Senate debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020


Statement and Documents

8:11 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make a contribution in budget week as National Party Senate leader, noting that today the Deputy Prime Minister handed down a regional statement about how our government budget affects and supports rural and regional Australians, the seven million of us who live, work and love our regions right across our country. What we handed down today, and what he spoke about today, was how this budget shows our government standing with regional Australia through its most difficult time. We started 2020 with bushfires and by coming out of drought. We were then hit by COVID-19. Our government makes a commitment, through the measures outlined in this budget, to stand with them as, together, we face COVID recession. It's a plan that outlines our opportunities going forward and is reminiscent, I think, of the courage and leadership shown by the Menzies-McEwen government post-World War II. I just want to reflect for a moment on the words of Sir John McEwen, Country Party leader during that period:

Australia is one of the few countries in the world that is not only self-sufficient in food and important raw materials but has an export surplus in these things. We have a sophisticated workforce and a sophisticated field of management that enables us, in a highly competitive world, to continue to grow as a manufacturing country. It would be a great mistake if our manufacturing potential were to be neglected or underestimated. So, considering our self-sufficiency in food and materials, our capacity for industrial growth and our tremendous land area capable of absorbing additional population from around the world, I look forward with a high level of confidence to the future of Australia.

These words were said by 'Black Jack' McEwen half a century ago, and it was his vision for our country following a war—leaving Britain behind, taking in immigrants who were fleeing from war-torn Europe. How do we build a nation that is independent, sovereign and prosperous? It is by securing our national security and our economic security, and he chose to do that through pursuing a policy of full employment. If you look at our budget measures handed down this week, they do too. The McCormack-Morrison government are actually pursuing budget measures that seek to get more Australians back into employment, because we know that is how to drive an economy, and to ensure our economic security and our prosperity going forward.

'Black Jack' McEwen's vision of and high confidence in a strong and prosperous future for Australia is something that we, in the Nationals, absolutely share, and we fundamentally believe the regions are going to be key to achieving that. As Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack outlined today, this week's budget delivers economic security because it delivers jobs, and more than half of those who lost their jobs are already back to work thanks to our measures. The government estimates the economy will recover over 950,000 jobs over the next four years because of the measures—a whole suite of measures across a raft of portfolio areas—delivered on Tuesday night.

Madam Deputy President, 2020 has been a year like no other and now is the time for vision: a sound plan based on sound principles that puts our national sovereignty at its centre. The Nationals in government are investing in regional people and regional businesses. We know that $32 billion in cash flow will boost around 800,000 small businesses. More than 99 per cent of businesses with a turnover of up to $5 billion can write off the full value of any eligible asset they purchase for their business. This is great for them, but it's also great for the suppliers in their local communities that provide those products. This has been a singularly popular measure. I've heard about it over the past two days as farmers and small businesses call in to our offices to say: 'Thank you. It's been tough. This is a real and tangible practical measure that's going to help us pay our bills. That means other businesses keep employing people, but it also will allow us to keep our employees on the payroll.'

The Nationals in government are delivering a record $110 billion in transport infrastructure programs and a $3.5 billion rolling water infrastructure fund to support local jobs and businesses. If you don't come from where we come from, you might not get the relationship between access to water and jobs, productivity and local growth. It is absolutely fundamental to us. With the resilience capacity of our local community and population and with the skills and knowhow grounded in the deep, lived experience of our farming communities, all you need to do is add water out in the regions and we will be a $100 billion ag industry in no time. Just add some workers, Senator McCarthy and Senator McMahon, to get those mangoes off! And we're working on that as well.

As someone who is quite excited about the legacy of Black Jack and the contribution he made and our party made through that period to our national economy and security, I'm getting quite excited about our renewed focus on advanced manufacturing. There is $1.5 billion handed down in this budget over four years for our Modern Manufacturing Strategy. Settle down everyone! This is not 21st-century protectionism; it's actually backing our natural capabilities: food, fibre, minerals, forestry—what a wonderful sustainable industry forestry is. This is around six particular key areas: resources, critical minerals, food and beverages, medical products—we've seen some great examples of this out in regional communities in my home state of Victoria, like Shepparton, where they're actually turning their hand to that PPE task quite quickly—clean energy, and defence and space.

We're not wanting this across the board; we're actually wanting to make sure that we are competitive in the areas where we already have a unique competitive advantage. What I love about it is that in over half of these areas of strategic importance the primary product is based in the regions. So the smart thing is also to have that value-adding piece out in the regions too. We need to make Australia make again. We need production lines humming. We did it post World War II. This is a budget that seeks to help us recover in a similar way with a similar sense of optimism and the building of confidence right throughout our community. I'm confident that we can do it. We must focus on our sovereign manufacturing capability. What the pandemic has actually exposed is the fragility of so many supply chains across the globe. I'm really excited about ensuring that we make here at home again things that we might have outsourced—things that are fundamental to ensuring we can feed ourselves, we can keep ourselves safe and we can actually plan with renewed focus on the future.

I'm very proud to be part of a party in government that is a specialist in one thing and one thing only: working for rural and regional Australia and making sure that those seven million Australians have a proud and very loud voice here in the Senate, in the House and within government to ensure that our road to recovery from COVID-19 backs the regions and backs their natural advantages, and I know that together we can get through this.


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