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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 161


Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (09:58): I second the motion. In doing so, can I congratulate Senator Hume and all other senators who are taking their seat in this chamber for the first time. There can be no greater honour than to serve your country in this place. Can I also take this opportunity, Acting Deputy President Whish-Wilson, to acknowledge the large number and diverse range of crossbenchers that we have in the Senate and to note, with some degree of satisfaction, that it was the people of Australia who elected the Senate crossbench this time, entirely on the strength of their primary vote and not by some sort of backroom preference deal, as has been the case in the past. The crossbench is here because the people of Australia elected them, and I believe that this truly is a Senate of the people.

I also acknowledge the uncontested re-election of Senator Parry as the President. It is a reflection of the extraordinary non-partisan way in which he has conducted this chamber over the two years he has presided over it. I also acknowledge the manner in which the Deputy President of the 44th Parliament, Senator Gavin Marshall, took his role and the impartial way he conducted business in this chamber. I certainly look forward to the new Deputy President, Senator Sue Lines, continuing in that vein.

In 2013, it was my privilege to deliver the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's opening speech in the 44th Parliament, and it is indeed an honour to second the motion in this new parliament. I echo His Excellency's sentiments about the purpose of this parliament. We must be responsible, we must be diligent, but above all we must be sensible as we debate and implement this government's legislative agenda. I acknowledge the comments that have been made by many of the crossbenchers to date indicating that it is their intention to undertake their role in this government in exactly the way that the Governor-General suggested that we should all behave.

There is no senator in this chamber that is under any illusion that this must be a parliament, and a term, of delivery. We are a second-term government, and we intend to start this term ready to deliver on our election agenda. We are not going to shy away from scrutiny. However, the people of Australia rightfully expect that we should be allowed to deliver the promises that we took to the election. I am glad to see that many of those opposite have already indicated that they intend to support us in doing exactly that.

The Turnbull government, of which I am privileged to be a member, stand ready to be judged on what we do and not on what we say. First and foremost, we have to address one of the great moral dilemmas of our time: intergenerational debt. As a generation, we are inflicting on our children and their children excesses of our own making. It is born of our own greed, and we must stop. We are racking up on the federal credit card a debt that we can only pass on to the next generation, if we do not do something about the continued spending that is occurring. Worse still, the ultimate outcome of continuing to spend more and more, year upon year, is eventually you will end up going broke. One day, we are going to wake up and realise that nobody is prepared to lend us any money anymore.

The government of which I am a member stand ready to address this situation through our commitment to responsible fiscal repair and strong and stable leadership. Our policies are all focused on strengthening the economic growth while reducing our spending growth. We need to make Australia more resilient to economic shocks. To achieve this, the Turnbull government have a plan and a detailed method of delivery. We are going to focus entirely on economic growth, both within Australia and in our export markets. Through our trade policy and initiatives, we intend to make sure that Australia is protected, because we are a very trade exposed nation. We are never going to get rich selling to ourselves, so our focus must always be on ensuring that we have adequate and lucrative export markets to which we can export our wonderful Australian produce.

The importance of this cannot be understated for our rural and regional communities—communities like the one that I come from. Some 67 per cent of our exports are generated in our rural and regional communities outside of our capital cities. For this reason, we cannot underestimate the importance of ensuring that we have trade arrangements in place that enable our farmers and our primary producers to sell their products, not just in Australia but at the lucrative prices that we can get in the emerging markets, particularly those that are immediately to our north. That is why the free trade arrangements that were negotiated under the previous government are so terribly important, and we must continue to make sure that these trade arrangements are negotiated in the best interests of Australian producers.

To that end, this government and the previous government of the 44th Parliament have been very focused on the development of agricultural policy. There is no doubt that Australia's competitive advantage in the international marketplace comes on the back of the fact that we are a clean, green and safe producer of primary produce. It is for that reason that we need to continue to maintain our competitive advantage. Our policy, the Agricultural competitiveness white paper, focuses very much on a number of initiatives which will deliver that security for our primary producers. We have a very strong focus on research and development and making sure that we continue to be the best producers in the world. We place a very high level of importance on biosecurity and making sure that we are able to continue to protect that clean, green, safe image. We all know that, with the high standards of living and compliance we have in Australia, we are never going to be the cheapest producers in the world, but we certainly can continue to be the best producers in the world.

We also, as part of our agricultural policy, are making sure that we have quick and adequate drought response. We acknowledge the change in climatic conditions that is occurring across Australia and we need, as an agricultural sector, to be ready to respond to this change. We need not only to ensure that we are planting the right crops in the right places but also to make sure that when our farmers go through times of great adversity not of their making we, as a government, are ready to stand by them to help them through some tough times.

Lastly, one of the major platforms of our agricultural policy and, more broadly, our government policy is the provision of infrastructure. We cannot possibly hope to get our farmers, our primary producers or our business sector to realise rewards and opportunities if we do not provide the infrastructure through which they can deliver them. We are very proud, in the agricultural space, of the amount of money that we are putting towards ensuring water security through our dams policies. More broadly, the Turnbull government believe that public infrastructure—economic infrastructure—is a very strong basis and platform on which we need to build the economic growth and prosperity of this country.

To do so we also need to be prepared to deal with issues like taxation reform. There is no doubt that everybody in this country would accept that everybody needs to pay their fair share of tax to make sure that we can continue to provide the level of public amenity that I think we have all become used to. Certainly, one of the areas in the 2016 budget that I think was a very positive one was the addressing of the importance of small business. We all know that every large business was once a small business. The government of which I am a member are very keen to make sure that we support all of our small businesses so that they can prosper and flourish and hopefully one day become medium businesses and large businesses or just successful small businesses in their own right. For that reason we increased the tax threshold for eligibility to qualify as a small business from $2 million to $10 million. We also undertook a number of other taxation measures in support of small businesses and their ongoing prosperity.

One of the other areas that is very, very important and is constantly of concern to the Australian public is the number of multinationals that seem to have the capacity to undertake tax avoidance and not pay the level of tax in Australia that we believe they should. For that reason the Treasurer was very clear about the importance of cracking down on multinational tax avoidance to make sure that everybody pays their fair share and that it is not just the little guy who gets to pay the majority, or the lion's share, of the taxation burden in Australia.

Another platform of the Turnbull government in this 45th Parliament is going to be breaking down the stifling hold of unions on our economy and our society. When I say 'unions', I do not mean every union. There are certainly some very responsible unions. But, if you have a look at the kind of activities that we have seen over the last little while with unions like the CFMEU and the unlawfulness on our building sites, I think every Australian has a right to expect better management and control over the part of our economy that employs over one million people and provides in excess of eight per cent of the gross domestic product of this country. You only have to look at the advertisement that is currently playing on television to realise the length and extent that some of our unions are prepared to go to protect their position. I do not believe anybody in Australia—whether they are a union, whether they are a business or whether they are an individual—should be above the law.

We saw during the election campaign the disgraceful hold on firefighters by their firefighting union in Victoria. We stand ready to support the volunteer firefighters in Victoria by making sure that we pass legislation to protect their interests and to make sure that their interests are not being stifled or quashed by a selfish union that is only interested in looking after its own members and not the safety of the community it is supposed to be protecting.

Another example that occurred during the election campaign was the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. We in the government were very pleased to be able to successfully abolish that tribunal, which once again was trying to destroy the mum-and-dad small businesses of the transport industry—owner-drivers. So I think that, if we were to bring back into this place the ABCC and registered organisations bills and introduce the emergency services volunteers bill, those bills, along with the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, would all go towards making sure that unions are held to account to the same level as everybody else in Australia is held to account.

Nothing can be as important as national security. Of course, Australians have taken for granted for many, many years that, when they go to bed at night, they will be safe. There was no greater example of that than last year's commemoration of the Anzac centenary and the commemoration of the Battle of Long Tan, amongst many other celebrations or commemorations that we have had this year and last year, which constantly remind us of the extent that those before us have gone to protect our safety.

It is for that reason that this government places a massive level of importance on national security. To that end, my home state of South Australia has been a great beneficiary of the new continuous naval shipbuilding program, including the $50 billion submarine program, which will directly sustain 1,100 jobs and an additional 1,700 jobs in the supply chain. In addition to that, there is the $35 billion frigate program. Both these programs provide not just national security benefits for the country but also long-term economic sustainability benefits for the country. Importantly, they underpin our education system by providing the opportunity and the reason for our education system to focus on educating our young people for the jobs of the future. A nearly $90 billion spend on shipbuilding provides a long-term opportunity for many young Australians who wish to undertake a career in this particularly high-tech industry and these very lucrative jobs. It is a whole-of-government, whole-of-economy initiative which will see Australia, and particularly my home state of South Australia, as great beneficiaries of a great and very important government program that is part of this government's agenda. It also fits in very well with the National Innovation and Science Agenda, which once again underpins the absolute necessity for Australia to continue to be the smartest, the most innovative and the most technologically advanced country in the world, because we are never going to be the cheapest.

We are also, as a government, very focused on the fact that we have not only a large population base in the city but eight million Australians that do not live in our capital cities. As I said before, 67 per cent of our export earnings are generated in rural and regional areas. To this end, the Turnbull government places a huge amount of emphasis on rural, regional and remote Australia. We have announced a $200 million Regional Jobs and Investment Package. We are certainly working towards reducing the number of mobile black spots, the development of northern Australia, one of the most underdeveloped areas of our country, and our $10 billion investment in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, all of which not only go towards ensuring that rural and regional Australia has the opportunity to have the same benefits and opportunities as our cousins in the city but because the economic and growth opportunities that exist in rural and regional Australia are so great.

Equally, the rollout of the NBN network has been focused to a much greater degree on rural and regional Australia. We saw the launching of the Sky Muster satellites so that people who otherwise would have had no capacity at all to get access to high-speed connectivity are now able to get access at a similar rate to many of those that live in less remote areas.

Can I say in conclusion that I can absolutely assure the parliament that their government always puts the customer first. When it comes to education, it is the children's interests that are primary. In our healthcare system, we focus on delivering the best outcomes for our patients. In agriculture, our policies strive to return better farm gate prices to our farmers.

However, the ability to continue to pay for these much-needed and justifiably expected services is the reason that we have placed budget repair at the front of our economic agenda for the 45th Parliament. I know budget repair is not a particularly sexy thing to put at the front of your agenda, but I can assure you that unless we do something about the continuing increase in the debt and the deficit, and unless we have got a strong budgetary position and have reserves in the bank so that we are able to be more resilient, we are not going to be in a position to stand in this place and talk about all the wonderful things that are on the government's agenda to support the Australian economy and to provide the things that the Australian public want and expect. There is no doubt that we live in a time of great global uncertainty, and we are never quite sure what is around the next corner.

We have certainly seen great unrest on the international front, but we have also seen political uncertainty, the uncertainty of decisions like Brexit. Australia need to make sure that we are prepared so that we are resilient when international shocks come our way. So I would call on those opposite and ask them to please support us in our endeavour as we undertake what we believe is the absolute responsibility of government—that is, to repair the budget and to put us on a sustainable path so that we can continue to afford all of the things that we take for granted in Australia.

We take for granted our high standards of living, and nobody is suggesting for a minute that we should not continue to have those high standards of living, but they come at a price in the budget. We also need to recognise that we marvel at the fact that we have world recognised levels of environmental protections in this country. Equally, they come at a price. We also need to be able to maintain our clean, our green and our safe image, which is our competitive advantage when it comes to exporting our primary produce to the rest of the world. The ability to do that comes at a price. Biosecurity is probably one of the most expensive things that a government needs to deliver.

We are absolutely and completely committed to getting our debt under control for the simple and primary reason that we can no longer continue to spend the money of our children and their grandchildren. No responsible economic manager, whether it be in a business or when you are dealing with your family, would. There is no way that anybody here, as a parent, would be spending money and racking up a debt which they expect their children or their grandchildren to pay. I believe governments should be exactly the same. We should spend within our means and we should never ever think that it is okay to pass on a debt for something that we have consumed in this time to a generation in the future.