Thursday, 30 November 2023
Questions without Notice
Honourable senators interjecting—
Thank you, President. My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Watt. On the weekend red imported fire ants were detected in Murwillumbah on the North Coast of New South Wales. Can the minister explain why the Albanese government delayed until 22 October this year the $268 million commitment in the 2023-27 response plan when it was required far earlier?
I thank you very much for the question, Senator Cadell. I had been wondering whether we would have a single question from the Nationals in question time this week. We know that Monday was an RDO for the Nats. We know that Tuesday was an RDO for the Nats. We know that Wednesday was an RDO for the Nats.
It's great that on Thursday, the last day of the sitting week, we finally have a question from the Nats. In particular I very much welcome a question from the Nationals about fire ant funding. Let me tell you about fire ant funding under the Albanese Labor government compared to what we saw under the government of which the Nationals were a part. When we came to government we found the biosecurity budget in general had been cut savagely by the Nats when they held this portfolio—it was cut by about $100 million per year. We had to fix that in this year's budget. It was not a coalition government and not a Nationals government but a Labor Party government delivering biosecurity. We also found that funding for fire ant eradication under the Nationals had been cut to about $16 million per year. It was nowhere near enough to deliver on the real threat we face from fire ants. What have we done, in contrast? We've invested an extra $268.2 million over the next four years and taken the average funding for fire ant eradication from the measly $16 million we saw under the Nationals to around $70 million over the next four years.
In fact, I'm particularly grateful for you asking this question, Senator Cadell, because I wasn't able to get it up as a dixer this week because there were too many other things to cover. I was intrigued to see Mr Littleproud, the Leader of the National Party, on Sky News yesterday, telling our government that we shouldn't be providing any more funding for fire ant eradication in Queensland. So you want to cut the funding that we've now installed and leave fire ants running rampant. What a disgraceful position for the National Party!
The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program stated that the strategic review had stated that at least $200 million to $300 million per year will be required for eradication to be achieved by 2032. However, only $94 million was spent in 2022-23. Why is this government not demonstrating leadership in committing the funding that's required to eradicate them?
Thank you again, Senator Cadell. It's not often that you get an over where you get six full tosses in a row, but here we go! I'm looking forward to the third one as well. Senator Cadell, I'm very sorry that you were given this question because I know that you do care about these matters, but your party's track record on this issue is absolutely abysmal. As I say, I cannot believe that only yesterday your party leader, Mr Littleproud—who is the current shadow agriculture minister and who was the agriculture minister who cut funding for fire ant eradication—told Sky News that the Queensland government 'shouldn't be given any more money to deal with the spread of fire ants'. Can you believe that the National Party is saying that there should be no more funding for the Queensland government for fire ants? Where do you want them? Do you want them running around not just Queensland but also New South Wales, the Hunter, Victoria, Tasmania—they'll probably catch the ferry over, if Mr Littleproud has his way—and South Australia. You want to cut funding that we provided— (Time expired.)
With the Queensland government unable to stop the fire ants in their own state, they've now progressed 13 kilometres from the Queensland border and away from your home. Why should the Albanese government not urgently review the adequacy of the fire ant eradication funding and find ways to commit to topping up the funding where it is needed.
Let's make this a pull shot over the field for six! Senator Cadell, I'm sorry that you were given this question to ask. None of your colleagues were willing to ask this question. Senator Cadell, you've just asked me to bring forward funding. That is exactly what we have done. When we were elected, we brought forward the funding that remained in the fire ant eradication program that was left behind by your government, and now we've added an extra $268.2 million. Senator Cadell, you might be asking us to bring forward more funding. Your party leader wants to cut the funding that we're delivering to Queensland. He wants to get rid of the fire ant eradication program. Has he spoken to Queensland farmers about that? I know Senator McKenzie hasn't ever met a farmer. I don't know whether the farmers in Victoria would support cutting the fire ant eradication program. You want us to cut the $268.2 million that we've dedicated to this program. The National Party, we know, gave up caring about farmers a long time ago. Senator Canavan's on the record saying that they're not core constituents of the National Party, and Mr Littleproud has just proven it as well. (Time expired.)