Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 July 2019


Future Drought Fund Bill 2019, Future Drought Fund (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019; Second Reading

9:31 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Last night I outlined the effect that climate change has on drought in Australia and the records on climate change, especially in the last 30 years. I'd like to foreshadow my second reading amendment, which has been circulated in the chamber, on sheet 8714:

", but the Senate:

(a) notes that the Bureau of Meteorology has stated that:

(i) the current drought in the Murray-Darling Basin is the most severe in 120 years of records; and

(ii) climate change is a significant cause of the severity of the drought; and

(b) calls on the Government to recognise that we are in the middle of a climate crisis which has implications for droughts in this country."

When we think about drought, we think about a parched landscape and empty water tanks. But, often, we don't think about the wide-ranging effects that drought has on our community, the health of our community, the health of our economy and the health of our biodiversity. We know that drought can have wide-ranging effects, including on nutrition, infectious diseases, forest fires causing air pollution in Tasmania—which I outlined earlier in my speech—mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress, and suicide behaviour. This has all been well documented and well established.

Drought can also contribute to increases in mortality rates. The World Meteorological Organization has linked drought to over 680,000 deaths globally in the 40 years to 2012. Even here in Australia, declines in physical health are particularly prevalent among the elderly in drought-affected rural communities. I could go on about the impacts of drought on our economy, often overlooked in debate in this place.

It beggars belief that we're handing over the reins of billions of dollars to a party, the National Party, and a minister who won't even recognise the impact that climate change has on drought or the fact that it has contributed to this record drought that these funds are going towards alleviating. If we don't address the underlying causes of drought and the multiplier effect it has on our communities, our economies and the environment, then we're just going to continue to throw good money after bad.

I'd like to talk a bit more in the five minutes I have left about the importance of how we fund this legislation, the Future Drought Fund Bill 2019 and related bill. Labor have raised objections previously that they don't want the money to come from infrastructure spending. It's very disappointing to see that they haven't put up any alternatives for where we could find the funding to go towards rural communities and the mitigation of and adaptation to drought in these communities. The Greens have put forward a series of amendments, including an amendment that will take money from dirty fossil fuel companies, from big oil and gas companies, who are getting away with blue murder in this country and not paying any tax.

I outlined earlier in my speech the $360 billion in tax credits that some of the biggest, wealthiest corporations on this planet have clocked up in this country. Four times now the Greens have moved in this chamber to fix this tax system, this tax rort, and actually deliver some money for the Australian people. This is a good place to start today when we are debating a bill about how we can help farmers. Why don't we have fossil fuel companies pay for this drought relief fund? Why don't we have the money come from companies that are making profits from burning fossil fuels that are directly linked to rising emissions and to the length, severity and frequency of incidence of drought in this country? That's what we should be doing.

If we want to be honest about this debate and apply the user-pay principle, which so often the mob on the other side of the chamber are very happy to talk about, let's fix the broken tax system in this country and use that money at least for the public good. I think those taxes—$360 billion—will never be paid in this country. In fact, they continue to build every year because of the generous way this system has been set up. Those taxes could be used to pay for schools and hospitals. They could go towards rural communities that need funds to help them survive in a future of climate change.

Have the guts and fortitude in this place to actually put a price on carbon emissions. The Greens previously successfully got a carbon price in this chamber, with the help of Labor. It was the gold standard all around the world with a clean energy package for investing $10 billion into renewable energy, including, I say to the opposite side, in wind farm projects. There was $10 billion for renewable energy to drive the transition to a clean economy and renewables jobs, including in regional Australia. That money could be very useful for us to properly transition communities, coal workers and their families in regional Queensland and, of course, farming communities. So I urge this Senate to consider the idea that we should actually be taxing the source of these droughts that we're seeing in rural and regional Australia and the root cause of the suffering that we're seeing in farming communities.

My father is a retired farmer. I say to Australian farmers: when are you going to put pressure on the Barnaby Joyces of the world? Barnaby Joyce only recently came out and completely disregarded the importance of climate change and the need for action for the future of all Australian communities and, indeed, the future of the planet. He completely disregarded that we can make any impact or show any leadership on this most important of issues. It is so ironic that farmers consistently vote for the Liberal and National parties when they have done nothing. If anything, they have deliberately gone slow and stymied any attempts in this parliament to act on climate change. I implore Australian farming communities and farming organisations, such as the National Farmers' Federation, to put pressure on this government to act on climate change and to support the Greens today in taking money off the dirty fossil fuel companies that are creating this problem in the first place. It is an absolute no-brainer.

I urge the Australian Senate to consider these Greens amendments to take money off big oil and gas companies—the same companies that are paying virtually no tax in this country, the same companies that are exploiting a system set up to benefit big fossil fuel companies, the same companies that are still going out and exploring for oil and gas in the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight, the same companies that are conducting seismic surveys off the north coast of New South Wales and, in my home state, in the waters off King Island, and the same companies that are trying to profit from burning fossil fuels at a time in history when we desperately need to transition our economy. Let's take money off them to pay for farmers. Let's fix this tax rort and take action on climate change. (Time expired)

9:39 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Future Drought Fund Bill 2019 and related bill. I'll begin by making this point: if you don't have a plan for dealing with the climate crisis, you don't have plan for dealing with drought. That should be self-evident. The bottom line is that if you're not serious about tackling the breakdown of our climate, then anything you say about your concern about drought is meaningless.

We've got to choose between, our farmers who provide three per cent of GDP or $60 billion, and thermal coal exports, which are on track to be 1 per cent of GP or about $19 billion, because we can't have both. The single biggest cause of our climate breaking down and plunging our prime food-producing lands into severe, prolonged drought is coal, and we are the world's biggest exporter of coal. So, as long as our two major parties have no plan for coal, they have no plan for drought and for protecting our farmers and the land that sustains them and, in turn, all of us.

My message to those on the government benches is that irreparable damage to our food-producing lands is closer than they think. Farmers, right now, are on the frontline and are the first industry being hit by climate damage. They are feeling it each and every day. There's more heat-trapping pollution going up into our atmosphere right now than at any other time in human history. That should scare the living daylights out of people. It should scare the living daylights out of that mob over there, and it should prompt strong action.

Just think about what the Bureau of Meteorology said. The bureau has now said that this is the most severe drought in the Murray-Darling Basin in 120 years of records. Tomorrow, Paris is on track to experience record-breaking temperatures of 42 degrees, when their side of the world turns to face the sun—42 degrees—unprecedented in the city of love! In Canada 18 climate records have broken this month. The arctic is 4½ degrees warmer than usual.

Drought is threatening major cities in India like Chennai. India's people and their livestock are on the brink. In Mozambique, months of rain fell in a few short hours, creating a weather-related disaster in the Southern Hemisphere: 1.8 million people affected and $73 million of damage to buildings, infrastructure and agriculture. Do you know what the World Meteorological Organization said that this was? They said that it was a wake-up call to the world. So this bill and the government's refusal to address, let alone acknowledge, what is driving this drought show that they are incapable of responding to a challenge—an extensional challenge—that confronts each and every one of us, especially our farmers, who are struggling right now.

This drought and the natural disasters I've just talked about don't reflect the impacts of the record-high pollution pumping into our atmosphere and oceans we're experiencing right now. We know there's a lag. We know that things are on track to get worse. I've talked about the situation globally. Here in Australia, our emissions have never been higher. Let me say that again: Australia's pollution has never been higher. We've made gains from transitioning away from coal to renewables, but those gains are being wiped out by our gas export industry. As a result of that industry, we're seeing more pollution being pumped into the atmosphere than ever before.

As my colleague Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said, we know the reasons for that. We know that those massive donations—the $2.7 million donated to the National and Liberal parties and the $2 million donated to the Labor Party over the past five years—mean that Australia is stuck with a shocking framework for dealing with this crisis. It means that polluters can pollute for free, while all of us need to pay for their mess. We see a cartel holding Australian households and businesses to ransom with record high prices or, indeed, threatening to export instead. We've got these profitable industries that don't pay a cent in royalties. They get their gas for free. They've amassed $324 billion in tax credits, meaning they won't have to pay a cent in tax for a decade. They are extracting our resources, they are doing it for free and they are asking each and every one of us to clean up the mess. As an added bonus for their donations, they've got gas lobbyists and communications strategists handing the minister intellectually bankrupt talking points. Somehow we are being told that burning more coal and gas is going to reduce our emissions and clean up the atmosphere. What nonsense. What utter garbage. That's why my colleague Senator Rice will be moving a second reading amendment to say that the gas industry should pay for the damage that they're doing to our farmers.

The coal and gas industry are getting away with robbery against the Australian people. They are aided and abetted by the Australian government, and it is damaging our farmers. It is leading to an epidemic of mental ill health. It is causing distress. Families are being torn apart. It is the actions of this government, in refusing to deal with dangerous climate change, that are responsible for driving the crisis that people are experiencing right across regional Australia. When the Nationals and the Liberal Party stop taking those donations from the coal, oil and gas industry, then we'll know that they are serious about dealing with drought and that they are indeed on the side of farmers. When the Labor Party stop celebrating coal and start to refuse donations from the coal industry, then we'll know that they are serious about tackling the breakdown of our climate and about helping our farmers. Until then, we know that this is simply rhetoric and hot air and that they are pouring fuel on this bushfire and using this bill as a water pistol to try and put it out.

Of course, we know why the bill has been designed in the way that it has. This is about creating a slush fund for the National Party to hand out millions of dollars to their corporate irrigator mates. You only need to look at what happens when you put the National Party in charge of water. Look no further than their management of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Do you remember that recording where the member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, was telling his mates in Shepparton that he was going to look after them and prevent water from going into the environment? He doesn't care about the health of the Murray-Darling Basin. He cares about lining the pockets of his irrigator mates. Remember the awarding of infrastructure grants for things that companies were going to do anyway, with no follow-up on how that money was spent, and that cowboy attitude that led to fraud charges against the cotton-growing empire of Norman Farming, which has family connections to the current water minister? Remember the Nationals turning a blind eye to earthworks on farms in the northern basin to harvest floodwaters—water that should have been flowing down to the lower basin communities? Remember the biggest single payment for new infrastructure given to Angus Taylor's associated companies, with no requirement to surrender ongoing rights to water? The market value of what was sold for $80 million is pretty close to zero. But don't take my word for it. Take the words of the South Australian royal commissioner, Bret Walker SC, who made it very clear that Commonwealth officials had committed gross maladministration, negligence and unlawful actions in drawing up the multibillion-dollar deal to save Australia's largest river system. Let's be clear about this. The Nationals are in charge of water, and there is a royal commission in South Australia highlighting gross maladministration, negligence and unlawful activity. That's what's in store here.

We have concerns, serious concerns, about what this drought fund will do. Of course, in specific circumstances there is a strong case to give assistance to farmers by funding appropriate projects, but this bill doesn't do that. It hands extraordinary power to the minister, without the appropriate checks and balances. That's why we'll be amending this legislation, and we call on all sides—the Labor Party and, indeed, the crossbench—to support what will be sensible amendments and to make sure that where assistance is given it is not money that is taken out of the funding of infrastructure, that where assistance is given it is given on the basis of sound scientific advice and not at the whim or behest of an irrigator. We need to ensure that, where we are funding projects, we are not funding projects that will fuel the increased use of fossil fuels, leaving us entrenched further in a cycle of climate change and drought.

People across the land are struggling. They are struggling because they are facing one of the worst droughts in this nation's history. Until we have a plan to deal with the cause of drought and the breakdown of our climate, we don't have a plan to deal with drought. Unless we have a plan to transition away from coal to renewable energy, away from increasing gas use to renewable energy, we will be making drought worse, because we will be fuelling climate pollution and, of course, the destruction of so many agricultural communities. Where assistance is given to farming communities it needs to be on the basis of science, not on the basis of a fund designed to assist the National Party to look after their corporate backers.

9:53 am

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to indicate that Centre Alliance will be supporting farmers and will be supporting the Future Drought Fund Bill 2019. However, we will at the committee stage be moving an amendment, which has been circulated, that relates to membership of the committee, making sure that membership is reflective of the various areas affected, or that could be affected, by drought. We are doing that because we want to ensure that drought is considered within a national context and that there is not a disproportionate focus on one region affected by the drought.

As the committee provides advice to the minister for drought regarding the design and programs funded under the funding plan, it is vital, in our view, that the committee is balanced, not only in terms of gender, knowledge and skills but also in respect of the regions members come from. We don't want a situation where an appointment to a committee involves four Queenslanders or four South Australians or four New South Welshmen. We just want to make sure that it's balanced and that any recommendations would come with a national lens attached. We think that will improve the bill and we'll be supporting the bill.

9:54 am

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make my contribution to this debate on the Future Drought Fund Bill 2019, but there are a few things we need to sort out. From the nonsense we've heard in some of the speeches here, it is as though, with the greatest respect to my colleagues across the chamber here, some of them have this stupid belief that only they care about the bush, our food producers and our rural communities, which is quite disingenuous. I have to say this clearly: for the last 14 years I have spent all my time on the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee. As every senator in this place knows, I have devoted every single minute and hour I could to travelling this country to improve legislation and the lot of our rural communities and our rural families—not only farmers but also those who live in rural Australia. So it is disingenuous to hear some of the stupid remarks, especially from some of the older, more experienced senators who can't help themselves but to go the low road. I thought we'd lost the senators who go the low road when previous Senator Macdonald from Queensland left here—thank goodness!—a couple of months ago; unfortunately there are a few still around.

But let's get back to this. You have to pick up on what Senator Patrick and others have said. You have to clearly understand what is being proposed here. Every single legislator in this place and in the other place wants to do the best for our rural communities, our farmers and everyone who relies on them. We know that. But, for crying out loud, I couldn't imagine the squealing, the screeching and the howls of anger that would have come from that side if Labor were proposing to raid a $3.9 billion fund set up to deliver rural and regional infrastructure projects.

For all those out there listening I want to send a special message, particularly to the members of the Nats in the coalition. The Nats in the coalition have always been referred to as the doormats. I haven't heard that doormat comment for many years but I have noticed, as I have traversed the hallways here on route to other senators' offices, to the minister's office and to Senate committee rooms, that there is a new poster hitting the windows. The Nats always prided themselves with a green and yellow square bit of cardboard that said 'The Nationals delivering for the country' or whatever it was—'Country Nats' or something like that. Now we have a hybrid. We have a blue and white one—not the yellow and green one, not the colours of the National Party but the colours of the other partners in the coalition, the senior partners—saying 'Regional Liberals'.

Let's come back to the Nats. Just really concentrate on what you have been lassoed into here. While we are all trying to get as much assistance to drought-affected regions, families and communities throughout Australia, you are lining up, like a bunch of ducks heading off to duck season, behind the senior partners of the coalition to champion raiding a $3.9 billion fund which gives rural and regional Australia much-needed infrastructure projects. At this stage, from what we can find out, the $3.9 billion from that fund is not going into the pockets of farmers. It's not going into the bank accounts of those that rely on farming communities for their business to succeed as well in their community, whether they be the local garage in rural Australia, the local Mitre 10, the local cattle carter, stock carter, grain carter. There is no money. I can't find one single cent that is going into the pocket of the stock feeder, who supplies the feed, because obviously they're not doing all that well either.

But before we even start going down that path, we're told that the $100 million could be provided to farmers, not today, not tomorrow, not next month or in three months time or six months time or, crikey, maybe not even in 10 or 11 months. Are you listening, all you Nationals out there? But don't worry; the Libs have got your back! Nats, did you actually sit in your party room and decide, once you got through the 'Let's all go down together, brothers and sisters, because it's in the best interests of our farmers that they're going to get only $100 million, maybe,' to blindly follow what the Country Liberals or the rural Liberals—I don't know how many of them there are—and the city-centric Liberals, 'because they have it all worked out'?

Seriously, put your hands on your hearts and report back to your community and say: 'We might be able to get a couple of pesos here or a few rupiah there.' I don't know what that's going to be. Food tokens to go to Coles or the local IGA? I've got no idea. I'm hoping someone on that side will jump up and say: 'Sterlie, you've got it all wrong mate. We've got it all worked out. We know exactly how much is going to go into each farming family's pocket'—bank account, marmalade jar or old Arnott's bickie tin buried down the backyard. I don't know how you are going to do it. Do you know why? Because you don't know how you're going to do it. I think these are fair questions.

You see, we on this side will do everything to work with you to support those poor devils who are affected by drought. But let's not just stop at the farmers. Come up and tell us. I'm dying to hear from the minister to break it all down—when the money is going to be delivered and where it is going to be delivered. And how do we work out what is in drought and what isn't in drought? I ask this question seriously. This is not a new argument that I have had to have while sitting on the Rural, Regional Affairs and Transport Committee. You are relying on different shires to come forth. And then you've got to say who is really in drought, who has been in drought longer, and who hasn't been in drought very long. And how do you break up who gets what amount? Does every farming family? You can add the grain carter, the livestock carter and the owners of the local Tyrepower and supermarket, which are hurting too. Are you going to tell me they are going to get some assistance as well? And are you going to talk to us at any stage about your plans to droughtproof Australia? We haven't even gone down that path yet.

Nats, if you are out there listening: for six years you and your mates the Liberals—the senior partners in the coalition—have been in government. For six years that fund has been sitting there with $3.9 billion in it and nothing has come forward to fix up any regional and rural infrastructure. Do it! But don't raid another rural and regional bucket of money. When all is said and done, we have some of the best food and fibre products in the world. There is absolutely no argument about that. We have some of the most efficient ports; we can get the products on ships and trains and get it moving. But, lo and behold, the majority of freight in this nation is carried on trucks. You are denying rural and regional Australia the infrastructure projects. Not only are you raiding their fund, but you have done five-eighths of nothing to fix anything or build anything. You are having your tummies tickled, Nats. The senior partners in the coalition, the Libs, are rolling over at the drop of a hat because your leadership, through Minister McCormack—I don't know, who is the leader? Is it still Mr Joyce? I don't know. I can understand why Mr McCormack would have one eye on Mr Joyce and one eye on his own backyard—which you should do—but it is more than just his seat.

There are so many questions that need to be asked. But there are no answers—nothing. But this is typical of this place in the 14 years that I have been here. Isn't it amazing: for every single problem, there is a perfect zero on the end of every costing. I don't even know how you get $100 million. Why isn't it $200 million? Why isn't it $3.9 billion? Why isn't it $16 billion? You tell me. What will $100 million do? The silence is deafening.

And I am really looking forward to when we get into committee. All I can work out so far—I'm told that the Regional Investment Corporation will be tasked with advising the government. I wouldn't have my heart set on that being the most efficient place. Let's go back a few steps. That was set up by the previous Minister for Agriculture, Minister Joyce, who was a senator for a couple of years. I don't think that was a great recommendation. I think that was set up after the Nats lost the seat of Orange for the first time in 69 years.

But let's not also forget that we had a drought envoy. When Mr Joyce fell from grace and moved aside, he couldn't wait to resign his post 'in the best interests of the nation'. Ha-ha, that was tongue in cheek—he got booted out! He was then set up as the drought envoy. What did the drought envoy do? The drought envoy was around for 12 months. There weren't any proposals that we needed to put X amount of dollars into farmers' pockets. Is it farmers' pockets? I don't know what it is. Are you going to transport water? What are you going to do? Are you going to bring in stock? I shouldn't be the one having to ask these questions. The ones who should be asking these questions are the doormats in the coalition. I haven't called you doormats for years, but, based on the way you are carrying on here, 'doormats' is a nice word; I could think of other things.

Labor has always supported rural and farming communities. There is no argument that the Greens support rural, regional and farming communities. I've worked very closely with Senator Rice on the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee. Senator Rice and I don't have all that much in common, but one thing I can tell you is that she has carried the—what do you call it?

Senator Rice interjecting

What do you have? You've got a few things—transport and farming. You've got a few things, Senator Rice. You've got everything, Senator Rice. I don't know what the rest of the Greens do. You're the one who is always out there working. I've never once heard her condemn farming communities or Australia's food producers or fibre producers—not once. We know that One Nation will get up and bang on about farmers at the drop of a hat, absolutely. And I say to Senator Patrick and Senator Griff: I've got the greatest of respect for Centre Alliance, but you're getting blindsided as well as the doormats. Support our farming communities but don't raid another bucket. Why raid a bucket that's there to deliver infrastructure for rural and regional Australia?

Do you know what the next cry will be? I will tell you what the next cry will be. The Nats will have a little huddle and they will all squeeze into their telephone box on the other side of the building and then the penny might actually drop and one of them will go: 'Oops; what about the projects in Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong linking the railways?' Another one was improving the Pacific Highway—and we all know that the road deaths on the Pacific Highway are nothing to brag about. How long will it take you to wake up to the fact you've been done over again? What we seriously should be doing, if we can get to the stage where you can explain your $100 million—where, when, how, who and all that—is going even further. This is a $100 million bandaid for maybe 11 months or maybe longer. I can't believe I'm saying this. This is like a bad dream. I hope I'm going to wake up and find out that it was just a shocking dream. But, unfortunately, it's not.

I've gone on enough about the Nats, but not one of them has come down here to defend their position. Is it because you're that thick? No, I don't think it is because you're that thick—some may be but the majority isn't—I just think you're blindsided. If you spent a little bit more time thinking in the best interests of rural and regional Australia than about your own career advancements, maybe that would help—I don't know. I've got no fear or favour on this side, none at all. I'll say it as it is, because I'm the one that ends up in the rural communities. Whether I'm looking into prawns, biosecurity or transport—every darn thing; the whole lot—I get out there and meet the people in the bush, and I hear the same arguments. Someone—I don't know who it was—said earlier: 'Those poor devils in the bush continue to keep voting for the Nats even though they are doing nothing for them.' Maybe they need the 'regional Liberals'. Maybe that is what they need. They need a good 'regional Liberal' to stiffen them up, put a backbone in them and give them a good decent whack. Maybe that's what they need. It's absolutely incredible!

I'll go back to some other examples of what the Labor Party has done in supporting rural and regional Australia and farmers. There is no secret that, whether it be the Abbott government, the Turnbull government or the Morrison government, we have backed rural and regional Australia. We backed them with the additional supplementary farm household allowance payments of up to $12,000. There was no argument about that. We did it straightaway for eligible FHA recipients. We agreed and supported the extension of the allowance from three years to four years. I remember the drama we went through with that and the many rounds of Senate estimates where we had to keep asking the department: 'Who's put their hand up? How many people?' My goodness! Senator Brockman, you know all about that, mate. You had a headful of hair before we started that questioning. Now look what's happened. I'm lucky I don't pull mine out.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

I've never known him to have hair.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

He had hair on that committee; I'm telling you! I will ignore that interjection, anyway. What about increasing the farm asset threshold from $2.6 million to $5 million? We didn't bat an eyelid.

All the way through, we have to listen to some of this nonsense. The senator who is Minister for Agriculture—I've forgotten her name; darn!—can't wait to get out and say it's only the Nats that look after the bush—Senator McKenzie. She's the bush girl. I didn't know St Kilda was in the bush, but it was at one stage—or Mordialloc or wherever she's living. Do you know what her great contribution to the rural and regional affairs committee was? She couldn't wait to leak out a reference for inquiry and the recommendations before the committee had even ticked off on them. Senator McKenzie, it's all right taking the big pay packet, but, seriously, you're the leader of the Nats in the Senate. You come in here, Senator McKenzie, and tell me why it's a great idea to raid a $3.9 billion infrastructure fund for rural and regional Australia—not playgrounds or infrastructure pet projects in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Darwin but projects delivered to your region. You come in here and tell me why that's a great idea.

What you should be doing, Senator McKenzie and crew, is grabbing hold of your senior partners—not the doormats but the senior ones, the grown-ups—and then asking them: 'Hang on, what happens when this $100 million runs out? What do we do next? What's next on the plan? Are the Libs going to tell me that this $100 million bucket of money, wherever or with whomever it's going to end up, is going to stop the drought? What do we do next year? What do we do the year after?' Why aren't you, Nats, asking these questions of your senior partners, the rural Liberals? I'm not the one that has to answer that, but I tell you what: I'm not going to let you forget it, and I'm going to keep reminding you, because you're going to own this. So, while you're all here in your joint party room thinking, 'How can I get a promotion and not upset the senior coalition partners?' by crikey, think about how you will go back to your bush communities and defend this, because it's been six years that you've been in government and you've done a duck egg—zero, nothing, not a thing.

While we're at it, Minister, please take this on board: tell me how you came to $100 million. I'm not blaming you, Minister Cormann. You're the one that's got the sandwich, but sort it out. You're the one that's been told. You're the fixer, mate, not that impostor from South Australia. You're the fixer. You're the one that's going to find the money. Tell me how you got $100 million that will help these poor devils out. Tell me how long it will take to get whatever it is into wherever it's going to go. Minister, just stand up and cut me down, because I'll be the first one to congratulate you when you actually show me a list of names—it may be redacted—showing how much each family's going to get in their pocket, their bickie tin, the marmalade jar or whatever it might be and tell me how you got to that figure.

Please, Minister, do not insult my intelligence and that of other members of this fine establishment here by telling me you're going to offer them low-interest loans. Please don't go down that path, because one thing I learnt from the immortal former senator Bill Heffernan—and I'm probably the only one around here who likes the bloke, because he used to give you mob a good shake-up—is something he said to me way back in early 2006, very clearly: the last thing farmers need when they're in stress is another damn loan. He wasn't so succinct in his language. I tell you what: I've tamed it down a fair bit. But doesn't that make sense? So, Minister, please tell me a stupid statement like that is not even going to pass your lips when we have people who are under stress—and I don't even want to start going down to the mental stress that these poor families are going through at this moment and have been going through for more than just the last week, when the minister and the Prime Minister thought it was a great idea to go out to the bush and have a meeting when they haven't done anything for six darn years leading into it. I can't think what they'd be going through. I reckon they could tell you what to do with your low-interest loans. They'll tell you what to do with them and where they could go.

I'm summarising. I'm sorry, Mr Acting Deputy President. I could go on about this for hours and hours. The sad part here is that so many questions need to be asked. In the final seconds that I've got, I say to the Nats, if you're up there listening: you'd better get your act together and get down here. You are the ones that need to be asking these questions, because it will fall on your shoulders when that money doesn't start flowing through. You build the expectation of a figure that's got two zeros on it and perfectly fits into $100 million. You're making absolutely no sense. The more I talk about it, the more confused I'm getting. You can keep your smart remarks, but I know what you're thinking over there. But I'm not the only one, because I don't think any of you lot know what's going on. In saying that, I won't be supporting this.

10:15 am

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all those senators who have contributed to this debate. It's disappointing given that in the fine print I think I might have heard Senator Sterle right at the end say that he is actually going to support the bill that he spent 20 minutes having a crack at. This speech that you've just heard was, sadly, another demonstration of the disappointing attitude and the disingenuous attitude that Labor has taken to this important measure.

Labor senators have sought to create the impression that the additional funding into projects to support increased and improved drought resilience in rural and regional communities is the only thing we're doing to support Australians and, in particular, farmers impacted by the drought, that's of course not true. This measure in this legislation, the establishment of the Future Drought Fund, comes on top of about $2 billion in additional measures that we've previously announced. And we've announced significant enhancements to the Farm Household Allowance arrangements, for example, also in the wake of the drought.

If you listened to Senator Sterle's contribution in isolation—Senator Watt was the same, and I hate to say it but even my valued colleague the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, the senator for the ACT, was the same—you'd think that somehow our support for drought affected communities will only start on 1 July 2020, that is not true and it's entirely disingenuous. I think it is very disappointing that you would seek to mislead rural communities across Australia to that effect in that way.

Then there was this false impression created that somehow we are ripping $3.9 billion in funding out of infrastructure. Instead of a $3.9 billion Building Australia Fund, we have a $100 billion infrastructure investment pipeline, much of which goes into much-needed infrastructure in rural and regional Australia. Again, this proposition that somehow we are reducing our commitment to infrastructure investment is completely and utterly false. Labor knows this to be false and they're deliberately creating a false impression.

This Future Drought Fund will give farmers in rural and regional communities, which have been suffering years of unrelenting drought, the tools they need to prepare for, manage and sustain their businesses. This Future Drought Fund will grow from $3.9 billion to $5 billion over the next decade, while facilitating a $100 million a year additional investment into drought resilience and preparedness, even in the good years, every year from 1 July 2020.

We're doing the same in relation to the Medical Research Future Fund. The Medical Research Future Fund is facilitating the Commonwealth to double its investment in medical research by creating a revenue stream, which means that additional investment is fiscally sustainable. It will not detract from our budget bottom line over the medium and long term and that is very good financial management.

We have taken a $3.9 billion capital fund which lay dormant—which had a very low return because of the way the Labor Party decided to invest that capital when they were in government—and through the change in investment mandate we will ensure that it will get a better return, which means that it is projected that the capital will grow from $3.9 billion to $5 billion over a decade, while also dispersing $100 million every year in additional funding to support additional projects in a way that is fiscally sustainable. That is, as I say, good financial management.

Despite the games and the disingenuous rhetoric—and then in the fine print saying that they actually will support this very important initiative—that Labor has displayed here in recent days this is a very important initiative to support rural communities across Australia.

The consultative committee, should this legislation pass the parliament, will soon begin engaging with farmers in rural and regional communities to ensure the money is well spent when the additional funding becomes available from next year. The government will work swiftly to establish the Future Drought Fund Consultative Committee and put in place all of the appropriate, rigorous governance arrangements for the appropriate selection and prioritisation of projects.

I say it again: this measure comes on top of about $2 billion in additional support that we have already directed into drought affected communities across Australia. To go back to the $100 million infrastructure investment pipeline under our government, about a third of that—about $33 billion—is going directly into infrastructure in rural and regional Australia. Here we've got Labor senators suggesting that, somehow—by directing a $3.9 billion low-income-earning infrastructure investment fund, which had been lying dormant, into facilitating additional investment into projects to improve drought resilience across Australia—we're doing the wrong thing by rural infrastructure. Well, actually, we have committed about $33 billion in additional investment into infrastructure in rural and regional communities.

There is a whole range of questions that have been raised, which I'm sure we can address in the committee stages, but for the purpose of this summing up speech, let me say that I commend this bill to the Senate and I hope that it will get broad support.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Gallagher be agreed to.

10:29 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move my second reading amendment regarding introducing a royalty on oil and gas project to pay for the Future Drought Fund:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but the Senate:

(a) notes that the placement of a 10 per cent royalty on projects subject to the PRRT, creditable against PRRT liabilities, and treated as a deductible expense in calculating company tax, would raise $4 billion, in real terms, within two years; and

(b) calls on the Government to bring forward legislation to introduce a Commonwealth royalty on oil and gas projects for the purposes of the Future Drought Fund in recognition that the oil and gas industry are contributing to more severe and prolonged droughts."

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Rice be agreed to.

10:36 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the second reading amendment on sheet 8715 standing in my name:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but the Senate notes that free or unlimited water entitlements given to fossil fuel companies by State and Territory governments, while farmers struggle with drought conditions, significantly undermines the effectiveness of any drought response by:

(a) depriving farmers of water;

(b) exacerbating droughts; and

(c) worsening climate change which further exacerbates droughts."

The amendment indicates it will be incredibly useless to have a drought fund if you continue to let big mining companies have free water.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

This is not an opportunity for debate. The debate has been closed.

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

That is all I need to say. I'm just reminding people of the excellence of the amendment.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Waters be agreed to.

10:41 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the second reading amendment on sheet 8714 standing in my name:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but the Senate:

(a) notes that the Bureau of Meteorology has stated that:

  (i) the current drought in the Murray-Darling Basin is the most severe in 120 years of records; and

  (ii) climate change is a significant cause of the severity of the drought; and

(b) calls on the Government to recognise that we are in the middle of a climate crisis which has implications for droughts in this country."

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be agreed to.

10:47 am

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that these bills be read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.