Senate debates

Monday, 21 June 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Morrison Government

3:22 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I also rise to take note of answers given by Minister Reynolds to questions without notice asked by Senators Green and Keneally, relating to the new Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce. Let's just look across the chamber at this crew. They're unable to roll out vaccines, they're unable to roll out quarantine, but the Nationals rolled out the grand old man to put in yesterday's man. What an indication of where this crew is up to. Look at the sorts of questions we now have in front of us. On a day when we have a crisis recurring with COVID-19 cases, with exposure sites across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland; on a day when an emergency national cabinet meeting was convened; on a day when the premiers, both Liberal and Labor, of multiple states are sounding the alarm about a shortage of Pfizer vaccines, the coalition government thought it was a good time to have a leadership spill again. The government can't roll out a vaccine to save their lives—or the lives of Australians—but they are experts at rolling out their leaders.

It was only in February last year that the Nationals last had a spill motion. So, if the Australian people are wondering what their elected members of parliament and senators have been doing in the last 18 months in Canberra, you'll be very surprised! What they've been doing is looking after themselves. If people are curious about why the federal government can't organise a vaccine rollout, can't organise a quarantine system, can't grow wages for the Australian middle class and are predicting a wage decline in the forward estimates, now we know one of the reasons why—because one half of the coalition government has spent the last 18 months plotting and scheming among themselves. Instead of doing the job they're paid so handsomely to come to Canberra and do.

Today I'm thinking particularly of Australians living in regional communities, areas that the Nationals are supposed to represent in this place. I'm thinking of coalminers in the Illawarra, in the Hunter and in Queensland who are being shoved into labour hire jobs on lower pay, without any entitlements or job security. The Nationals come to Canberra and masquerade as coalminers' friends, all the while voting for a bill to overturn the Federal Court's decision that labour hire coal workers are entitled to basic employment rights. The Nationals voted to strip those rights away. The workers and their families in regional areas depend on the agriculture sector, but there should be good pay and secure jobs in sectors like horticulture in our regions. Instead, under the National Party, these jobs are reserved for exploited migrant workers. In fact, just last week the Liberal-National government announced a new agricultural visa aimed at importing and exploiting workers from South-East Asia. That visa, reportedly, will be less regulated than the Seasonal Worker Program.

The British know these schemes are exploitative. That's why they just negotiated with the Prime Minister to get an exemption. Last week I met with a Taiwanese woman named Kate, who was paid $4 an hour picking oranges on a farm in Renmark, South Australia. She said, 'I went dumpster diving to find food in recycled bins at supermarkets when I didn't have enough money.' This is the sort of economy that the Nationals promote in regional Australia. When bad employers pay migrants $4 an hour and force them to eat out of the bin, how are Australian workers in regional communities supposed to get a decent-paying job?

Of course, the exploitative nature of mining and agriculture isn't the reason we have another Nationals leadership spill; it's just petty internal politics to restore yesterday's man in a position for which he has already proven himself unfit. It is yet another sign of a tired, bloated incompetent government which has failed to turn around regional Australia. Australians, during this most difficult period, deserve proper leadership, considered leadership and a leadership that is focused very much on making sure that Australians are better off, not what the Nationals propose—that Australians are going to be worse off.

Question agreed to.


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