House debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024


Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2023-2024, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2023-2024, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 2023-2024

5:12 pm

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thought they'd be lining up to speak on this bill, given the wonderful permissiveness of standing order 76, which permits discussion of public affairs.

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, you're lining up; I'll give you that. As we're talking about the government's responsible economic management, all of us, when we're here doing our job in the parliament, miss important events in our electorate. In that context, I'd like to acknowledge Serbia's Statehood Day, on 15 February, also known as Sretenje. The day commemorates the outbreak of the first Serbian uprising in 1804, which evolved into the Serbian revolution against Ottoman rule. On the same day, some years later—in 1835—the first modern Serbian constitution, known as the Sretenje constitution, was adopted. This day was declared a holiday by the Serbian parliament in 2001, over 20 years ago, to commemorate that first Serbian uprising. The first modern Serbian constitution emphasised a focus on human rights and bringing Serbia into the modern age.

For those who haven't had a chance to visit Serbia, I recommend you do so, particularly the city of Belgrade, which sat for centuries on the literal border of the Ottoman Empire and the then Austro-Hungarian Empire. Statehood Day of Serbia is celebrated over two days, 15 and 16 February, and I'm sorry that I can't be in my community this year for those celebrations.

My electorate is home to a vibrant and growing Serbian Australian community. There are over 4,000 people with Serbian ancestry in Bruce, including over a thousand who were actually born in Serbia. Over 3,000 people still speak Serbian at home, as their preferred language, and nearly 3,000 follow the Serbian Orthodox religion, with our wonderfully vibrant church down in Keysborough.

There's a special poignancy this year to our celebrations of this cultural heritage because my friend the mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong, Councillor Lana Formoso, is the first mayor of Greater Dandenong who is of Serbian heritage. Lana grew up locally, but the community is incredibly proud. There are over 150 nationalities that call the City of Greater Dandenong home, and the Serbian community is proud to see that one of their own, as they claim, is now leading the city. I saw that firsthand at the 30th anniversary of the Serbian Community Association of Australia some weeks ago.

The appropriation bills that are before us implement the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. It is an opportunity to reflect on the government's responsible economic management and historic budget turnaround—the first surplus in 15 years. That was something those opposite promised budget after budget. They had the 'Back in black' cups made, but they never actually delivered a surplus, even before COVID.

This appropriation bill shows the government's efforts in cutting rorts and waste. In just 18 months in the life of this government, over $49.6 billion of spending has been identified and cut and reprioritised. The budget bills again show that the government is banking the vast majority of revenue upgrades. So when the government in good economic times with a strong labour market receives more revenue than was anticipated this Labor government is returning 88 per cent of that revenue to the budget, as opposed to the record of those opposite, who were spendthrifts, splashing the cash around, budget after budget, to try and buy a few votes, banking only 40 per cent of the revenue upgrade. It's incredibly important because banking that revenue, cutting rorts and waste and running a surplus budget are exactly what we need right now to put downward pressure on inflation and interest rates.

The government is doing its part, alongside the Reserve Bank, to tame inflation. It's not mission accomplished. Inflation is still the central economic challenge confronting the country. It's low- and middle-income earners and those in society who have the very least who get hurt when inflation is out of control in any economy and any country. But there are some encouraging signs. Inflation is coming down. It's heading in the right direction. Real wages are up, and Labor's tax cuts are on the way. All 13.6 million taxpayers will get a cut, not just a select few, which was the policy of those opposite.

But it is quite a contrast with the record of those opposite. One of the favourite lies the that Liberal and National parties love to tell is that they are somehow better economic managers.

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member will retract that reflection on members of the House.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will retract it but not without qualification.

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, without qualification.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will withdraw that and, in doing so, I will also simply note that Practice is very clear: you cannot call members opposite, or any member in this chamber, a liar, but you can reflect when something is a lie made by a party.

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not interested in debating my ruling.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the favourite untruths or falsehoods those opposite with delicate sensibilities at times in the Liberal and National parties love to spread is that somehow they are better economic managers. It is complete nonsense. It's brand propaganda and not borne out by the facts. As you would know, Dr Charlton, the two highest-taxing governments in modern Australian history were, No. 1, John Howard's and, No. 2, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government on the tax-to-GDP ratio. That's an inconvenient fact for the brand propaganda over there.

As I said, the first surplus delivered by an Australian government for over 15 years was by this Labor government. It's too early to know where we are going to land this year, but it's entirely possible and plausible that we'll get a second surplus budget in a row, putting the downward pressure on interest rates that Australians want to see.

A trillion dollars of Liberal debt they were heading towards, with not enough to show for it. They can't hide behind and blame COVID for this. They doubled the debt even before COVID, another inconvenient fact they don't like to talk about. Real wages went backwards under the Liberal and National parties. On real wages now, we have seen two consecutive quarters of real wages growth, with four per cent in the last quarter, the highest wage growth we have seen for 15 years. These are inconvenient economic facts.

The budget appropriation bill before the House ensures that the budget repair which the government is engaged in not is coming at the expense of cost-of-living relief. The budget provides energy bill relief, cheaper medicine, cheaper child care and the biggest single increase in Commonwealth rent assistance in 30 years. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has confirmed that our cost-of-living policies have already reduced inflation by half a percentage point, and Treasury estimates they'll reduce inflation by three-quarters of a percentage point by the June quarter this year. The disciplined approach to spending has made room for additional investments to grow the capacity of the economy and lay stronger foundations for growth in the coming years in energy, housing and skills.

We are sometimes a bit unfair on the opposition. We are not allowed them to call them the 'no-alition', but it is a fact that they say no to pretty much any proposition put forward in the parliament, whether it is legislation, a policy proposal or a new idea. But we're a bit unfair when we say that they have no policies because, to be fair, they do have a few policies. They've got one on the books to raise energy prices—opposing Labor's price caps on gas and coal, which would see power prices rise if their policy was implemented. They voted against those caps.

They have the policy—which members opposite love to advocate—of nuclear power, which is a distraction. It's like the classic smoke grenade. 'Look over here, we'll say something that's manifestly silly.' Renewable energy is the cheapest form of new power, undeniably. That's what economists say, but they can't agree on that, as we saw on Nemesis last night. The climate wars continued through the decade of division, dysfunction and decay under the former government. They say nuclear power as a distraction from the fact that they had 23 energy policies in nine years and couldn't agree on one of them.

They also had a policy to raise taxes on 84 per cent of Australians, and I've got the quotes here. Their brilliant deputy leader, when Labor's tax cuts were announced for all taxpayers, said, 'When the legislation hits the parliament we will fight it all the way. I'm digging in, along with my colleagues and our leader, to fight this really, really hard.' The shadow Treasurer said, 'Of course we're going to try to stop it. A move away from stage 3 tax cuts will not be something we can support.' Senator Matt Canavan said, 'I don't support the government's changed and broken promises on tax.' They're all over the shop. It's hard to know what position they actually hold. They don't want to support Labor's tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners. We'll see what happens when it comes to the vote. But that was their third policy for the term—to raise taxes on 84 per cent of Australians.

Then there's their industrial relations policy for workers that we've heard in the last couple of days. These are real genius! They want Australians to work longer and get paid less. That's their policy. The opposition leader said yesterday that he is going to take a policy to the election, a targeted package, which would repeal the legislation passed by the parliament. They've voted against every single measure that the government's put forward over the last 18 months to get wages moving. They've now confirmed that their targeted package is against wage rises and against job security. They're against safer workplaces and against closing the gender pay gap.

Even the police union came out today, objecting to the opposition leader's policy of removing the right to disconnect—the law that was passed only yesterday to stop unpaid overtime for workers, through a right to disconnect from unreasonable contact out of work hours. The police union said that this would hurt rank-and-file police and that it was an 'ill-conceived thought bubble'.

Those are their four genius policies: raise energy prices, raise energy prices again, raise taxes on 84 per cent of Australians, and cut wages and workplace conditions.

But we are discussing public affairs, and anyone who watched the Nemesis program last night or has over the last couple of weeks would still be in shock. They'll be in shock for weeks, months and probably years over the record of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. They literally hated each other. The quotes speak for themselves. These are quotes from the television. They're not made-up quotes. They were their own members going on the television talking about each other. To Malcolm Turnbull: 'If I said the name Peter Dutton, what one word springs into your mind?' Malcolm Turnbull: 'Thug.' Senator Reynolds—who's still here; she's still a senator in your party room—said:

There were people who overtly supported Peter Dutton and were taking the petition around and people were blackmailed, they were threatened, they were intimidated to sign the petition. It was appalling.

We've got Barnaby Joyce, the member for New England, saying, 'I think I definitely lied to him because it wasn't his right to know. How many other people in this building are you asking about their personal life?' That was the relationship between the then Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister: very functional!

Christopher Pyne, the former Leader of the House and defence minister said: 'It did surprise me that the plotters had set up in a room next to one of Malcolm Turnbull's chief supporters, which was me.' They could hear bits and pieces from them—'hooting and hollering and laughing and cursing about this person or that person'.

Senator Birmingham, who is still your Senate leader—he's not some has-been; he hasn't left. He's your Senate leader, in the top four in your party. He said:

Looking back, I can see that the absence of women—other than Julie—in the cabinet at the time, and the commentary around that was a symptom of the problems that were to come to dog us more fundamentally in an electoral sense—

which is all, ultimately, they cared about—

in years to come, and to this very day.

We've got Senator McKenzie, who, I think, is one of the deputy leaders or she's leader of the National Party in the Senate or something. She's still in your frontbench. She said that, while that internal war was going on, 'it was like being strapped to a suicide bomber'; 'something horrific and catastrophic was going to happen'.

But I'll bring home the quotes with former member for Bennelong John Alexander, who said: 'In looking at the nine years in power and our three prime ministers, the playing of politics was always the No. 1 game, the No. 2 game and the No. 3 game. It's not productive and it's not edifying.' He was right. They literally hated each other.

But the Liberal horror show actually wasn't the worst thing. It wasn't what they said; it was what wasn't said and what wasn't done. I'll close with these three take-outs. There was no focus on policy. There was hour after hour talking about themselves and hating on each other. There was no focus on the Australian people. As John Alexander said, it was all about the playing of politics.

The second take-out was that Australia's former top public servant—I've never seen anything like this. I was a senior public servant in Victoria. I'm a fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia. I never talk about what happened in Liberal governments that I served and in Labor governments that I served. That ethic stays with you. That the former top public servant in Australia felt compelled to say that the former Prime Minister, the member for Cook, Scott Morrison, never valued women's perspectives was just jaw dropping. That's something that should seriously be reflected on by those opposite. You can see it when you look across their front bench in question time. You're there, Member for Capricornia, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is there, and there's a sea of men. It says everything. Nothing has changed.

The final point is that they're all still here. The only thing worse than the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government is those who are left behind. This isn't a new team. We've got Littleproud, Joyce, Hastie and Pitt over there.

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The speaker will refer to members by their titles.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The biggest moment of horror on their faces, of course, was the prospect of Peter Dutton winning a leadership ballot, and he's now your leader.

5:26 pm

Photo of Michelle LandryMichelle Landry (Capricornia, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

I love my electorate of Capricornia and all it has to offer. Since my election as the federal representative, I'm proud to put on record that I have delivered an historical investment of over $6 billion in funding for major infrastructure and key community projects. These projects, delivered under the coalition government, have guaranteed the Central Queensland region continues to flourish and have ensured that Capricornia goes from strength to strength. Every day I work hard to see Capricornia succeed through a diverse economy where mining, agriculture and tourism create wealth for our families and small businesses. Working alongside my community, I have supported our region to be one of the most livable regions in the nation. Some of the best schools in the country, sporting facilities, infrastructure and support networks have made Capricornia the envy of Australia.

The seat of Capricornia is best known for being Australia's hub for agriculture. It is internationally renowned for the quality of beef produced. Recognising the potential for further agricultural growth, I fought hard alongside former member for Flynn Mr Ken O'Dowd for the construction of Rookwood Weir. Following several hold-ups from the Queensland Labor government, I was proud to secure a total of $183.6 million of funding through the National Water Grid Fund to deliver this vital project for Central Queensland. Water infrastructure projects such as Rookwood Weir are vital to the growth and diversification of industrial and regional agriculture. Rookwood Weir is the largest weir to be built since World War II. At the peak of its construction, over 300 Central Queenslanders were employed, which has further bolstered the region's economy. Construction for this incredible feat of engineering was completed at the end of 2023. With the recent wet weather across Central Queensland, the weir quickly filled to its full capacity of 86,000 megalitres. This water is now allowing farmers in the region to farm high-yield crops and continue to bolster the local economy.

Unfortunately, this Labor government is unable to see the importance of water infrastructure for Australia. In the May 2023 budget, Labor redirected over $872 million from the National Water Grid Fund to prop up other government priorities. Almost $7 billion in crucial dam and water infrastructure projects has now been cut since Labor came to office. Taking away essential infrastructure required to produce food and fibre takes away the next generation's future in the agricultural industry.

In Labor's first budget, in 2022, the only water infrastructure project they were willing to invest $32 million towards was the planning of the Pioneer-Burdekin pumped hydro scheme dams. Unlike Rookwood Weir, which will serve to entrench agriculture production and the economic benefits in Central Queensland, or the Urannah Dam, which was able to provide water infrastructure to the agriculture industry, water security for North Queensland and an ability to be used for pumped hydroelectricity production, the Pioneer-Burdekin scheme will only serve one function—renewable energy production. It seems ridiculous to fund a project for only one purpose, that will cost billions of dollars and that will also displace families from their properties on prime agricultural land and flood pristine wilderness. To distribute renewable energy, more than $100 billion will need to be spent on 28,000 kilometres of transmission lines. These poles and wires will run through farming land, national parks and suburbs. Aside from the huge environmental impact of this rollout, every dollar spent will be passed on to Australians in the form of higher electricity bills.

This government is lacking foresight in investing in energy solutions that work, such as nuclear energy. Labor's plan to decarbonise the Australian economy isn't working and is causing our country to lag behind other developed nations who utilise nuclear energy to reduce their carbon footprint while keeping their energy supply firm. Next generation, small modular nuclear technologies are safe, are reliable, are cost-effective, can be plugged into existing grids where we have turned off coal, and emit zero emissions. Instead, Labor's plans in their first two budgets have shown they are intent on destroying agricultural land, remnant vegetation and pristine wilderness for out-of-date technologies for energy production.

As seen in our electricity bills, investments by this government towards heavy reliance on renewable energy will continue to force power prices higher. Australians' power bills will continue to spiral out of control, with increases by $500 predicted. The cost of groceries is also soaring, with Australians paying eight per cent more to feed their families. Australians are set to see their grocery bill increase even more, with Labor's fresh-food tax set to hit the hip pockets of farmers and consumers. This Labor government is out of touch with regional Australia and the immense contribution the agriculture industry makes to our economy.

Capricornia has long been an electorate whose agriculture industry has contributed to the billions of dollars poured into our economy. Unlike those opposite, the coalition government understood that regional Australia is the engine room of the economy, which is why it invested in a number of projects in Capricornia. With beef one of Capricornia's largest commodities, the triannual Beef Week event has put Rockhampton on the map for all things beef. While in government I secured a total of $9.65 million for Beef Week across three events. I was pleased to see the Labor government match our election commitment of $6 million for Beef Week 2024. The coalition understood how important this event is for not just the Rockhampton region but also the entire beef industry, which consists of 7,800 beef cattle farmers and many other beef focused businesses at the forefront of developing and delivering improved farming practices. The event is a key economic driver for Rockhampton and beyond, generating more than $90 million in economic activity for the greater Rockhampton region and a further almost $60 million for Queensland. Beef Week 2021 attracted a crowd of 115,000 people who consumed more than 63 tonnes of beef during the event.

As Capricornia is leading the way in the beef industry, I also delivered over $200,000 for CQUniversity to research meat traceability through the National Livestock Identification System. CQUniversity is one of Australia's leading regional universities, delivering higher education courses for the needs of growing industries. One such sector that is continuing to grow, despite Labor's efforts to stifle it, is the mining and resources industry, and I am delighted to see CQUniversity's school of mining officially open. The school of mining and manufacturing was made possible through the coalition government's support and the $30 million of funding I delivered for these projects. These facilities will enable Central Queensland mining and manufacturing industry partners to access a highly skilled workforce within the region which will drive future economic growth.

The resources and mining sector is on the precipice of another mining boom, with global needs for minerals and metals beginning to grow with the development of new technologies. The 2021-22 financial report of the Queensland Resources Council said the resources sector employed 1,819 locals in Capricornia and produced $315 million of gross product. However, Labor wants to suppress the industry that secured their one-off $4 billion surplus through implementing their carbon tax and preventing investment in the coal and gas industries. More taxes and lack of investment in the last budget into the resources and agriculture industries is the thanks the sectors received after being the main contributors to the $4 billion surplus.

Regional Australians were also big losers in the last budget, with infrastructure investment in the regions at an all-time low under the Labor government. The nation's wealth is produced in the regions, and the coalition saw this and rewarded the hard work of these communities. I was able to secure many road and infrastructure upgrades such as a $25 million Alliance heavy maintenance hangar, $126.4 million for the Rockhampton northern access upgrade, $120 million for the Walkerston bypass and $224.6 million in safety upgrades, road improvements and bridge upgrades on the Peak Downs Highway. After an enormous fight to ensure this government kept his word, the Rockhampton ring road is back on track with full funding back on the table after this Labor government attempted to throw the project on the scrap heap. The Rockhampton ring road is a crucial piece of infrastructure for the region, and without the fight and tenacity of Central Queensland businesses we'd have seen the project put on the backburner indefinitely under this government.

Unfortunately, it's not just the Rockhampton ring road which faced the chopping block but also $3.6 billion of upgrades to the Bruce Highway, of which $2.9 billion was federally funded. This stretch of highway remains one of Australia's most dangerous to travel. Last year hundreds of people lost their lives on the Bruce Highway. With Labor's recent announcement of the funding proponent changing from an 80-20 split to a 50-50, more lives will be at risk. It's not all good news, with the Queensland Beef Corridors upgrade and sealing of 457 kilometres put on the backburner. This would have provided an integral part of continuing to deliver high-value commodities that keep the lights on for Australia.

My electorate is vast and covers over 90,000 square kilometres. I spend a lot of my time travelling between the many towns, visiting constituents and small businesses. The upgrades that have been to improve safety have literally saved lives, but there is much more that needs to be done. When I visited the small country school of Clarke Creek, one student, no more than 11 years of age, asked me when I would fix the country road he is forced to travel on every day to and from school—a road that was filled with potholes so enormous they covered half of each lane, making it virtually impossible not to hit.

Cutting essential regional road programs is a ludicrous decision from this government. They are programs which not only save lives but are nation-building projects. The continuous cuts to infrastructure result in a slowing of our economic growth and hinder what is needed to tackle inflation. Every time a project has its funding deferred and its delivery delayed by Labor, the cost of delivering the project goes up and Australians are left paying higher prices. It's not just essential road projects that have faced the axe under this government. Programs like the Building Better Regions Fund and the regional development program were also cut, with no alternative funding schemes. Regional funding programs are vital for supporting rural and regional Australia through job creation, economic growth and building stronger communities well into the future.

Capricornia benefited greatly from regionally focused funding programs to secure important facilities taken for granted by the cities. Projects to benefit from these programs include $1.63 million for a new helicopter hangar for CQ Rescue, $160,000 for Palmyra Dragway's track upgrade, $425,000 for the Collinsville CWA's new hall and over $79,000 for new lighting for the Rockhampton's AFL team's home ground. There is billions of dollars worth of investment in my communities that would improve the liveability of Capricornia. Labor is treating regional Australia with so much disdain that not only are they cutting the vital funding programs for community groups the regions rely on; they have yet to provide any tangible solutions to improving the cost-of-living pressures my constituents face.

Finally, I ask: are Australia and my electorate of Capricornia better off today than they were a year ago? Under this government and in only 18 months, the cost of living continues to go up, gas and electricity bills continue to skyrocket, wages are stagnant, inflation remains stubbornly high, unemployment will rise and Australians will pay higher taxes. What Australians need right now is a government that will create policies that will strengthen the economy, not hinder it through taxes; a government that will support the hardworking middle class to prosper, not to create Australia's new working poor; and a government that can recognise the significance of regional Australia and the economy driving industries that contribute greatly to the economy.

5:40 pm

Photo of Andrew CharltonAndrew Charlton (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia is a respected voice on the conflict in the Middle East, even if we are not a central player in the Middle East. The government is using Australia's voice to advocate for the release of hostages, the protection of civilians, humanitarian access and a pathway out of this conflict towards a future of peace and security for all.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has expressed concerns about the Israeli military operation in Rafah:

Many of Israel's friends, including Australia, have expressed deep concerns about reports of an Israeli military operation in Rafah. There is growing international consensus: Israel must listen to its friends and it must listen to the international community.

There are more than a million civilians sheltering in and around Rafah. Many civilians who were displaced in Israeli operations in the north have moved south to this area, often under Israeli direction.

Israel now must exercise special care in relation to these civilians. Not doing so would have devastating consequences for those civilians and cause serious harm to Israel's own interests.

Those are the words of our foreign minister, who is doing an outstanding job managing this conflict in the best way possible and ensuring that Australia is a strong voice at the table, promoting peace, stability and sovereignty for all.

It is of deep regret that the government does not have partners in this effort in the opposition and the Greens, who are only looking for how they can use this crisis to whip up anger for votes. If they were sincere in their concern about the crisis in the Middle East, they would be engaged on a pathway to peace and keeping our community unified. But they would rather see the community divided, to pick off votes. The Greens should understand that, right now, there are more than 130 hostages still being held by Hamas. And I remind the opposition that we are faced with reports from the UN that 400,000 Palestinians in Gaza are starving, and a million more are at risk of starvation. An estimated 1.7 million people in Gaza are internally displaced, and there are increasingly few safe places for Palestinians to go.

Moreover, there is a real risk of regional escalation. The Albanese government is working with partners to manage the risk of regional escalation. But we don't have partners in that effort in this parliament. The opposition and the Greens are not interested in a unified community and a pathway to peace; they're just looking at what's in it for them. Israelis deserve better, Palestinians deserve better and Australians deserve better.

5:43 pm

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

It's always a great pleasure to speak on an appropriation bill because it gives me an opportunity to speak about some amazing things that are happening in my electorate.

I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge some of the local government representatives that are going around again. My electorate is made up of four or five different shires, some completely within it and some on the fringe. It starts over on the Gold Coast, bordering up to Robina, and finishes over at Toowoomba—just under 8,000 square kilometres, quite a significant landmass. I will start from the western side and work across.

The current mayor of Lockyer Valley is Tanya Milligan, who has done an amazing job and has probably done—I'm probably not doing her justice and not getting the number of years of service correct—around 20 years service in local government. She's full of energy with the way she represents her community with empathy, and the way she is able to somehow extract money—particularly from the federal government when we were in government—is nothing short of magician like. Her deputy mayor is a fellow by the name of Jason Cook, who goes by the nickname of Jughead. This is his first term in council. He's not going to go around again, so I want to acknowledge his contribution. Jughead and I both had a very similar arrival to politics; we were both transport operators. He has a very similar style of directness and lack of empathy for fools. He was an incredible local councillor. To you, Jughead and your darling: when you travel through France, enjoy the wine. Take as long as you need to get over there to flip a few homes. Learn the language. I look forward to both of you returning to the beautiful Lockyer Valley.

To each of the other candidates in the Lockyer Valley—I don't believe any others might be standing down, but, if they are, I want to acknowledge their service.

In the Scenic Rim we've got a number of personalities standing for Mayor: Tom Sharp and the existing deputy mayor, Jeff McConnell—both incredibly talented man who will be contesting the mayoralty. They are equal in strength and, if successful at the other end of the election process, will serve our community well.

I want to acknowledge some of the local councillors in my electorate, in particular a gentleman by the name of Duncan McInnes, probably the oldest counsellor, who was until recently the most significant dairy grower in the region. Duncan has done it tough in the last six months; his wife Mary passed away of cancer. Mary's dying wish was that he contest council elections again. I think she said that he'd crawl up the walls if he didn't have something to do, and council gives him that engagement. He is incredible with his work ethic. To you, Duncan: I wish you every success through the campaign. I note that you have been challenged, and at this stage I'm just unaware who that person is, but it is public knowledge.

To the rest of the counsellors who are contesting seats: to step up into higher office at a local government is a great privilege and something I want to acknowledge and encourage because, the greater the diversity of candidates that come forward, the stronger our community is.

Over in the Logan City Council, part of my electorate picks up a couple of divisions. One of the divisions there is not being contested by the current holder, Counsellor Laurie Koranski. She is such a ball of energy. I've worked with Laurie for the last 10 years, building a suburb called Yarrabilba. She has been nothing short of an Energizer Bunny; she just goes and goes and goes. She and her husband, who used to be the local dentist, are going to some time to sit back and maybe buy a caravan and travel around Australia.

The Mayor of the City of Logan is a fellow by the name of Darren Power. Darren's been 33 years in local government and is not going to go around again. He has made an incredible contribution and commitment to public life. Darren has 10 or 15 years on me but looks like he's 40. He spends time in the gym, his shirts are tight, his biceps bulge. I normally run into him each morning at the gym, actually! You should be pulling me up for misleading the House, Deputy Speaker!

To you, Darren, in all seriousness, my friend: your contribution has been steady, steadfast and balanced. Logan has had its bag of headaches, with the administrator being appointed to the council for corruption allegations of previous councils. He weathered that storm, got through it and has put Logan city on a course that he should be able to leave feeling a sense of great pride.

The two candidates running for mayor there are a fellow by the name of Jon Raven, who I just sent a text to as I will be unable to attend his campaign launch at short notice, and a former member of this place, the honourable Brett Raguse, a Labor member. Both candidates are Labor candidates, both equally up to the task, and I wish them well. Whoever wins that battle, I look forward to working with them for the betterment of our communities.

Over on the Gold Coast is Tom Tate, who hosted the Commonwealth Games. I worked closely with him during the Christmas period, where we had the devastating tornado that went through the Gold Coast, Tamborine and Logan. Tom is a former developer. He brings that commercial common sense to the office of the Mayor of the Gold Coast. He is a no-nonsense guy. He gets to the root of the problem as quickly and effectively as he can. He does have the best interests of Gold Coast residents in mind, and, in particular, the residents who are in the areas of ours that overlap.

There is Councillor Glenn Tozer. Most of his division takes in Springbrook, Mudgeeraba and the surrounding areas. He is another guy noteworthy for his incredible work ethic. The community is truly blessed to have someone as energetic and committed to the community. It's a pleasure to work with all of them, and I wish them all the very best and success.

With the few moments left available to me, I want to take up some of the points that the member for Bruce made about being better economic managers. It's particularly salient with the appropriation bills that are before us. He came in waxing lyrical that the Liberal Party shouldn't be saying they're the better economic managers. It goes without saying, but I thought I'd just outlay some facts; the realities. Before I got to my feet, I googled 'who do Australians believe the better economic managers are for our country'. The poll that I looked at had 73.4 per cent support for the coalition as better economic managers.

The member for Bruce also mentioned that we had left this incredible debt when Labor came to office. He claimed it was nearly $1 trillion. The reason that Labor will never be better economic managers than us is that they can't read the numbers. The debt is still not $1 trillion. When we left, net debt was about $500 billion and gross debt was about $800 billion.

Don't let a good story get in the way. I also want to remind all those about the debt situation when we went through COVID. Love him or hate him, former prime minister, the member for Cook, Scott Morrison's legacy will be the contribution he made to our country in steering us through COVID. He and the then Treasurer had tough decisions to make when it was time to wind back the JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments. I remind all that those on the other side, who were in opposition at the time, cried blue murder. They said the economy was going to fall off a cliff. They wanted to continue the spending. They were committed to continuing the spending. We had to fight them tooth and nail to say: 'No, that's enough. We have to start getting people back to work. We've got to get our economy back to some type of normality.' The member for Hinkler is in the room. Do you remember when we had those desperate fights with the then opposition, trying to say to them that enough is enough?

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I try to forget!

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

I know; it is something that you do want to forget. But I can assure you that, if we weren't the economic managers that we were, the debt would be much higher because those in opposition at that time stated that the economy was going to fall off a cliff. But it didn't; it grew. The economy grew and grew and grew.

I'd also like to give a quick shout-out to the former Reserve Bank governor. We're starting to see the economy soften, particularly as inflation follows the global trajectory of coming off its peaks. The only reason that's happening is that he made tough decisions with his back-to-back interest rate rises—I think there were 12 of them. Since the new governor has been in place I don't think we've seen anywhere near that movement. In fact, have we seen any movement at all from the RBA? I think it has flatlined, which is the evidence that suggests that the heavy lifting was done early. No-one will sing his praises. No-one will offer the affirmation that it's an ugly task, as the Reserve Bank governor, to have to make those decisions with the blunt instrument of interest rates, and the only outcome you've got is to get that inflation range back to between two and three per cent.

It's always a great pleasure to speak on the appropriations bill, and, with that, I commend my comments to the House.

5:55 pm

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

I rise to speak on behalf of my electorate of Mallee on the bill which has been overshadowed by Labor's destructive industrial relations changes. I was gagged, as were the collective voices of over 10 million Australians, by the Albanese Labor government in a gag-and-guillotine powerplay on industrial relations. These changes, now beyond parliament's control, are part of the package formerly known as 'same job, same pay'. When the employer sector rightly exposed the injustice of the laws, particularly the way people could do less work and get the same pay as hardworking employees, the monicker 'same job, same pay' went out the window, and it became 'closing loopholes'. And yet what we saw this month was a government running through the Senate negotiation minefield, and—look!—instead of closing loopholes, they created a loophole. To close loopholes, they created a new one. It is a loophole that sees employers facing imprisonment or a significant fine for calling a member of their staff after their designated working hours. It feels like a deja vu of the 1970s—power to the unions.

Labor has bulldozed the industrial relations landscape, where all you can see is the barren land of union-controlled employment monoculture. Employment diversity and flexibility are gone. A bulldozed landscape isn't as simple as it sounds. Going forward, Labor's latest bill and those before it and perhaps those to come will be like legislative Roundup pesticide—used to kill off the emergence of anything but one kind of employment: permanent, expensive and union represented employment. Labor's IR agenda reverses decades of history, where Australia had moved away from centralised wage fixing towards pay and conditions that were based on productivity and reward for effort. What a great idea. This bill is a victory for the slackers. Labor has reinstated the age of entitlement.

In my electorate of Mallee, our farmers and small business owners are the casualties. One farmer in my electorate said, 'The obstacles that could be put in the way of small family farms and businesses by this legislation are nothing short of catastrophic and naive, written by those who have no experience of how small communities are the backbone of the Australian way of life.' That sums up the feeling in my electorate. But there's an overwhelming, overarching feeling, and that is betrayal.

It is now impossible to believe anything this government promises, given the Prime Minister and the Treasurer collectively told us 100 times they would stand by the stage 3 tax cuts. Labor's recent backflip is evidence of the lies and untrustworthiness that permeate everything this government touches. Remember this: the policies implemented in the recent industrial relations bill were unexpected and unannounced; they were not included in the government's 2022 election policies. An Albanese Labor government that swore repeatedly that it wasn't going to change stage 3 tax cuts was plotting to also bring in these radical IR changes without a mandate. Can you trust them? Can we trust that this government is done with bulldozing the employment landscape into a jobs monoculture? No, you cannot. We cannot trust that this government is downing tools in industrial relations.

I call out the smirking, modest changes claimed by the industrial relations minister. The latest bill and its predecessors have been anything but modest. This bill is regressive, and there's every chance that, if the constellation of crossbench senators align for Labor again, more radical changes could be on the way. Labor's IR agenda will hit my Mallee constituents at a time when Labor has experimented on our farmers. Horticulture is dominant in my electorate, and the labour shortages have been particularly acute for fruit, vegetable and nut harvests. The skills shortage is endemic across agriculture—we are talking tens of thousands of labourers—and it is also acute across regional Australia. Labor robs regional Australia by design to achieve their political goals in the cities. Let's review the 600-plus days of destruction in industrial relations in regional Australia alone. Labor took away piece rates, which paid reward for effort on the basis of how much fruit was picked, and forced farmers to pay workers an hourly wage. Same job, same pay—the lifter and the slacker paid the same with no incentive for productivity or efficiency. We're back in the age of entitlement.

Labor binned the ag visa that the Nationals fought for and established when in government. Labor imposed a higher salary for migrants on the temporary skilled migration income threshold, or TSMIT, lifting it from $53,900 minimum salary to $70,000. Labor imposed a 30-hour-a-week pay requirement for workers brought into the country on the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility, or PALM, scheme. On that front, I quote another constituent. A farmer from Cutri Fruit in the north of my electorate said:

We currently use the PALM scheme and have consistent problems getting the staff to come to work. Between being hung over, sick, or just not wanting to work, the new laws enforcing minimum hours when the reason for the worker not getting the hours is outside the control of the employer and often in the hands of the employee are just another burden added to the Australian grower. This comes when we compete on a global market in which our labour is significantly more expensive than our competitors. These rules feel even more unjustified when we source the PALM workers from Timor Leste where the average income is around USD $1 per day.

That's the scorched earth of regional Australia that is, I repeat, by design under Labor.

Labor have bulldozed the employment landscape. Casuals who have worked for six months—or 12 in the case of small business—and have a regular pattern of shifts will be able to convert to a permanent role. The new definition of casual is three pages long. It includes around 12 factors to determine if an employee is actually a casual. Farmwork is seasonal, and casual workers are important for Mallee farmers to have flexibility, particularly during harvest. Indeed, I spoke with Andrew Murdoch on ABC Local Radio earlier today. After I spoke to him, he put to an AWU representative that a local farmer had told Andrew his workers prefer to work as casuals rather than be permanent. Under Labor's changes, a casual worker can convert to permanent when there may not be any work on the property, costing farmers who are getting no income in downtimes and making it impossible to pay them.

Employers' right to refuse a casual worker becoming permanent will depend on the Fair Work Commission's interpretation of fair and reasonable operational grounds, tying small and medium-sized businesses in Mallee up in yet more red tape. Are we surprised? Independent contractors will lose their competitive position if a court determines that in a legislatively defined 'reality' they are employees, forcing employers to backpay minimum wages and conditions. As National Farmers Federation president David Jochinke says, farmers are now left to grapple with how they engage employees through labour hire in the context of this new legislation during the busiest time of year. Minister Burke has got his way and will be getting a pat on the back from his union masters, but Mallee farmers will now struggle to get fruit off the tree or vine to feed the nation and the world.

It gets worse, far worse. Labor won't stop at bulldozing the employment landscape. They haven't eaten their fill gobbling up regional Australia's hard-earned prosperity for political gains. No, they want to come into the family-farming home as well. They are rolling the red carpet out for the most activist elements of the union movement right into the kitchen of family homes on farms. Labor's IR laws in this parliament have given unions the right to enter farms unannounced, intruding on people's privacy and threatening the personal safety of farmers and their families.

Labor's tin ear, their blind obedience to their union masters and their insatiable appetite to rob the regions means they have no care or clue about possible animal welfare implications. I recall when animal activists raided Luv-a-Duck in my electorate. Ducks were stolen from the paddocks and run under the arm to buses and, no doubt, back to Fitzroy and suburbs near there. The owners of Luv-a-Duck were distraught because they knew the ducks would die of fright and shock—so much for protecting animal rights. This new Labor legislation provides unions the right to stomp onto farms and conduct snap inspections of pay records or properties without notice. They don't have a clue about biosecurity. So my question to Minister Burke is: will this Labor government or the unions stump up if union rights of entry lead to an outbreak of a disease, lower food supply and higher food prices?

One of the heartbreaking impacts of Labor's IR changes is that Mallee was beautifully positioned to continue a trajectory of growth the coalition had set up for it going into the May 2022 election. We had weathered the worst of the pandemic and survived the needless suffering under the trigger-happy, statewide-lockdown-loving Premier Andrews. The Centre for International Economics predicted the Mildura and Swan Hill regions gross value of production GDP was expected to grow more than anywhere else in the nation to $2.2 billion per annum by 2029-30. Horticulture in the north of the Mallee is underpinned by irrigated horticulture, but Labor is behaving like a wrecking ball to agriculture, reintroducing devastating water buybacks after Victoria and the electorates of Mallee and Nicholls in particular have done most of the heavy lifting in the past buyback rounds and efficiency projects. Labor are taking away our water and now undercutting workforces where we already have dire shortages. Our economy was poised to grow. Now, it will contract under Labor's scorched earth approach to regional Australia.

Labor and the Greens are in cahoots to rob the regions to buy votes in the city. When you are next at the check-out trying to put food on the table or in your child's lunchbox, think how expensive Labor is making it for the farmers to produce the food you buy. In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, these new laws are like putting petrol on a fire. For food delivery and rideshare services alone, Labor's legislation is estimated to see prices increase by up to 35 per cent.

I want to come back to the topic of criminal penalties for employers under the so-called right to disconnect. Mallee voters can't wait to disconnect from having a Labor government, frankly. What they are doing in gutting regional Australia is criminal, but I digress. The Greens are the architects of the right-to-disconnect legislation with the criminal sting in the tail. Let me say, Deputy Speaker, through you to the Greens: You don't have a clue. Your inner-city electorates wouldn't have the foggiest idea about regional Australia and, frankly, you don't have a business or economic bone in your green bodies. While the income rolls in from the regions, you spend it on pet projects and ideological posturing on what should or shouldn't happen in the regions.

Labor and the Greens are taking the regional golden goose and slaughtering it for short-term political gain. Regional Australia will remember at the ballot box. Regional Australia has had a gutful, and I will be reminding Mallee voters about it every chance I get. Labor want to treat bosses as criminals when in over 95 per cent of cases they are mum and dad small-business owners earning far less then Greens MPs or their senior advisers. They're just trying to earn a living.

The writing was on the wall for the business sector and lobby groups, and the coalition tried to warn them. Peak bodies played nice with Labor and bought into the social posturing and distractions. Meanwhile, I assure you, Minister Burke was madly working away with his union mates on this package of bills and nothing else. This is a distracted Albanese Labor government when it comes to the cost of living, but, while Labor was wasting taxpayer money on a half-billion-dollar doomed referendum, Minister Burke and his union mates were hammering out this awful legislation, negotiating with the Senate crossbench and talking to Canberra's Senator Pocock about bike paths to get his vote, all while the peak bodies were having a snooze. To their credit, they got Labor to change the name from 'same job, same pay', but that was a pointless victory. If 'same job, same pay' was a red-hot chilli pepper, Labor just chopped it up and fed it to the business community, twisted through 'closing loophole' noodles.

6:10 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Before the election, Labor promised so much to the Australian people. People in my electorate are very much feeling the cost-of-living issues. They know that before the election Labor promised them a $275 reduction in power bills, cheaper mortgages and that families would be better off. But, in just 18 months, food's gone up at least nine per cent, housing's gone up 12 per cent, electricity's gone up 23 per cent and gas has gone up 29 per cent. We've seen the 12 interest rate rises, and we really see that Labor's own economic and energy policies are making inflation worse. Inflation in Australia is higher than in almost every other advanced economy. We've also seen a 27 per cent increase in income taxes for people through bracket creep and the low- and middle-income tax offset being removed by Labor at this time.

There's another associated issue: the cost of doing business, particularly for small businesses in rural and regional Australia, including in my electorate and elsewhere in Western Australia. We all know that running a small business, for anyone who's done it, is never easy. But the challenges that are facing small- and family-business operators right now are really weighing heavily on the shoulders of those who live and work in regional and remote areas. In WA, for instance, the policies of both state and federal Labor governments are undermining the confidence and profitability of our small and medium businesses, whose owners work their hearts out day in and day out. They're the people who give people their first job in life and often their last. They're having a go in our small regional communities. We need them so desperately because they support so many of our emergency services groups, our sporting groups and those that are out there needing support and providing in-kind support. That's our small and medium businesses.

We know that the RBA has had to do the heavy lifting in relation to inflation. We've seen extreme pressure put on homeowners as well as those small-business owners who often have to mortgage their family home just to get a start. When the pinch is on, as we've seen in the last 18 months with cost of living, consumers tighten their belts, and local businesses are often the first to feel it. When I walk down the street and talk to the businesses in my electorate, that's where I hear what's going on. It's everything from a local cafe serving one coffee at $5 to $7 instead of $3 in a day—that's just a simple example—to the local deli, newsagency, clothing store or pub. The effects of poor policy are felt right throughout our communities. The reality is that much of this pain is coming from Canberra.

In WA, Labor's plan to end live sheep exports is really a calculated body blow to WA's sheep industry, to other directly affected sectors and to all the business and communities that benefit from them. It's not just the farmers. It's the local mechanics, shearers, feed suppliers, livestock transporters, local shops and vet practices, just to mention a few. This ridiculous talk of 'transition' is just code for 'we're shutting you down'. These are the same small and family businesses and people who, as I said, support our local community organisations and those sporting clubs. We can't do without the volunteer emergency services groups. They're the volunteers who are helped by our small businesses that provide that support to help keep us alive. It's that simple in regional areas.

But right now our communities are reeling from the rollout in WA of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act. We saw that significantly hurt our farmers on the ground. There's also great concern as to what changes will be ahead in the EPBC Act that may reflect what we saw in the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act in WA.

The Labor government has also increased the heavy vehicle road user charge, which, essentially, is a tax on everyone living in regional and remote Australia. This actually has a disproportionate effect on every business input and every food and grocery item in our supermarkets and our local stores, whether they're hardware stores or whatever. Everything that we buy and use arrives on the back of a truck.

We've also seen, now, the proposal for additional taxes on family cars and utes. What impact is this going to have in rural and regional areas, from the increase, over time, in the cost of being able to get around in rural and regional areas? Yes, we accept that the distances are great, but the additional costs that will go with this latest thought-bubble of Labor's are going to have a major impact in regional Australia.

We also saw Labor, in relation to small and medium businesses, cut the instant asset write-off threshold. This may not mean much to people who aren't in small business, but, for those who are in small to medium businesses, this has really meant a lot. We expanded the threshold to $150,000, and many times I had small to medium businesses contacting me and saying: 'That means I can improve my business; I can actually upgrade'—whether that was the tradie ute, whether it was the livestock transporter and any of their trailers or whether it was any of the work that they needed to do. But Labor has slashed it, limiting it to $20,000 and to businesses with a turnover—not profit; a turnover—of less than $10 million. Many businesses used this. At a time of severely declining productivity, I can't understand why you would choose to make this decision that inhibits small and medium businesses from being able to invest in themselves and their future. It just beggars belief.

But we also see something that I think is quite confounding: hitting our small and family farming businesses with its food and fibre tax. That's to pay for the biosecurity risk created by international importers. If they're in my patch, as a dairy farmer, we're actually going to be paying for those competing against us in the market. But I understand it's not only that. We'll actually be helping to fund inspections of non-agricultural imports as well. Whether they're imports of cars or whitegoods or machinery or electronics, the farmers will be helping to pay for those as well.

We've seen other really bad decisions. There was the shutdown of the hardwood forestry timber industry in WA and so many of the businesses affected by this. We also now import so much timber from overseas, from locations and countries that basically don't have the really good forestry practices and silviculture that have operated in Australia for so long. So it was short-sighted. And where does our hardwood actually then come from?

But this, as we've just heard from the member for Mallee, is the tip of the iceberg for our farmers from the aggressive industrial-relations agenda that we are now seeing. We saw the cultural heritage act in WA. What we're seeing with the unions' rights to come onto farms mirrors, in a sense, what we saw with the cultural heritage act—the unions being able to walk into our family farm where we run our business out of our farmhouse. And, yes, there are biosecurity issues. That's just the start of it. But can you imagine the unions rocking up at your place of work, when you're the actual farmer and the business owner? This is really a step too far. It is absolutely a step too far. It's an aggressive industrial-relations agenda. We see that that is going to impact on small family farms and businesses and is another issue for people who live and work in rural and regional Australia.

We've seen real changes, particularly in the Pacific, with the PALM scheme, as has been said in this place, and the increased cost of the temporary skilled migration income threshold. All of these collectively are like that old-fashioned Sara Lee ad: layer upon layer upon layer. If you're a farmer or living in rural and regional Australia—I've been farming a lot over the years, probably a lot longer than many others, and we started our small business on the day we got married. I actually have not seen rural and regional Australia under as much pressure as we are right now. It's just a constant 'What's next, what's next, what's next?' We saw changes to the backpacker working holiday visa. The ag visa is gone. We saw the changes to industrial relations through casualisation and casual workers.

Clearly, those who designed this have no idea how a farm, a vegetable grower or a horticulturalist actually works. We actually live by the weather. We work by the weather. What we can do in any given day depends on what's happening with the weather. That means we have to be flexible and so does our workforce. What is so hard about that? I don't know what the problem could possibly be in that space to understand why casual workers are so important.

But there is a broader issue that's bothering so many of us: the impact on regional and rural businesses and communities of the 22,000 solar panels needing to be installed every day until 2030, plus the 40 major wind turbines every month as well as the tens of thousands of kilometres of transmission lines to meet their emissions reduction targets. This is in our part of the world. We've got offshore wind coming as well. We have seen prime ag land affected by this, and it's just the beginning. If people think what they're seeing right now—and we've seen some pretty significant results, and rural and regional Australia are really pushing back on this. But there is a lack of understanding in Labor not only about rural and regional but also about the importance of small and family businesses in our rural and regional communities. We understand this really well because that's where we live and that's where we work. For those of us who've had to start and run a business, we know how tough it is, but we keep at it. But you can't keep at it forever and not with a layer upon layer upon layer that we're seeing here.

Even right down to superannuation and changes to taxing unrealised gains, I don't think there is any country in the world that does this. The member for Barker, I don't think we know of any other country in the world. No. We're seeing through the safeguard mechanism requirements now that farmers are competing with major companies that have to buy land to put in permanent plantings to actually provide the offsets they need to meet the five by five by five reduction that's required of them in offsets until 2030. All of this adds to the challenges in producing food.

One of my local dairy farmers who is under the pump had some vegans arrive at his property and give him great grief. He said to me at one stage, 'You know, Nola, I feed 60,000 people a year.' The farmers in Australia do this day in and day out. We feed Australians some of the best-quality food in the world. And what did he say to me? 'Once or twice it'd be just be nice if someone said, "Thank you."' He's producing some of the best-quality milk in Australia for 60,000 people, and yet the pressure that he's under with all of the measures that I've just talked about is intense. How long will they keep doing this?

I wanted to speak up on behalf of all of those small-to-medium family businesses that live and work out in the rural and remote areas. Thank you for what you do and thank you for actually investing in our communities. We can't do it without you. The smaller the community, the more we need you to stay there. I hope that the people in your communities continue to support you so that you support us, because we can't do without each other. I am concerned about your future and I am concerned about rural and regional Australia in a way that I haven't been since we've been farming.

6:24 pm

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to say a few things. I heard the last two speakers, and they have been very unhappy about the right to disconnect. The right to disconnect is a big thing that we needed to bring forward, and the Greens have done that with us. It's a fantastic thing that we have brought forward. Why should you be interrupted during a weekend or after hours by your manager, the owner of the business or whoever it is for something that is not needed and that can be spoken about the next day? Why does that need to happen? The right to disconnect is a fantastic thing. They're saying there will be court case after court case. The USU currently has this in their New South Wales EA agreement right now. They haven't had a single court case, and it's been in since July last year.

They're also talking about the same job, same pay and the closing labour hire loopholes legislation. This is one of the best things that could happen in the Hunter. I ran my whole campaign in the Hunter on this, around people working in the mining industry getting paid up to $50,000 less for doing the same job. There are two of you guys in here right now. How do you think that's fair? It's not fair. You all know that, just as I do. In the regions where the mineworkers work hard, long hours, it's definitely not fair.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I love the mining industry. I came from the mining industry.

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

There should be more of it on your side!

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We do love the mining industry. While people want to buy our coal, we will always supply them our coal. But let's not forget that the mining industry isn't just coal. The mining industry is critical minerals, gold and so many other things as well. People think the mining industry is only coal. I come from a coal background. As I said, I love coal and, while people want to buy our coal, we will always supply our coal to whoever wants to buy it.

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We have uranium, too. We have some of the best uranium supplies in the world. We have the best lithium supplies in the world as well. We have critical minerals. There is so much here.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask the member for Hunter to pause for a moment. I remind the member for Barker that the member for Hunter has every right to be heard.

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm encouraging him!

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I can certainly tell you that, as much as the member for Barker would love me to, I will not be joining the Liberal Party. But thank you very much for the offer.

Back to it: why should mineworkers be getting paid up to $50,000 less for the exact same job? It's not fair. I fully support this all the way through. I know you guys don't, because not once did you guys speak about workers' rights when we were talking on this subject. Not once did any of you talk about workers' rights. We want bosses to make a dollar and the workers to make a dollar. We want it to be fair all round. That's what we're here for. The Australian Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, is doing a fantastic job. I'm so glad that Tony Burke and we as a party got the same job, same pay legislation through—

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind the member for Hunter that you should be referring to members by their titles.

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry about that. I'll make sure I do that in the future. Thank you for indulging me on that. Once again, we support same job, same pay, and we'll always support it. We will look after workers' rights. We also look after the owners of businesses by making sure we're doing what we're doing. We're giving them energy relief. We're providing so many things to make sure that businesses are staying alive and continuing to employ workers so that we have a thriving economy in Australia. We've just had some of the best times with what we've been working with recently, and we're going to continue that. The mining sector is going strong. We've got so much happening. The tourism sector is still going strong as well. There's a lot of work to do, but we're making sure we do it.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

We have a little bit of time before the grievance debate, so the member for Barker has the call.

6:29 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to congratulate the member for Forrest for her contribution. She effectively was talking about the full-court press, the wholesale assault which is being perpetrated by those opposite on the farmers of Australia. The farmers of Australia are growing their national exports to close to $100 million. The farmers of Australia not only feed every Australian every day but also feed 60,000 to 80,000 people from across the globe. In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, I would have thought those opposite would spend a little less time prevaricating on ideological wants like the Voice and other things and be more focused on making food cheaper in supermarkets. And the first thing they should be doing is backing Australian farmers, not making it harder for them. In that regard I'll endorse the comments from the member for Forrest.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It being 6.30 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 192B. The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The member for Barker will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed at a future date.