it. If anything, they want to make it worse. So, you've got to be very, very careful when you come in here and start being critical of the people who are truly arguing for agriculture, who are truly arguing for the betterment of the people on the land.

Only yesterday we were in this chamber talking about how we could make the farm household allowance more fit for purpose for our farmers. If anybody, because of the calculations about future earnings, had somehow or other accrued a debt, we were going to waive that debt with the bill that went through the House yesterday. When the dairy farming crisis hit in May 2016, it was this government that ran to support the dairy sector. And those people who understand what happened in 2016—when milk companies had been overpaying for the majority of the year and then, all of a sudden, were trying to claw back hundreds of thousands of dollars from farming families—would understand exactly what happens when a certain sector needs some support. When we saw Batlow Apples go up in flames, it was this government, in conjunction with the New South Wales government, that put hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table, to be matched by the farmers, to get production up and running again, even though we all know it's going to take some five to six years for that fruit to start bearing once again. This government doesn't just do the talk; it actually backs itself up with the actions. And that's what I'm saying—

Hon. Members:

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You can snipe all you like, but the fact is that if you want to make a tangible difference to agriculture, if you want to help get the agriculture sector to $100 billion by 2030, you're going to have to change some of your policies. You can't just keep saying, 'The roof is going to fall in,' while you're pulling down all the bearers that are holding up the roof. This is what you're doing currently; you stand there and you snipe at every possible policy that might actually assist agriculture. You snipe at them. Then, all of a sudden, you say, 'Why aren't you doing such and such?'

One of the things that the member for Franklin spoke about early on was the lack of labourers and overseas workers to come in and help pick the fruit. In every committee that we sit on, whether it be the Migration Committee or the Regional Australia Committee, it was the Labor Party time after time after time that would be arguing against bringing overseas workers into Australia. It was the Victorian Labor Party that put a final kibosh on the whole program that David Littleproud had set forward. So what we have here again is opportunistic squawking that they want to help, and that we should do this and we should do that, but every chance we get to put forward policy that's going to help the people in regional Australia and help the people on the farms and in the agriculture sector, the Labor Party stands there and ensures that these assistance packages simply do not find their way onto the farms. So we need to be careful about opening up this chamber to talk about subjects like this when you are so far out of your depth and when so many of your policies run exactly contrary to the notion that you put forward today. (Time expired)

3:52 pm

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is disappointing to hear that we're out of our depth representing our own communities. I spoke last week about ongoing issues that continue to affect farmers in my region, and I implored the government to stop playing politics, and to take some time to actually listen to the farmers, our forestry industry and regional communities, and actually address their concerns. Eden-Monaro communities have had a tough few years. We've faced challenges including drought, bushfire, numerous storm and flood events, the COVID-19 pandemic and border closures. But by far the most frustrating part of that challenge is that this government is, quite frankly, not paying attention. Our farmers are worried. They're worried about coping with workforce shortages. They're worried about CSIRO funding cuts to pasture and animal science. They're worried about the dependency on China to keep the wool industry afloat. They're worried about getting funding coordinator roles for farming cooperative groups. And they're worried that this government is more focused on themselves than on the everyday challenges of rural and regional Australians. Instead of focusing on real issues, this government is self-indulgent. Instead of talking about what matters, they're talking about themselves. But it's hardly surprising that this government continues to fail at adequately representing farmers, producers and regional communities.

On top of this, farmers are significantly affected by labour shortages. When natural disasters tear through our communities, work on farms doesn't stop. In fact, it increases. Our farmers need help, but they can't find any assistance. The labour shortage is crippling farms. The shortage is not just in agriculture, though; it's in hospitality, retail and tourism. Our regional communities have had to put up with this for far too long. The government has now announced an agricultural visa which is meant to fix the problem, but no farmer I know is holding their breath. The vaccine rollout and quarantine failures keep setting us up for failure. It's difficult to see how any new visa will fix workforce shortages any time soon.

And it's not just our farmers that are facing critical staff shortages; our regions are now at crisis point due to GP shortages. We're seeing fewer doctors move towards GP careers, fewer GPs moving to regional areas, and as a result there's significant pressure on remaining doctors and our local hospitals. What is the plan to attract new GPs to regional communities? It is your job. It is the Morrison government that carries the responsibility for supporting and growing the GP network. They need to ensure that regional Australians have access to health care, especially during a pandemic. But, once again, there is no plan to address the GP shortage from those opposite. They claim to represent the regions, but there is no answer. There is no plan to deal with the most critical issue for all regional Australians.

We're now well and truly into the second winter following the bushfires that devastated my region and many regions across this country. As I talk to people affected in my electorate, the message is clear: survivors feel that Canberra has forgotten them, that the government has moved on and the recovery of our regional communities is no longer a priority for it. I was recently approached in a local supermarket by a woman who said she is still living in a caravan after her home was burnt down, and on top of this her van has been flooded. She has no idea what her next move is, and she's not alone. The story is not unique in our communities. People are still significantly struggling following the bushfires. We are 18 months on and the impacts are still being felt by communities. Where is the focus on getting them help? It is nothing short of ludicrous that the new Coordinator-General of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency refuses to meet with me or other Labor members who represent communities where people have been impacted by bushfire. That is politicking of the highest order. That is absolute ridiculousness. It is your job to hear from our communities. It is your job to come and listen to us as we try to help those communities that are doing it really tough.

I recently spoke to forestry contractors—an industry that's been all but forgotten in this bushfire recovery. Forestry has received some support, but contractors who work in and around the industry haven't been assisted or supported at all. Jobs are on the line. And, to be quite frank, the assistance to forestry industries could have been a lot better. There's been plenty of political tourism from those opposite, and what I would say is: quit the tourism, start acting and start listening to the people in these regional communities, who know what they need to get better. I'll tell you what: we need follow through. We need a strategic plan for regional Australia. We need to ensure our regional communities can recover and prosper. We need a new government, because this one isn't listening. (Time expired)

3:57 pm

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

The member who just addressed the House said, 'We need a new government.' Well, there'll be an election. There'll be an opportunity for the people of Australia to deliver their verdict. I wouldn't hold my breath, Member for Eden-Monaro.

I'd hasten to suggest I've spent more time in sawmills in my lifetime than the member opposite has in her lifetime, so I'm not going to allow her to lecture me or this place about forest industries. You know what the issue is in forest industries in my electorate right now? Fatigue. We're having to manage workers for fatigue. They are busting out so much timber, because of this government's HomeBuilder program, they are suffering from fatigue. They can work 28 days in a month but they can't go past that, because the mill owners are worried about fatigue. But I digress. I shouldn't be triggered by the member opposite, but I think I just have been.

The most seminal, most important speech that the Leader of the Opposition is given the privilege of delivering every year, I think we all know, is the budget in reply. It is 30 minutes where the whole nation pauses to listen to their plan. Well, that's the plan, anyway. The whole nation pauses and we sit here diligently listening, waiting to hear the plan. The Leader of the Opposition marched in on that Thursday evening and gave a 30-minute speech. Those opposite march in today and say how they are so committed to regional Australia, that agriculture is their thing and that the mouse plague is what they are focused on. But, if we go back to that seminal speech, the budget-in-reply speech, you would think that the Leader of the Opposition would have uttered the words 'agriculture' dozens of times in that speech because it is so important to those opposite. If agriculture is not your go, I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition would have uttered the words 'regional Australia' dozens of times. Well, I'm here to tell you that he didn't utter any of those words dozens of times. You would think that five times each would be fair—it's a priority but it's not everything.

Those opposite need to understand that their leader marched into this place to deliver the most important speech of the year on behalf of those opposite, setting out the plan to win the next election—because, as the member for Eden Monaro said, 'We need a new government'—and, do you know how many times these words were uttered? 'Agriculture', zero. This is like playing The Price is Right. But I'm being unkind, aren't I? I mean, who would say 'agriculture'? If you're focused on regional Australia, you don't mention agriculture; you mention regional Australia. I'm now thinking of Steve, an American show: 'I say agriculture. Is it up there, Steve?' No, he did not mention it—not once. You've gotta be kidding!

The best bit of advice I got in politics was to be consistent. If it's not enough of a priority to mention it at all in the budget-in-reply speech, don't march into the chamber a month or so later and say, 'This is the single-most matter of public importance,' and pause everything we're doing in this place so that those opposite can point out the supposed failures in agriculture.

But I'm not actually concerned about those opposite; the reality is that we are marching towards $100 billion of agricultural output by 2030. Perhaps they should listen to the member for Hunter. He gets it. He's trying to deliver some common sense. He is actually laying down a pathway for those opposite to be competitive at the next election. But I tell you what; you are not going to be competitive by marching in here, with lines at the dispatch box, saying, 'It's now all about agriculture, it's all about regional communities and it's all about regional Australia.' The people of Australia aren't muppets. They know that, when the Leader of the Opposition stood here making his budget-in-reply speech, he didn't even mention agriculture—not once. For that matter, he didn't even mention forestry or regional Australia. Come on; be consistent, because you're not doing yourselves any favours with the people of Australia.

4:02 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a fine opportunity this is to speak about the government's continued failure to adequately represent farmers, producers and regional communities. I thank the member for Franklin, the shadow minister for agriculture, for raising this very important matter of public importance, because regional communities like mine are so important. They are the backbone of this nation. They feed our cities and provide local jobs.

We're talking about people who live and spend locally. Just today I've been working on some ads in my local newspapers, and the feature they are running in the local papers is called 'Think Local, Support Local', because that is what country areas do—people support each other. When I came to this place in 2019 my local farmers were in severe drought. To say it was shocking is an understatement. I have never seen anything like it. But my whole community felt their pain—businesses and workers working in related businesses, like feed companies and tractor and repair companies, and the list goes on. But what did this government do? It didn't even acknowledge that these farmers were in drought. While New South Wales declared the area in severe drought, the Morrison government denied that by using outdated maps and therefore denying my local farmers the support they rightfully deserved. Then, of course, came the bushfires, multiple floods and the pandemic. What a potent mix all of that turned out to be!

In my bushfire affected areas we have over 1,000 people in temporary accommodation. COVID and the closure of international borders have meant people are holidaying locally, which is a great thing for spending and local jobs. But it has also had an unintended consequence, putting immense pressure on housing availability and pushing housing prices up—skyrocketing. Many people have told me how many landlords are either putting rents up to an exorbitant price which renters can't afford or terminating leases for higher-priced holiday rental or for sale. If you don't have somewhere to live, then how do you work and function?

When people talk about workforce shortages, a good part of that in my electorate comes from the inability to find somewhere to live. But what has the Morrison government done about that? Absolutely nothing. The Morrison government don't care about affordable and social housing in our regional areas, but they should—if they actually cared about local businesses and finding workers. It's the same for our farmers. The Morrison government have had years to address workforce shortage issues, but each time they have failed to deliver.

Sometimes I'm not really sure what they do. Last week there was another big announcement: the agricultural workers visa. But there was not a lot of detail on delivery. This latest announcement comes three years after the Nationals first said there would be an agricultural visa. So farmers won't be holding their breath for action soon and, with international borders closed for so long from the Morrison government's failed vaccine rollout and national quarantine, it's difficult to see how any new visa will fix labour shortages crippling local farms now.

The Morrison government has a terrible track record on fixing workforce shortages on Australian farms. It beggars belief that the Morrison government is still yet to respond to the recommendations of the National Agricultural Workforce Strategy handed to it in October. Producers have already faced losses of more than $50 million from rotting crops due to workforce shortages on farms. The Morrison government has failed to take responsibility for labour shortages. Farmers and constituents in my electorate just want this fixed.

Labor has written to Minister Littleproud three times now about our concerns around the agricultural workforce shortage, first in January, then in February and another letter in April. Why have we written so often to Minister Littleproud? Because he promised to fix the workforce shortage because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Has he fixed the workforce shortage? No, he has not. And what's in the budget? The Morrison government has again missed an opportunity to properly fix issues in Australia's agricultural workforce and to set the industry up for growth.

And then there's the mouse plague, on top of everything else. But what is the Morrison government doing about it? Nothing. There's no national response. There's a pattern here: no national response to quarantine, failed vaccine rollout, failed on workforce shortages and failed on the mouse plague. We on this side know the truth: the Morrison government doesn't give a rats about farmers or regional Australia.

4:07 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Like the member for Barker, I am somewhat bemused about the subject matter that has been brought before us in this MPI. Last week we heard a couple of outbursts from the member for Franklin about mouse plagues and, again, she has brought mouse plagues into this MPI today.

I thought I'd have a look at where Franklin is on the map and of course it's the southernmost electorate in Australia. I don't know much about its primary production or its investment profile but I doubt that mouse plagues are actually a regular occurrence in that part of the world. But they are where I come from, out of the grain belt on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. They're a subsequent part of farming. They're quite predictable in many ways; we know when they're coming and good farmers prepare for them. But it's interesting; when I was having a bit of a look during question time at some issues I might speak on I saw a speech that the member for Grey delivered on mouse plagues in 2011—that was me, by the way! At that time I was asking the APVMA to accelerate the local mixing process for the new registered chemical for the control of mice in broadacre, zinc phosphide. It was only able to be mixed in two places in Australia and we needed local mixing, otherwise farmers would be transporting grain there and then transporting poison back. It was all too expensive and hard to do. We got a breakthrough, and I actually have a mixing station in my local town now. There's a chemical supply unit doing exactly that. That came in the tracks of deregistering the use of strychnine for mouse control, which we had used back in the nineties.

Here I'll share my own experience with mouse plagues, and I've lived through a few of them. As a kid, they seemed like a bit of fun. They're not much fun when you're trying to protect your house, though; I accept that. I've shared all those the experiences that have been raised before. I've shared my bed with mice. I've had to wipe down my cupboards with disinfectant in the morning so we could get the kids' lunches ready for school. In fact, they chewed through the cornice in my ceiling. They used to peep their heads out at night while we were having dinner, and then their urine dribbled all down the walls of where we lived. That's what it's like living with mice. Before my wife went to school to teach each day, I used to clean up the front and back of the house. I would front-end load up bucketfuls of carcasses of mice that had perished because we'd used strychnine during the night. It was a darn good poison, and I still maintain it should never have been deregistered for use in the case of mouse plagues.

But the point is that if you want to manage a mouse plague it's all about local management. The best people to manage mouse plagues are farmers—the people who live in the towns. But you need to take early action and you need to have the right chemicals supplied to you. When I spoke on this in 2011, I was actually speaking about something that a national government could do in response to a mouse plague.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We're hearing calls for action. How about you detail what you think? Why doesn't the member for Franklin actually talk about what she thinks would be a constructive thing for a federal government to do in the face of a mouse plague? I tell you what: you can't beat it with dollar bills. You can't beat it by sending the Army out there. There are no simple solutions to this. The solution to a mouse plague is local management, and it is the people on the ground who will front up and defeat them.

On the broader issue of us not regarding farmers and regional Australia, in recent years we've doubled the FMDs—a great drought management tool for farmers. We have the immediate tax write-off now on capital goods. Before that, we had immediate tax write-off on water, fodder and fencing. We have farm household support. Interestingly enough, if those farmers are affected badly enough by a mouse plague, they will qualify for farm household support. There is $5 billion in the Future Drought Fund. We've invested in new drought hubs. In my own electorate in SA, we headed out of Roseworthy. I have Minnipa, Port Augusta and Orroroo that will all have hubs. We have the on-farm emergency water grants and regional connectivity. We've put in another $84 million in the budget.

I might just touch on mobile phones. There was never a mobile phone tower policy under the Labor government—or their policy was: we don't have one. In my electorate, 30 towers have been built, another 18 are on the way, and there are two rounds of funding to come. There was another $250 million in the budget for the BBRF, one of the great investors in regional areas. I've run out of time. But for anyone to allege that this side of the parliament is not on the side of regional Australia— (Time expired)

4:12 pm

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

What a contrast with the culture of those opposite! Until now there have been only men lecturing to the women on this side about how little we must know about our regions. That'd be the regions that we live in—the regions that we've spent our lives in, have raised our kids in and are still raising our kids in. There is this absolute arrogance that, for some reason, only someone who's part of a national party or a liberal national party or, goodness knows for what reason, the Liberals, would have any idea, or would have a better idea than us.

Can we just accept that every region is different? I'm going to talk about how my region is different. I know my region. I know what we miss out on. I know what this government is failing to deliver. One of the things it's failing to deliver is respect for the women who represent these regions. My region is one that sits on the edge of Sydney. We can be confused sometimes with a city electorate. We can be confused sometimes with a remote electorate. Most of the time we sit in this area of being periurban. We are the key producer in New South Wales of perishable vegetables. The floods gave that a real hit. You only need to go to Flemington markets to see how the produce availability has been affected by that. We're the key producer of turf in the country. We're an area that has orchards. We have beef. We have not much dairy, but we still do have a bit of dairy. Unfortunately, while some areas are worrying about different threats to agriculture, mine is worrying about encroachment from houses that are taking over rich land. That's a failure of government policy—a failure to protect areas that have been, in our history, absolutely vital. It was the Hawkesbury that kept the settlement of Sydney alive when the colonists were here. When they first started and they couldn't grow stuff, the Hawkesbury could grow it. We are steeped in agricultural history. The threats are horrific, I have to say. In terms of the dairies that we've lost to housing, people will look back and ask: how could a country have given up land that was such a rich source of agricultural production?

So, in terms of the things that have struck us in the last 18 months or so, yes, there was the drought. Areas on the edge of Sydney don't always get noticed as being drought affected, but that has really hurt our wine-growing parts. It has hurt anyone with pasture. Then, of course, we had bushfires, and the bushfires wiped out apple orchards. They wiped out beautiful parts of the country, including orchards that have never been affected by bushfires before. That tells you something about how every region is being affected in different ways by the changes in the climate. We are seeing things that we've never seen before. Then we had our first flood. Then we had COVID. Then we had the biggest flood that the Hawkesbury River has experienced in about 30 years—a flood that wiped out vegetable crops, wiped out turf, left silt everywhere and ate into the riverbank.

Here's where this government's real failure is. It is great at announcing support for bushfires and announcing support for floods, but that support never lands on the ground. I can count on one hand the support that my orchards have had. There have been a couple of really good bits and pieces, but that's all it is. In terms of flood, there are great big horseshoe-shaped holes in the side of the Hawkesbury River, and the state and federal governments have not worked out what arrangements are going to be put in place for stabilisation, let alone any kind of remediation of those, and that affects every producer in my region. So don't sit across there and tell us that we don't know our regions—the places that we live in, the places that we spend every minute in once we escape Canberra, the places where people tell us what they need and where we listen to the people that we represent.

4:17 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance and to wholeheartedly reject the assertions made by those opposite. This government is committed to supporting regional farming communities and has displayed this commitment through several measures, including the 2021 Commonwealth budget. We're also committed to supporting the agriculture sector to grow to $100 billion by 2030, and we are well on the way to achieving that goal.

A key challenge to achieving this aim will be in farmers having access to the human capital they need to get their produce onto the plates of Australians around the country and, indeed, around the world. To address this challenge, our government is delivering a new seasonal agriculture visa which will significantly improve access to sources of legal labour for primary producers. I have been calling for a seasonal agriculture visa for some time now, and the Nationals have delivered. This will allow producers to get the right workers in the right place at the right time. It will allow workers from ASEAN countries to enter Australia for seasonal work, in skilled and unskilled positions, for nine months of the year for three years in a row.

The agriculture industry celebrated this announcement, and local growers in the Mallee have contacted me, saying how thrilled they are with the new visa. When I spoke to Fred Tassone from Robinvale about the new visa, he told me that industry had been crying out for this for some time and that this is a really encouraging outcome for all sectors of business across Australia. Anthony Gervasi wrote to me as well about the announcement. He said: 'This is awesome news. Congratulations, and thank you for your great work. You and the Nats have delivered to our region. There is a general buzz amongst my fellow growers. Everyone I've spoken to is really excited about this news, and it's the much-needed pick-up we needed to refocus on the next season. Confidence is up today. What a great story.' This visa is a great result for farmers in my electorate of Mallee, who've been desperate for a solution to their workforce troubles.

This side of the government is committed to regional communities, and the evidence is in our budget. The 2021 budget contains several measures that build on this government's track record of world-class infrastructure investments. We know that infrastructure is crucial to the prosperity of regional communities. That's why we're investing billions of dollars around the country to deliver the best roads, the best community infrastructure and the best telecommunications possible. This year's budget is delivering an additional $1 billion to the Local Road and Community Infrastructure Program, taking this program to $2.5 billion. This money is improving the lives of our communities, and council organisations are building on some fantastic projects. In fact, I've just come from having a coffee with the Pyrenees Shire Council CEO, mayor and another member, and I've got to say they are so excited about the LRCI program and also about the Building Better Regions Fund. It gives them the capacity to make decisions at a local level about what is needed. They utilise local trades and can see great change in their regional communities.

We also have a focus on safety, particularly for road users. New overtaking lanes have been completed between Mildura and Ouyen thanks to this government's commitment to the Calder Highway in Victoria. The 2021 budget has delivered an additional $15 million to the Calder Highway, bringing our total commitment to $75 million.

I know that regional connectivity is a key concern for communities in my region, and, again, this government is doubling down on investments to improve connectivity for regional Australians. We've committed $84.8 million for the second round of the Regional Connectivity Program. Mallee received $5 million in the first round for projects to install new a 4G base station and to connect Hopetoun and Kaniva to fibre to the premises, the best technology NBN has to offer.

Contrary to the ludicrous claims of those opposite, this government is supporting agriculture and regional communities right across Australia.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion is now concluded.