| August 16, 2017
Regional Investment Corporation Bill 2017
When you look at the Regional Investment Corporation Bill 2017, you can see a Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources who is about to get things done. Whatever it takes, he will be the minister in charge of ag and he will get things done. This is an enabling bill that's going to offer his whole sector an opportunity for them to access low-interest loans and to have a support mechanism put in place that's going to be able to assist them. Whenever there is this uncontrollable variation with the climate affecting production, they are going to have this vehicle to access.
The member for Hunter, Mr Fitzgibbon, has simply played politics with his amendment, where he moved that all words after 'that' be omitted and that 'the House declines to give this bill a second reading as it places the government's political interests ahead of the interests of Australian farmers'. So we will not be supporting the member for Hunter's amendment. We are here to get this bill through the House, if we can. We are here to give the people who are involved in agricultural businesses an opportunity to have some assistance, because we know there are a million great things happening out there in the world of agriculture and a whole range of these businesses just need a little bit of assistance along the way.
It's been put to us by the Labor Party that somehow or other we have a very poor minister for agriculture. That is not the message that we hear when we are on the ground. That is not the message that we hear when we go out around regional and rural Australia and talk about farming businesses, farming enterprises and the secondary industries associated with farming, whether they be the transport industries that hang off the back of agriculture, the processing plants that are also directly associated with agriculture, the export markets that are driven by what we're doing with agriculture or the water efficiency contracts that are out there, making sure that we are doing as much as we possibly can to save as much water as we possibly can and still increase our productivity. When we are talking to these people, the people who are actually driving the nation, driving the economy of rural and regional Australia, they are quite proud of the bloke that is known as Barnaby. He doesn't need a second name. They actually love the bloke they know as Barnaby. He's the one who's getting things done. He's the one they can relate to. He's the one who actually works for their interests. He's the one who lives in New England and comes to Canberra to work for the people of his electorate. His electorate extends far beyond that of New England. It extends right across rural and regional Australia. He doesn't need any protecting. He doesn't need any shepherding or assistance in these couple of days that he's going through. He's big enough and tough enough to deal with that himself.
This is a bill about getting things done. This is an opportunity to create the Regional Investment Corporation, a $4 billion corporation which will assist with agricultural industry businesses as they need a little bit of start-up. While I'm starting off this contribution, I would like to read in some of the accomplishments of the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources over the last 12 months since we've been in government and he has been the minister. The ag white paper continues to deliver real, tangible benefits, and that is what this minister is about. $250 million a year is going into farm business concessional loans, and we know how important and successful these concessional loans have been. When the dairy industry hit the hurdles that it did, a little over 12 months ago, its cries for assistance were met with an increase in concessional loans. Barnaby Joyce went down and met with the dairy farmers and was able to push through some of the farm household allowance issues preventing assistance going to farming families that were stuck with either Murray Goulburn or Fonterra and had seen their farmgate milk price slashed to an amount that was actually below production costs. Again, people in real trouble were able to go to a minister who understood their industry and was able to assist with the farm household allowances and/or low interest concessional loans.
We have over 1,200 farming businesses in Australia now accessing low interest concessional loans. There is over $670 million in loans out there right now. Australians who were finding the banks' interest too onerous in these tough times were able to access these low interest concessional loans. That's 1,200 people who are anywhere from around $20,000 to $50,000 a year better off by accessing these low-interest loans. That's not counting the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of farmers who started this process of obtaining a government low interest concessional loan, then took that threat back to their own commercial bank and were able to get them to sharpen their pencils and bring down the cost of their existing loan. Without following through on the full threat of moving their indemnities and assets across to the government funded low-interest loans, they were able to stay with the commercial entities. Tens of thousands of other farming businesses have benefited from the fact that we have this instrument out there and are able to offer it to people in trouble.
We have put another $200 million into strengthening biosecurity in this country. These things have a genuine impact on our agricultural businesses. We have done amazing things with free trade agreements. The boost that has come from our free trade agreements has been phenomenal. The free trade agreements we signed with Japan, South Korea and China have seen enormous increases in our amounts of trade with those countries. We've also seen the food labelling laws—another election promise that Barnaby Joyce was able to push through now that we're in government. He's been able to get it to a stage now where Australians will be able to shop with genuine confidence that the labels on the goods in the supermarket will give them an accurate, simple, basic understanding of the content inside those products on the shelf. They will have a very accurate understanding, with a quick glance, of what percentage of these products were in fact made in Australia, what was grown in Australia, and what's been grown somewhere else and simply packaged in Australia and put on the shelf as a product of Australia.
The wine equalisation tax is another area where this minister has been able to push ahead and reach an agreement. This has been kicking around in the wine industry for 10 to 12 years. A whole range of interests were competing against each other and nobody was quite able to put this one to bed, but Barnaby Joyce has been able to come into this area—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): I remind the member for Murray to refer to members by their title.
Mr DRUM: The minister for agriculture has been able to put this issue of the wine equalisation tax to bed and has seen enormous benefits because of that. Now we have an industry that will continue to grow, with the confidence that everybody is paying the right amount of tax. When the sugar industry was having its internal troubles, they didn't run to Joel Fitzgibbon, the member for Hunter, to see if he could help; they simply came to Barnaby Joyce, the Deputy Prime Minister, the leader of the National Party, and he was able to put the pressure on the industry to fix this. Again, these are the types of actions that are needed when you are in the industry and looking for genuine leadership and an understanding of the industry and the industry's concerns so that you can fix the problem when the commercialities of the industry are caught between the processors and the providers of the primary produce.
One of the biggest things we have been able to do is put some genuine stewardship around the Murray-Darling Basin and the plan for a balance between environmental water and water for active and productive agriculture. This is an area where we have a whole raft of competing elements. Certainly we have the environmental group, who want unspecified quantities of water returned to the river system so that the Murray mouth can be flushed out. The lakes down around Adelaide are estuarine by nature, but the environmental movement wants to keep these estuarine lakes as freshwater lakes. They want to keep the Murray mouth open, even though historically it has always closed over in times of low flow. These unnatural environmental outcomes are somehow or other the Labor Party's policies. They would have the Murray River doing unnatural things because it suits their green constituency.
The free trade agreements with Korea and with China and Japan have seen incredible results recently in beef, table grapes, macadamias and a whole range of horticultural produce, and these are further benefits we are finding from the leadership of this minister. What we're also talking about is projects that are needed within the irrigation regions, such as the work that Rubicon Water are doing, and not just throughout northern Victoria. They are a Shepparton based company but they are now working in China, India and North America. They are creating thousands and thousands of megalitres of available water because they are creating all these water savings.
There are a whole raft of on-farm efficiencies that are quite expensive, but there are productivity benefits to having your farm properly laser graded and properly channelled, with the most modern fittings and technology. This is where, again, we are going to be able to save literally billions of dollars in water, which can be used either for the environment or for further agricultural production. Although some of these on-farm improvements are very expensive, this is where an instrument like the Regional Investment Corporation will be able to offer businesses an opportunity to invest in agriculture at a lower interest rate. That is something that will be snapped up. It will be very well received. That's why when people look at what the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources is doing they say: 'Here's a minister who's actually getting things done. He's giving us a chance.'
We have seen gene technology come to the fore in relation to the dairy cattle industry. Artificial insemination has been around for many a year, but it has got to the stage now where you can actually take the genes from a $250,000 heifer, mix them in a test tube with the semen of a $200,000 bull, and start rolling out a production line of dairy cattle. Where they were once only able to produce the heifers, the females, the ability that science is now offering agriculture in gene technology is unbelievable. Again, this type of work is expensive, and industry needs to have a vehicle such as the one the minister for agriculture is presenting to the Australian people.
If you want to make a difference in ag and you want to work your way through to the top, these technologies and advancements and this introduction of science into agriculture shouldn't be available just for those who have enough money to do all this themselves. And this is what Barnaby Joyce, the minister for agriculture, is doing. He is offering low-interest loans, offering finance to these businesses that have an opportunity to put food on our table and to increase productivity. He's the one who is actually getting this work done.
When you look at the Labor Party, they have no credibility when it comes to agriculture. The biggest decision the Labor Party made when they were last in government was that they stopped the live cattle export trade because of a Four Corners story. They just stopped it. They banned it for months, and then they decided they'd get it up and going again, and they were surprised to see that Indonesia wasn't quite so readily accessible anymore. That decision from the Labor Party cost beef producers in this country tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. No-one can find the minister who did this. No-one can find anybody who actually made this decision. It must have been made by someone who was invisible. Whenever you put the Labor Party in charge—we've seen what they will do with water; we've seen what they did with the live cattle exports, and they need to be protected—