Thursday, 13 May 2021
As leader of the National Party in the Senate, I too want to speak to the tabling of the ministerial regional budget statement, Supporting regional recovery and growth, a specific set of plans, commitments and strategies to really prioritise rural and regional Australia as we enter COVID-19 recovery.
As we in the National Party know—we live, we work, we raise our families out there in the regions—it's been tough. We've had drought in Senator McDonald's patch for upwards of seven years. Thanks to some great rains in the New Year, there were a lot of smiling faces at Beef Week in Rockhampton last week. We also were hit by bushfires over the summer 18 months ago. Recovery is tough when overnight you lose everything that you and your family had worked for. Obviously COVID-19 has had a significant impact on rural and regional Australia. We've struggled to find a workforce, with international borders closed. Sadly, as many premiers slammed close state and domestic borders due to COVID-19, we saw rural and regional communities in those border towns severely impacted.
With the budget of 2021, I'm very proud to be part of a coalition government that backs in the resourcefulness, the resilience, the strength and the opportunity of rural and regional communities. We're getting on with it out there. This budget supports jobs and drives growth. It's going to help rebuild the national economy, which you do in a country like Australia by focusing on manufacturing, by focusing on ensuring our resources sector is strong and by focusing on agriculture. This budget has some great measures for all three of those areas.
You also do it through an infrastructure commitment that doesn't focus just on roads, rail and bridges. These are incredibly important to get product and people moving along the highways and byways of regional communities to the ports in capital cities and export markets around the globe. But it is also digital connectivity, digital infrastructure, that's going to be incredibly important going forward, not just so we can educate our kids, do our banking or participate in social connection but so we can access health care and drive productivity growth in our businesses and on farms. There are some fantastic, innovative initiatives occurring in this space which I'm very excited to see going forward. Other National Party senators tonight will be participating in this contribution by highlighting how our government has delivered for each and every state and for communities right around our country, and I know they're as happy as I am that we can get this going.
The biosecurity announcement, championed by David Littleproud, is fundamental to our ongoing success as an agricultural trading nation. We have a brand globally that people trust because when they buy our clean, green produce it is pest and disease free. Because it comes from Australia, they can trust that that is the case. But as trade and the movement of people across the globe increases so too does the risk. Our reputation as a global exporter of great agricultural products could be tarnished through lax biosecurity, so I'm stoked to see that there is to be $400 million invested in biosecurity measures to safeguard our farmers from pest and diseases.
We've got $87 million on the table to diversify our markets. That is particularly important in light of the recent trade tensions between Australia and China—noting that tariffs have recently left local producers of wine, seafood, cotton, barley and beef out in the cold. And it's working. This money puts agricultural counsellors in our embassies to help connect producers to potential opportunities in new and emerging markets. It's very, very important to have a people-to-people, networked relationship that can build trust. North-east Victorian wine growers have told me they've spent years building markets in China only to have orders cancelled, so this is very welcome news.
We've got money for the Future Drought Fund, and I want to touch, Madam Acting Deputy President, on water. I'm from the great state of Victoria. We have significant primary producers within the Murray-Darling Basin system and we have significant population centres within that system. We say no to the 450-gigalitre buyback, and the budget backs this with $1.3 billion to recover water for the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin whilst maintaining water for irrigated agriculture. We're also providing a further $22.3 million to help develop business cases for eight water infrastructure projects, to help secure our water future. Out in the regions we know that, if you add water to our can-do, Australian farmers will go from strength to strength in producing world class food and fibre. There are two projects based in my home state: the Coliban Regional Rural Modernisation project and the Sunbury-Bulla-Keilor Agricultural Rejuvenation project.
Jobs are a huge focus in this budget. We've heard farmers calling out for fruit pickers because worker and skill shortages have had serious ramifications for their production and bottom line. Our budget's AgMove initiative will help with relocation assistance to get workers into jobs on farms. We've seen a massive shift in Australia during COVID. Australians have been realigning their values, having a rethink about the type of life they want to live. Do they want to be stuck in a two-bedroom apartment in Southbank? No. It's not much of a life if Daniel Andrews is going to lock you down every second for weeks and months on end. Rather, they're voting with their feet. Twenty-six thousand Melburnians have moved out. We're hoping they don't all go to the Sunshine Coast. We hope that they come out to our regional capitals and live and raise a family there with the increased digital connectivity that our government has provided over the last eight years and will continue to develop and grow. They will be able to participate in global economies and stay connected with jobs across the world whilst having a unique liveability that only living in the regions can provide.
The budget is also backing our youth with an apprenticeship and skills plan that wants to see not only young people in particular but all Australians move into the jobs of the future. It's not enough just saying 'job available'; you've got to match the skill set, the know-how and the education offering for Australians to take advantage of those opportunities. We also want sophisticated advanced manufacturing out in the regions as we turn that beautiful primary product into a highly value-added advanced manufacturing food or fibre product. I'm super excited with what we're already doing out there but making sure we have a highly skilled workforce to meet that demand is something that this budget addresses. We also address the resource opportunities out there. We want to make sure that the energy and gas-powered opportunities that will drive additional manufacturing opportunities through the regions are also supported by this budget.
I'm particularly excited about the values underpinning this budget. That is about personal income tax and business incentives that help businesses invest back into themselves so they can employ more Australians. We know out in rural and regional Australia that has been a super successful program that we extend in this budget.
Rural and regional Australia drive our national economy. Our government absolutely backs the regions in to not just recover from COVID-19, bushfires and droughts but, with this budget, build them back better. I'm super excited to be part of a government that's absolutely committed to growth and development in rural and regional Australia.