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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2150


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (17:02): by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to take note of this response primarily because it shows, again, the government saying one thing and doing another and its lack of truthfulness in conveying what is happening to the Australian people. This was a response to a motion from Senator Siewert on the Australian Year of the Farmer. Only last week my colleagues Senator Back and Senator McKenzie and I gave notice of motion quite similar to that of Senator Siewert's but with much more detail.

What is extraordinary is that the govern­ment opposed the motion that we on this side of the chamber put forward. Just to refresh the memory of the Senate, the motion talked about the Australian Year of the Farmer, recognising the career opportunities avail­able in the agricultural industry, the response we are going to need to the global food task, and declining participation rates and declining graduates in the agricultural sector. It called on the government to resource the promotion of careers in agriculture through the primary and secondary school system, incentivise universities to offer agricultural science courses and encourage industry in the development of agribusiness, educational and training resource material. The govern­ment opposed that motion. Given the similarities to the motion from Senator Siewert and the response today, it is important to again note for the chamber that the government opposed that very sensible and straightforward motion.

In the response that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig, has provided to the chamber is this statement:

The government continues to demonstrate its commitment to the long-term productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of Australia's agricultural industries.

Rubbish! That is just completely wrong. I will explain why. Firstly, this government is giving the agricultural sector a carbon tax which is going to hit our agricultural sector harder than just about anywhere else. Our farmers, as my good colleague Senator Edwards would know—we have discussed this at length—are at the bottom of the food chain. They have nowhere to pass on the fuel costs, transport costs, fertiliser costs and electricity costs. So for this government in this response to talk about its long-term commitment to agricultural industries is simply ridiculous.

We can also look at the live export debacle. Senator Ludwig absolutely single-handedly annihilated an industry. You only had to be part of the Senate committee that travelled around looking at that live export issue to know the negative impact that the decision to ban the trade had on our agricultural sector, on those families and those businesses that Senator Back knows better than probably anybody else in this chamber. How on earth that can be any kind of commitment to Australia's agricultural industries just beggars belief.

We also see things like the lack of scrutiny of foreign ownership. This government is completely unable to accept that there has to be some scrutiny of the current practices when it comes to foreign ownership and foreign control. We ask the government to recognise that there is a need to at least scrutinise the current arrangements and see if there is a need to change them. I certainly believe there is a need to do that. But we get absolutely no response from the government. It thinks everything is fine and terrific—let all the foreign investment keep rolling in; let all the foreign ownership keep happening—without looking at where we want to be with the 20- and 30- and 40-year plan for the agricultural sector in this country. That is simply wrong and demonstrates that there is no commitment long term. That is what this response says and it is incorrect. That is why it is important to point out to the chamber and the Australian people that in this response, yet again, we are seeing the government saying one thing and doing something entirely different. What sort of commitment to the long-term productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of Australia's agricultural industries can this government have when we saw the minister, Senator Ludwig, in Japan at the end of last year, trying to revive the free trade agreement? Addressing the Japanese Diet, he said:

Let me be perfectly clear about this—while Australia strives for a commercially significant outcome on agriculture, we do not wish to see the destruction of Japanese agriculture as a result.

Nor would we ever do so.

Australia is not so large an agricultural producer that it will threaten the livelihood of Japanese producers by dramatically increasing exports.

Australia’s scope to increase production is limited by our geography and climate.

The minister said, by dint of that contribution, that as farmers, as agricultural producers, we are at maximum productive capacity. All of the farmers and all of the agricultural producers I know strive to increase their productivity constantly, and they do it extremely well; yet here we have a minister who on one hand tells us he is committed to the long-term agricultural sector and on the other hand tells the Japanese Diet, 'Oh no, we are at our maximum productivity and are not going to be any threat to you.' It is absolutely appalling that this minister should have such little regard for our agricultural producers that he thinks we are at maximum productive capacity, because he is wrong.

The government cut research and development assistance to organisations like the CSIRO by around $80 million. They are cutting the very things that are actually going to help our farmers be productive. It is simply ridiculous. The government axed Land and Water Australia. They tried to cut R&D through the Productivity Commission process. We have here today, in a response from the minister, 'the government continues to demonstrate its commitment to the long-term productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of Australia's agricultural industries'. What absolute rubbish! I have only just touched the surface. Time precludes me from adding the long list of other areas where we see the government completely disconnected from the agricultural sector and walking away from the needs of our agricultural sector and regional communities. This response today is rubbish.

You cannot believe a thing this government says. It says it has a commitment. It has no commitment at all. If it had the commitment to the agricultural industries that it says it does, it would not be giving us a carbon tax, it would not have given us the live export debacle, we would be having some scrutiny of foreign ownership, it would be listening to farmers when it comes to the importation of apples from New Zealand—and the list goes on. This is a very interesting response, to say the least. For this government to say that it is committed in the long term to Australia's agricultural industries is simply ridiculous.

Question agreed to.