Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Supply Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Supply Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, Supply (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020; Second Reading
In supporting these supply bills, I want to say a few words about the budget last night and about budgets over the time that I've been in this chamber. In my 28 years in this place, this is one of the better budgets I've seen, if not the best—and I've had the privilege to hear many of them, from those in the Hawke and Keating days, the wonderful Howard years, and the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, through to those, in the last six years, under the leadership of Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and now Scott Morrison. We've had some very, very good treasurers, and I do want to congratulate Mr Frydenberg on the budget he presented last night. As he was willing to acknowledge, what he was able to do last night, to a great degree, depended on the work of previous treasurers—in particular Mr Morrison, who was Treasurer for several years in the most recent coalition government.
This budget is full of benefits for Australia and Australians. It has wonderful news for infrastructure, building the infrastructure of the future, and it shows that the government does understand the significance of the agricultural and mining industries. They're well recognised in the budget. There is in this budget, as well, an attempt to bridge the gap between what I often call these days 'the two Australians'—those who live in capital cities and their surrounds and the rest of us who live in regional Australia. There's no doubt about it, and there never has been in my mind, that those of us who live in regional Australia don't have access to all of the quality of life, all of the things that make life so pleasant for people who live in and around the capital cities. And good luck to those who live in and around the capital cities. I might also say that I, for one, wouldn't want to live in capital cities. I'm very happy living in regional Australia. But there are things, benefits, that those living in regional Australia don't have, simply because of their isolation and the sparseness of our country. It's always been my goal to try and bridge that gap, and I'm pleased to see that the budget last night has taken some steps towards that.
For the 28 years I've been in this place, I've been trying to return the zone tax rebate scheme to what it was originally designed to do back in 1946, when it was first introduced. I'm pleased to say that, just this year, the government and the Treasurer have instructed the Productivity Commission to start work on the zone tax rebate scheme, because it, to a degree, was designed to—and did, sort of—equalise the disadvantages that people living in remote parts of our country have.
It's been my lifetime goal, and certainly the goal during my time in this parliament, to ensure that the part of Australia which, with only five per cent of the population, produces something like 55 per cent of its export earnings, is recognised and rewarded. I'm pleased to say that the northern Australia development white paper— which was introduced in 2015 but is something that I've been working on since my days as the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, all those years ago—came to fruition in 2015, and, since then, the measures in the white paper have been implemented and it has seen a flow of money, activity and action into northern Australia. I hope that activity and action will continue in future parliaments of this nation.
I'm pleased to see in the budget the continuing flow of money to our external territories, which I became very fond of in my years as minister for those territories. Curiously, a lot of the money in the budget that is going to the territories is for things that we spoke about all those years ago, at the beginning of this century, when I was minister. Regrettably, they haven't advanced much since that time.
As someone who was elected four times as a local government councillor, I've always had a soft spot for local government—not only as a councillor myself for 11 years but also as the federal minister for local government for three years. So I was pleased to see in the budget last night the extension of the Roads to Recovery Program, which is greatly loved by local government. It sends money directly from the Commonwealth to local governments, avoiding state governments—the middlemen who always used to slice a bit off the top, meaning less for local governments. I was very proud and honoured to introduce that program in this chamber back in 2004, I think it was. It's been a program that local government has benefited from—and, indeed, that the Australians we all serve have benefited from—over those years. Unfortunately, local government didn't get what they were hoping for—some movement upwards in the Financial Assistance Grant scheme. They are determined in their goal, and I know that that campaign will continue on into the future. I wish them luck with it, because I, for one, recognise that local government, as the sphere of government closest to the people, is the one that is often overlooked in our system of government. I think they do a wonderful job and perhaps need funding increases through the Financial Assistance Grant program and otherwise.
I also note that in the budget money continued to be provided for our fishing and our forestry industries, and for conservation—that part of our operations that looks after our land, our landscape. I'm pleased to see funding continuing there. I well remember how important the forestry industry was to Australia, and perhaps I remember even more that forestry played a very large part in the 2004 election, when the Labor Party, the Greens, and, dare I say, most of the Liberal cabinet ministers wanted to cease forestry operations. But we worked together with the CFMEU, dare I say, and Michael O'Connor, the current head of the CFMMEU, who was then the head of the forestry division, for months—months—to get the right program. Those of you who were around in those times will remember that when Mr Howard went to a hall in Launceston he was absolutely mobbed by people with hard hats and hi-vis shirts. Not only did that mean we won most of the seats in Tasmania in that election; it also showed workers around Australia which party it was that looked after workers' jobs. So it was a very, very significant part of the forest industry debates at the time.
Also, we see in this budget that we are continuing to look after our South-West Pacific neighbours and our neighbours in Papua New Guinea. It reminds me, as a former fisheries minister, that we did a lot of work not only with the Australian fisheries and fishermen in trying to make them sustainable and competitive but also with the South-West Pacific. I was delighted to be involved as fisheries minister in the establishment of the Central and Western Pacific Fisheries Commission, which got the island states to recognise the value of the fisheries they had and to then start organising them and regulating them. I led a delegation to Kiribati not long ago—a little island state; it's a coral atoll, almost. They used to have difficulties paying their way, but, with Australia's help, they regulated their huge sea boundaries and were able to sell licences. They now run their budgets in surplus and have been doing so for some time. Again, we as Australians can be very proud of the way that we have helped those island states to look after themselves. I also see in the budget some money for our natural resource managers. In my time as minister, we were able to establish for the first time natural resource management groups all around Australia, which did wonderful work. They're not quite as prominent or active these days as they were in those days, but it is good to see them still operating and still doing the right thing by our land and seascapes.
In congratulating Mr Frydenberg on last night's budget, I also recognise that while we as ministers, as parliamentarians, get a lot of the credit, a lot of the work is done by people who work for us—be they in the departments, in the case of ministers, or be they our own personal staff. So, in congratulating the Treasurer for his budget, I also acknowledge that a lot of the work that Mr Frydenberg relied upon was done by his own personal staff and also by people in the Treasury and other government departments. So I acknowledge them. I want to congratulate them and thank them all for the work they have done. In mentioning this, I also mention my own staff, who have always helped me so much in everything that I've attempted. From my very first staff—Xenia, Guy and Leanne—through to my current staff, led by my long-term employees, Marie and James, and other staff whom I've had. On the way through, I've met some wonderful people, some very, very good staff, who have gone on to bigger and better things. I mention Phil Connole, Liza and Sharon. I think it's appropriate at times that we do recognise the people who support us and look after us. And that, of course, goes to people who support us in this chamber—the attendants, the clerks and all of their staff, and the committee staff, who do a wonderful job in furthering the work of the parliament and of parliamentarians.
I should mention that last night's budget was a good one for the north. Whilst I take some pride in what has been achieved, I also recognise that I don't do this alone. I do it, as I've mentioned, with my staff but also with my colleagues. I particularly want to mention the help that my friend and colleague Warren Entsch, the member for Leichhardt, has been over most of the years I've been in parliament, and also my colleagues who have operated out of Townsville in the past. Since I've been in parliament, working from Townsville, I've had Peter Lindsay and Ewen Jones. And I will, in the future, have Phil Thompson, I'm quite sure. Together with those people, along with George Christensen, the member for Dawson, whose electorate now comes right in, almost to the heart of Townsville, we have formed a group that has made its presence felt in northern Australia and, as a result, there have been benefits. One of the things that we're determined to achieve into the future is more security of jobs for coalminers and others in the mining industry and for the small businesses that support them. I desperately hope that we can see Adani start work, the Rinehart coalfields, all of those activities which will provide real jobs, secure jobs for workers and will support the small businesses and medium-sized businesses in the north that support those industries.
Last night's budget, as I said, was one of the best I've seen, and I've seen a lot over the last 28 or 29 years. Some have been very good. I heard Mr Swan deliver six budgets, I think it was. Each budget, he promised that next year we would be in surplus, and not once did he deliver a surplus. So I'm delighted to see this year, in my 29th year in this parliament, a budget that has brought the country back into surplus and got the country back on track. And with projected surpluses into the future, we will be able to start paying off the debt that was run up in the Labor years and get rid of the $18 billion we pay every year in interest rates on borrowings that previous governments have made.
I have been in public life for 40 years now—11 as a councillor and almost 30 as a senator in this parliament, nine of those as a minister—and, in that time, I helped to shape some budgets, back in the old days, and have made my voice felt in more recent budgets. But, again, it's not me. We as parliamentarians get here only because of friends and supporters, and I do want to mention some friends of mine who have helped me all of the way through my life. For anything I may have achieved, they have been part of it. They are Peter and Lorraine, Tony and Janita, Neville and Elvie in the Burdekin branch of the Liberal Party also my family, my siblings—Fay, Beth and Jim and their families as well—all of who have been particularly helpful.
In the 28 years I've been here, things have changed. Budgets are, hopefully, getting better again. I don't like to say it but it's true that this place is not the place it was when I first came here 20 years ago. There is more nastiness, more division, more politics being played now than I recall when I first came here, and lies and hypocrisy just seem to be the order of the day. What really distresses me is when people get up and lie about things, and those lies are heard the world around and believed. Regrettably, comments like those we heard recently about the Barrier Reef being dead are just plain outright lies, yet they are heard around the world and they do affect jobs, do affect businesses in Australia.
It seems to me now that facts and truth are irrelevant in some of the debates here, and people have the tendency just to say whatever they like and try and make that out to be facts. But apart from that, hopefully, in the end, we all do come here to try and make a difference and, hopefully, we all do make a difference in one way or another for the betterment of Australia and all Australians.
There was in the budget good news for lots of people and not so much good news, I guess, for some others. But I do see that there is increased funding for the aged, and that's perhaps something that I might be interested in, a few years in advance. But I just want to recognise that in electing me to parliament, and even to council, my constituents got good value for money, because they really got two for the price of one.
I have to mention that my wife, Lesley, has been my greatest supporter all the way through my life, and particularly in my political life, because she's the first sounding-board; she gives me lots of thoughts. She encourages me, as I'm sure all of our spouses and partners do. I particularly want to pay tribute to Lesley and the work that she has done for me over the years.
Before I go to the minister, thank you, Senator Macdonald. It's not very often we hear first readings tangled up with a valedictory note as well, so congratulations. Thank you.
In summing up, I take the opportunity on behalf of all colleagues, I'm sure, and particularly colleagues in the Liberal and National parties, to thank you very much and honour you for your 40 years of public life, Senator Macdonald, and for your almost 30 years in this place. That is a rare achievement. I myself can't imagine still being here in another 23 or so years, but to have achieved that is something that can never, ever be taken away from you. There is no doubt that both your supporters and your opponents would agree that you are someone who fights very, very hard for the things you believe in, including the regions and Queensland, and North Queensland in particular. You fight hard for really important industries in our nation—you mentioned some of those—and you are someone who has never taken a backwards step. I'm sure that Senator Cameron and Senator Wong will particularly miss you and your contributions during question time—and others.
Indeed. Whilst there are great challenges ahead, may your contribution in this place continue for a long time. I want to thank you for your service, Senator Macdonald, and thank you for your great contribution. To Lesley and all of your supporters: thank you. Thank you very much.
I conclude by thanking all senators who have contributed to the debate on Supply Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Supply Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020 and Supply (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020. These supply bills seek authority from the parliament for the expenditure of money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the 2019-20 financial year. The total of the appropriations sought through these three supply bills is just under $45.7 billion. The bills must be passed in this session to ensure funding is available to all entities from 1 July 2019, thereby ensuring the continuity of program and service delivery.
The appropriations proposed in these bills are based on five-twelfths of the estimated 2019 annual appropriation as presented at the 2018-19 budget, adjusted for economic and program-specific parameters, and the effects of decisions announced as part of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook or included in the 2018-19 additional estimates appropriations bills. Therefore, this funding will last through until the end of November.
I wish to emphasise that these bills seek provision only to appropriate money to fund government expenditure on an interim basis until appropriation bills have passed. This arrangement allows for the budget appropriation bills, or similar bills, to be passed in 2019-20 by the next parliament, if necessary. Once again, I thank all senators for their contributions and commend these bills to the Senate.
by leave—Could I just indicate that it did seem like a valedictory speech from Senator Macdonald. Senator Macdonald and I have got a long history in this place—as long as I've been here. I just indicate that he is the ultimate Liberal warrior; there is no question about that. I think that, at times, he's been cantankerous, he's been curmudgeonly, but he has always run the Liberal line. I wish him and Lesley all the best for the future. I don't want him to come back!
Thank you, Senator Cameron. And, yes, the Senate will be the poorer without the Cameron-Macdonald blues! The question is that these bills now be read a second time.
Question agreed to.
Bills read a second time.