Monday, 21 June 2021
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (Senator Reynolds) and the Minister for Finance (Senator Birmingham) to the questions asked by Senator Green and Senator Keneally.
I, more than anyone in this chamber, knows how good a place regional Queensland is. I spend an awful lot of time there. I have many family members there and, even just over the last five years, I have seen the fantastic industries, the fantastic people and the fantastic natural environment of regional Queensland. But, for all of that benefit, regional Queensland also has significant challenges. It needs more jobs, it needs more job security, it needs a government that once and for all will tackle the scourge of casualisation and labour hire that is endemic across regional Queensland, it needs reef infrastructure and it needs health services.
If there was any political party represented in this place that would be more concerned about those issues and what regional Queensland really needs, you would think it would be the National Party. You would think it would be the party that holds itself out as being the voice of farmers, the voice of regional communities and the voice and the advocate for all of those kinds of issues I have just talked about. But what we've seen over the last few days, particularly today, is the worst rerun of a television program you can ever imagine. That's right; we had yet another Nationals leadership squabble. I've lost count of how many leadership squabbles there have been in the National Party, even in the five years I've been here.
We in Labor were reflecting before that we have had Abbott-Truss, Turnbull-Truss, Turnbull-McCormack—or was there someone in between?—and Morrison-McCormack. Now we are back to Morrison-Joyce. There are probably combinations there I can't remember, because there have been so many changes in the Nationals. There have been so many changes in the Nationals, because they are so obsessed with fighting themselves rather than doing anything about any of those issues I just listed, which are of real concern to people in regional Queensland. Where is the National Party when we need more jobs in Central Queensland or anywhere across Queensland? Where are the Nationals when we need something actually done about casualisation and labour hire in the mining industry? You can't count on the Nationals to be there; they're too busy dressing up for their next leadership challenge. That's what the Nationals are spending their time on. The Nationals have just become a bunch of babies, a bunch of children, squabbling over a toy. It's like Barnaby has one hand on that toy, saying, 'I want it. I want it,' then you have Michael McCormack, saying, 'I want it, I want it'. You have Matt Canavan in between trying to pull one leg out. You have Bridget McKenzie pulling another off.
Thank you, Madam Deputy President. You have every member of the National Party and every senator from the National Party in there squabbling, trying to pull the toy of the National Party leadership apart. All the while, regional Queenslanders are left in the lurch, looking for jobs, looking for job security, looking for an end to casualisation and labour hire, looking for decent health services, looking for infrastructure—all the kinds of things that the National Party should actually be focusing on.
To their credit, the outgoing Leader of the National Party, Mr McCormack, joined by the member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, today admitted that people in regional Queensland don't want to see the Nationals have another leadership challenge, especially in the middle of a pandemic. But that's exactly what Mr McCormack's and Ms Landry's colleagues have served up again today. When regional Queenslanders are wondering when they will get their vaccine from this government, they get another leadership challenge. When regional Queenslanders are wondering when the National Party will finally do something about casualisation and labour hire, they get another leadership challenge from the National Party. That's what we know lies ahead, because it happens every six months or so. We have leadership challenge after leadership challenge in the National Party, while all these issues in regional Queensland get ignored by the party that claims to represent them.
It's all coming to a head, of course, around what this government's policy is around emissions. If anyone knows what this government's position is on net zero emissions, please explain it to me, because I certainly don't know, and I don't think anyone in Australia knows either. We've got the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, claiming that he wants to get to net zero emissions preferably by 2050. We've got the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, out there saying that Mr Morrison has already committed to net zero emissions by 2050. We've got Mr Pitt and any number of other National Party members saying that's not the government's position. In fact, when we were asking Senator Birmingham and other ministers about this today, to agree that the government's position is to get to net zero emissions by 2050, preferably, who was sitting over there shaking her head? It was the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Senator McKenzie. The Nationals have not signed up to this. We don't know what the government's position is. (Time expired)
How quickly those opposite forget about squabbles and changes. I seem to remember prime ministers—was it Rudd-Gillard-Rudd?—with some squabbles over that side, too, over similar sorts of issues, I suspect. I'm very glad that Senator Watt has asked about jobs. I think it was very telling, what we saw with our most recent jobs figures, which I'm pulling up now for Senator Watt—but he's, sadly, left us. It was easy to see that employment surged by 115,000 jobs in May to a record high. These are across regions, not just in the big cities. Full-time employment rose by 97,500 to a record high. The unemployment rate fell by 0.4 per cent to 5.1 per cent in May. The participation rate rose by 0.3 per cent to 66.2 per cent. So it's very clear, in answer to Senator Watt, that we are creating jobs. Whether in his regional Queensland, whether in regional Victoria, which I am a proud senator of, we are creating jobs in record numbers that that side of politics has never, ever been able to do.
Senator Watt was also asking about our vaccine rollout strategy. It was a very good question, and I'm happy to be able to update him on some of those numbers as well as the goal of net zero by 2050. As those opposite know, the only target the Paris Agreement requires is a 2030 target, which we have. We're yet to hear from those opposite about what theirs is. While this morning the Leader of the Opposition was ducking and weaving about what their 2030 target would be, we have committed to and are on our way to achieving our targets for 2030. We have runs on the board for this. We beat our target for Kyoto by 439 million tonnes, I think it was. I'll come back to the Senate if I'm wrong on that, but I believe it was about that.
Senator Rennick interjecting—
It was 459 million tonnes; thank you, Senator Rennick. That's why our approach is working. It's driven by how, not when. This is the problem. There is no-one who can tell us how to get to net zero by 2050. The technologies that will get us there don't currently exist. Other countries may be able to say that, because they have power such as—what's that other one we talk about a lot on this side?—nuclear power. That may be something that we have in Australia in the future, but not now—
Senator Ayres interjecting—
no more than we have hydrogen power in commercial quantities. I'll take any interjection that Senator Ayres wants to give me. Madam Deputy President, you might want to pull up those interjectors, that being your job. We are doing so much by pulling together to get to net zero emissions. Our vaccine rollout is going exactly as it should be. We are managing the economy better than those opposite ever could. I don't think it's very clear from that side of politics—particularly Senator Watt and Senator Ayres, who love to come in here and chuck around little jokes and slurs on those on this side that rarely get pulled up—if they can claim any goals at all. What are they going to do with Paris? What's your Paris goal? What's your road map? Are you just going to use renewables? Are you going to put up more wind towers and solar panels? We're not hearing any details on that. The response that your side gives us has the same effect on me, Senator Ayres; it bores me to tears and makes me yawn like you just did.
May we say, 'Australians all let us rejoice,' but I'm sure the response from people all around the country is going to be, 'Must we really rejoice?' We have had eight years of tired, dysfunctional government with no plan for the future, a track record of the lowest productivity growth in 50 years and no plan on climate and energy. What have we had? As Senator Watt said, we've had Abbott and Truss, we've had Turnbull and Truss, we've had Turnbull and Joyce, we've had Turnbull and McCormack, we've had Morrison and McCormack, and now we're back to Morrison and Joyce. It has been eight long years of tired, ineffective government entirely focused on itself. This government has become much worse under the current Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, with its tendency for secrecy, its obsession with marketing, its requirement for spin at all costs and its capacity for deflection. When the country needed something more, when the country needed leadership to fix this tired old mess of a government, who did the National Party turn to when we really needed to focus on the interests of regional Australians? They've given us poor old Mr Joyce. Why isn't there anybody from the National Party here in the Senate defending Mr Joyce? Why isn't there anybody in the National Party on their feet in this debate? I'll tell you why: because they're all on the telephone, only interested in their own jobs. Where's Senator McKenzie? She's lobbying to make sure she gets a job out of this. Where are the other National Party senators? They're in corridor meetings trying to make sure they squeeze something out of this tired, incompetent government regarding jobs for themselves, the only jobs they're interested in.
Poor old Mr Joyce. As a backbencher, he was still putting out Christmas videos. At Christmas time in 2019, he did this deranged beetroot-faced video from some paddock out the back of Walcha. In the video, he said: 'Look, I just don't want the government any more in my life. I'm sick of the government being in my life.' Well, not anymore. He's going to get plenty of the government in his life. He's going to get plenty of it. He's looking forward to the big salary, he's looking forward to the ministerial cars, he's looking forward to lots of staff and he's looking forward to throwing his weight around all the corridors of Canberra. But, I will tell you what, the people who miss out—as always—will be the people of regional Australia. Poor old Darren Chester, first to get the job—
Poor old Mr Chester—former Minister Chester—who, we're told, is the only decent person among that bunch of clowns looking for a rodeo. He's the only one who has shown any decency over the course of the last eight years of this miserable, incompetent government, and he's the first to get the chop, because the people surrounding Mr Joyce are going to make sure they get what's coming to them out of this leadership change.
Mr Joyce left with very serious allegations surrounding him, from the short period that Mr Turnbull was in office. They have not been satisfactorily dealt with. Despite the findings about the allegations brought by Ms Marriott—that she was forthright, believable, open and genuinely upset—the National Party in its investigation into itself said, 'Unable to make a determination'. What has driven this change? I will tell you what: it's all about climate change, as it always is. The only thing that this is going to do is improve the old podcast industry. I'm not sure whether it's 'weatherboard' that's being deleted or 'iron', but poor old Mr Joyce—it will be very interesting to see whether he continues his podcast. (Time expired)
What a time to be alive! Never before have the forces between darkness and evil been more clear than here today. What we've had here today is nothing but a vile session of putrid, personal smears—a fantasy target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Senator Watt has the audacity to come in here and talk about regional Queensland and somehow blame the Nationals for everything that's gone wrong in regional Queensland. Let me tell you something, Acting Madam Deputy President, state Labor is responsible for the destruction of—
Apologies. Where do we start when it comes to regional Queensland? What we have here is a state Labor government who privatised nearly all of the assets that the state government owned, including Queensland Rail, Golden Casket, Forestry Plantations and the Port of Brisbane. They sold the Port of Brisbane—six times earnings, a monopoly—a 99-year lease. And they wonder why the state of Queensland is going broke.
I will tell you what our policy is, by the way, when it comes to energy: it is cheap and reliable energy that is going to create jobs in the manufacturing sector—not in the imports, not in the cost sector, creating energy; no. We had the world's cheapest energy from the world's best coal when Labor came to power in 1990. But that has all been destroyed thanks to the mismanagement of the Queensland Labor government and the fact that they now subsidise foreign companies to come to Queensland and generate renewable energy. Queensland coal-fired power stations and gas power stations have the potential to generate 13 gigawatts of energy a day. The most Queensland has ever used is nine gigawatts. In order to meet their 50 per cent target, they are going to add another 20 gigawatts of renewable energy, despite the fact that they don't need it, because we already have sufficient supply to meet demand. They will drive Queensland owned energy companies—the last thing the Queensland Labor government didn't sell—into the ground. Last year the Queensland energy companies lost $1½ billion because they had to get turned off all the time, while the foreign owned renewable companies had the opportunity to make money. The other thing is that, with all this wonderful talk about net zero 2050, blah, blah, those who are doing the heavy lifting in this country when it comes to reducing emissions are our farmers, with their reductions in land use.
I just want to quote some figures here on how much money is being invested in reducing carbon emissions across Australia. In New South Wales, there's $630 million being invested in reducing carbon emissions; in Victoria, a measly $15 million; in the ACT, nothing; in WA, $109 million; and, in the Northern Territory, $38 million. But, in Queensland, there's $886 million being invested in buying back land, locking up land, agricultural land, in order to reduce carbon emissions. And do you know where the bulk of that is? It's on my turf, the Darling Downs in the south-west, where it's $523 million. That's almost as much as the entire amount in New South Wales and more than the rest of the states combined. This is typical. Labor love to talk the talk, but they never walk the walk. When are all these inner-city people who want to reduce emissions going to start riding their pushbikes to work, stop taking aeroplane flights and turn their air conditioning off, rather than pushing farmers in south-west Queensland out of jobs? When are they going to start walking the walk for a change, instead of dictating to everyone else what should happen?
As for meeting 2050 targets, why should this country be subservient to other nations? We remember well, during the Hawke-Keating government, when Hawke took the states to the High Court in 1983 to block the building of the Franklin Dam. Had that dam been built, that would have been carbon-free energy. You know what Tasmania did for the rest of the eighties? They voted against Labor. Do you know how Tasmania's going now, since they have allowed more dams and weirs to be built? They're the second strongest economy in the country, thanks to the building of dams. But do we see that in Queensland? No, we don't. What's the state government doing? They're ripping down our own dams. They're ripping down Paradise Dam. That's a carbon-free source of energy if they put a generator on the end of it—but no, no, no. They're happy to pull down Australian made, Australian owned clean energy and then pay foreigners to produce energy that, after all, isn't all that clean because it's come from solar panels and batteries and wind turbines that can't be recycled.
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.