House debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023

Grievance Debate

Agriculture Industry

6:55 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to air my grievance with Labor's treatment of Australian farmers. Labor is punishing farmers in almost every conceivable way. It is nigh on impossible to know where to begin when it comes to the Albanese government's disregard for our primary producers, who feed and clothe not only our nation but the world.

Just one example is Labor's fresh food tax. Labor is taxing farmers by forcing them to pay for the biosecurity risks created by international importers. This is an unbelievable insult to Australian farmers, who work so hard to mitigate biosecurity risks on their own farms at their own expense. Now, thanks to Labor, they will pay for the biosecurity risks of their competitors who import from overseas. When the cost of Australian food goes up at the check-out, Australians can thank Labor.

They are scrapping the ag visa—another one. Australia's top peak food industry bodies warned that agriculture required an additional 172,000 workers, yet only around 16,000 Pacific Australia Labour Mobility—PALM—workers have arrived since Labor took office 18 months ago. Make no mistake: the shortfall in workforce lowers productivity. Labor refuses to reinstate the Nationals' ag visa, a scheme all producers agreed was a fantastic idea and a much needed solution. Meanwhile, Labor has changed the PALM scheme and has made the farming workforce more difficult and costly for farmers, ultimately making it more expensive to get product from paddock to plate. Farmers simply can't get the workers they need, and under Labor's regime farmers are forced to offer a minimum of 30 hours a week despite agriculture work being seasonal, strangely enough, and weather dependent. In short, Labor's agriculture policies are making food more expensive.

You might have noticed at the check-out that Labor is forging ahead with water buybacks—who thought that was a good idea?—removing the economic and social safeguards of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to give an additional 450 gigalitres out of the consumptive pool to the environment. The Nationals had all basin states agree on the social and economic neutrality test, protecting our regional communities. Reverting to buybacks for an additional 450 gigalitres will hurt our regional communities, as they did the last time they were instituted, leaving a patchwork quilt of barren and irrigated land. Once again, this will drive up food prices when families do their weekly shop.

Just this week, we saw Labor and their city-based environmental activist friends in the Greens team up to revise the Basin Plan. The deal ensures the Water Act amendments will pass the Senate, mandating the full recovery of the 450 gigalitres of additional environmental water by the end of the 2027, despite strong objections from the national and Victorian farmers federations and the Victorian Labor government. Regional communities will be left to foot the bill for this power play aimed at securing city votes, a common thread when it comes to the Albanese Labor government.

Renewable energy policies: my goodness, what can I say about that? Labor's reckless race to 82 per cent renewables by 2030 and 28,000 kilometres of transmission lines that they are running across Australia are like a wrecking ball through native vegetation and prime agricultural land.

Mallee farmers are experiencing this first hand, with the VNI West project threatening their livelihoods for the sake of an ideology which is putting our food and fibre production at risk. Chopping down thousands of hectares of native bushland and pristine farmland for wind farms and transmission lines is senseless. I say this to Labor: Mallee is not your dumping ground for bad policy.

Minister Bowen wants to back a five-fold increase in renewable energy capacity in Australia, but that risks the stability of the grid—all at the taxpayers' expense. Our farmers must be protected against their land being impinged on by reckless renewable energy transmission lines or mining projects with no social licence. I met with farmers at Dooen, in the Wimmera region of Mallee, whose lands and livelihoods are in the sights of a mining company—I won't name them—that at this point does not have social licence. It is World Soil Day on 5 December, and, while critical minerals are important, mining for them through premium topsoil should not risk agricultural productivity and our farming community's way of life.

Of course, across the country we have seen other Labor policies and chaotic thought bubbles play havoc with the confidence of farmers. In Western Australia we saw cultural heritage laws facing strong opposition from farmers whose land was put at risk, forcing an embarrassing backflip. Regional councils in Mallee, as well as private would-be tourism operators—such as Murray and Maree Allan at Sea Lake in my electorate—are facing similar economic ruin. Land deals between the state government and local land councils need to be investigated so they do not impinge on people's rights to work on and improve their own property. But Labor's storm of chaos for farmers goes on. Forcing farmers to pay for the unrealised capital gain of their properties in superannuation funds, delays to an infrastructure review and critical regional projects, moving towards the banning of the live sheep export trade, delays acting on foot and mouth disease, a lack of impetus to finalise meat labelling and not progressing with the domestic regulation of organics: these are all plaguing our farmers.

I know many in this House do not represent regional Australia. Their constituents don't make a living off the land, nor are they at the mercy of the seasons to get a crop in and out of the ground. They might be sitting there thinking that farmers are just whingers. No, they're not. For many MPs, these farmers are out of sight and out of mind. People in the city need to realise the impact of poor policy and what it means to farmers and farming and how that impacts, finally, at the grocery check-out for them personally.

When you effectively tie a farmer's hands behind their back and hurt their productivity or make it more expensive for them to operate, it is your own budget bottom line or back pocket that will be affected. When city folk go to the clothes shop or the meat and dairy aisle at Woolies or Coles or wherever they shop, they aren't thinking of a farmer at the other end of that transaction. Where is the food on their table or in their children's lunchbox at school coming from if not from Australian farmers? We certainly don't want it to be coming from overseas.

Supporting our farmers starts with good government policy. The Albanese Labor government, consisting mostly of urban based politicians, needs to recognise the value of those who work the land beyond Australia's city limits. These farmers might not vote Labor, but the country relies on them being able to do their job, both to serve the domestic market and to bring the export dollars back to our nation. We must keep our farmers farming.