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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 194

Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales) (12:31): I rise to contribute to this debate. It is always good to follow Senator Rhiannon when we talk about political donations. It is very interesting that $1.58 million, I believe, was donated by Wotif founder, Graeme Wood, to the Greens for the 2010 election. I wonder about the loyalties there.

The election we just had was about the ABCC, the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Who is voting against it? The Labor Party are and, of course, the Greens are. What is this policy that we want to introduce—which we went to a double dissolution on—about? It is about corruption in the building industry. Deloittes say it costs $6 billion a year through loss of production, rorting and overcharging, whether it be for private buildings or for public sector buildings like hospitals et cetera. Of course, the CFMEU vehemently oppose this. And who donates to the Greens and to the Labor Party? Madam Acting Deputy President Polley, you would be aware of how many hundreds of thousands of dollars the CFMEU have given to the Greens and to the Labor Party. That is just part of the contribution of some $100 million over the last 20 years from the union movement to the Australian Labor Party. We talk about political donations and influence. I wonder why the Greens so vehemently oppose cleaning up corruption in the building industry. Why is that? Do they condone the behaviour? Do they condone the $6 billion worth of rorts?

It was quite amazing to read in the Guardian that, in a recent interview with former Senator Bob Brown on the ABC's 7.30 program, former Senator Bob Brown 'intensified his attack on sitting NSW Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, accusing her of holding the party back, not hitting a chord with voters and introducing factionalism to the party'. Those are pretty powerful words from a former leader, aren't they, Madam Acting Deputy President? The article went on to say:

The power struggle between elements of the NSW party and the other states has long been a feature of internal Green politics but it is increasingly spilling into the public arena—this time ahead of a NSW preselection.

Brown said the NSW Greens party was a 'long term disappointment' which 'lags right behind' and had consistently opposed simple party reforms which the public expected.

'The incumbents in New South Wales—certainly that’s Lee in the Senate—have given great service, but are not hitting a chord with the voters at the moment and we need to move on,' he told the ABC’s 7.30 program.

That is what he told the ABC's 7.30 program.

Following on from Senator Back's comments here in relation to fires and the CFA, the dispute in Victoria and the union bullying by the Victorian government as we went to the federal election, I have said for years that the biggest problem we have with bushfires in Australia is actually controlling the vegetation, the fuel, in national parks. The Greens, with their great friends the National Parks Association, pursue this policy of locking up and leaving country. When it rains this leads to the fuel level getting higher and higher as the grass grows and then of course it gets struck with lightning and away it goes. We cannot control the heat—although some think we might—and we cannot control the wind, but, to a certain extent, we can control the level of fuel on the ground by allowing grazing and reducing the fuel. Once you get to five or 10 tonnes per hectare of fuel, on a 40 degree day with 50 kilometre winds the fire is uncontrollable—as we saw on Black Saturday, with all that country, a lot of it in national parks, burned and, sadly, with so many lives and houses lost. I remember seeing the story of one bloke who cleared the country around his house and his sheds. I think he faced a $50,000 fine under vegetation laws in Victoria. His house was the only house not burned down. The insurance company should have paid his fine, because they did not have to rebuild his house. He used a common-sense approach to reduce the fuel levels around his house and its surroundings and his house was saved—but, of course, it is wrong to disturb the native vegetation, according to some of the greenies and their policies.

I will go back to the Governor-General's speech yesterday. I am glad the election is over. It was a filthy election campaign. Madam Acting Deputy President, you would have heard things like, 'The coalition government is going to privatise Medicare.' What a load of rot!

Senator Rhiannon: You would if you could.

Senator WILLIAMS: I will take the interjection, Senator Rhiannon. How are you going to privatise a business—that is, Medicare—that earns $10 billion a year and spends $20 billion a year? Who is going to be the foolish investor that would buy that company? Perhaps the Greens would be foolish enough to buy it. It would be like having a coffee business that collects $10,000 a week in business and spends $20,000 a week. Who is going to buy that? It was just a political scare campaign.

But it got worse as you went north in New South Wales to the seat of New England, where former member Tony Windsor came out of retirement to take on the agriculture minister and Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce. We had the CFMEU, the MUA, the nurses union, the Teachers Federation—all the unions. We had GetUp! All the lefties lined up behind Mr Windsor, putting in their resources and manning the booths. They came from everywhere. I was even speaking to a bloke from Canberra who travelled up to Tamworth to hand out in a pre-poll. The left-wing alignment had a big orchestrated campaign to oust Minister Barnaby Joyce. Of course, it did not happen. The result was almost 60-40 two-party preferred. It was an outstanding win for Minister Joyce, and he deserved it, because he works hard and he has good policies. But it was a grubby campaign, the grubbiest I have seen—tearing down corflutes, removing corflutes, putting paintwork on corflutes and signs. It was just disgusting and it was getting worse.

From the Governor-General's words yesterday, there is certainly a lot to be very optimistic about. I refer to agricultural industries. We have record beef prices. In fact, they are so high I am getting very worried they might be too high in some regards. If they become too high, our processors would find it very hard to compete overseas. They would probably lose money. I have been around long enough to know what happens when markets get too high—we often have a crash. I hope that does not happen to the beef industry. The lamb industry is looking brilliant, with good demand even though sheep numbers are down. Lamb prices and mutton prices are very good. There are record prices for chickpeas. The cotton industry is doing very well. The wool industry is going great. There are certain concerns in relation to the grain industry, and of course the dairy industry is having a very tough time. I am pleased that the ACCC is having a good look at that industry and at some of the contracts that the milk producers have had to face. I does make it tough when the world price of milk products falls. We produce around nine billion litres of milk a year in Australia and we consume around 4½ billion litres, so about half our milk production relies on the world price and the Australian dollar. It is good to see that the situation is improving. Milk powder, having dropped to around $1,500 a tonne, is now back up to $2,300 a tonne. It had been over $5,000 a tonne. In tough times it is good to see that Minister Joyce and the government are out there supporting dairy farmers and giving them all the help they can.

Manufacturing has been a tough industry in Australia. Can I say proudly that we have a company in Inverell, where I live now, called Boss Engineering. Seven years ago when they kicked off they employed seven people. They build air seeders, tillage machinery. They now employ 90 people, so they have gone from seven employees to 90 employees in seven years. They build a great product—I would say the best in the world. They have a great future. If we can do it with agricultural machinery, we can do it with other things.

The big discussion at the moment is the backpackers tax. I said in my maiden speech in this place on 15 September 2008 that some of our unemployed needed a touch on the backside with a cattle prod to get them off their backside to go and get a job. I stand by that. We have some 735,000 people unemployed, but they cannot pick our fruit and they cannot work in our abattoirs. We are relying on backpackers to do that work. What is wrong? When I was a young fellow, it was an absolute shame to be unemployed. That is why I picked up a handpiece and learnt to shear sheep. Once I could shear sheep, I was never out of a job—never. I was shearing during the shearing season and crutching during the autumn season et cetera.

We have a problem with labour, with people doing basic work. It might not be the highest paid job in the world, but it is an important job to pick our fruit, to get our harvest done, to actually feed people—and much of the product is exported. But, with 735,000 people unemployed, we cannot do it; we are relying on backpackers. I think the backpackers tax should be reduced to a 15 per cent flat rate. I think 32½ per cent is far too high. Sadly, so many businesses rely on backpackers to come and do that important work when it needs to be done, at harvest time especially. The government is reviewing this, and, no doubt, I hope, it will be sorted out very soon.

As far as the debt goes, are we just going to be a selfish generation? Are we just going to borrow and borrow and borrow each and every day, build government debt and make our children and grandchildren pay for it? All senators in this chamber, when it comes to budget savings, must think about the future generations of Australians. Look what our forebears did for us—built the nation, fought the wars, developed a great country. We need to preserve that for future generations. But, of course, politics will be played. In the last parliament we saw the Labor Party propose some $5 billion of savings in their budget, and then they oppose their own savings in here, just to play politics, to add more debt, to add more to the interest bill. That is bad policy. My greatest concern is the debt we are growing up—now some $435 billion of gross debt and growing. We cannot touch the Future Fund. We cannot demand that the $25 billion or so of HECS-HELP fees be paid up tomorrow. That cannot happen. I think we all have to take a bit of pain.

Under the proposed superannuation changes, I am going to be paying about $9,000 extra a year. I do not have a lot of super. I came into this place eight years ago with virtually no super and I will be retiring in three years time—I have made no secret of that. I am here for a three-year term and then I am off to spend some time with my wife, my children and my grandchildren. I am looking forward to my fourth grandchild being born in early October. The due date is 4 October; it might be a bit earlier. Becky, all the best to you and your husband, Pat, for the safe arrival of your second child.

I will wind up, because in the matter of a minute or so we will move on to senators statements, and you have a very interesting speaker first up, Madam Acting Deputy President.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator O'Neill ): I noted that you will be called very promptly, Senator Williams.

Senator WILLIAMS: In this parliament, let us hope that we work together to see that we get the budget in order, that we get our businesses growing, that we get jobs out there and that we get exports growing. We do rely a lot on exports in this country, especially agriculture. It is good to see the agricultural industry looking good and the future looking very bright.

I am worried about the grain industry: $205 a tonne for wheat is a very disappointing price. I remember back in 2002 that it was $330 a tonne, and it is now back to $205 a tonne. I wonder if any workers out there were working on $330 a day back in those days and are on $200 a day now, but that is what the wheat growers are facing. There are some tough times with oversupply around the world. I hope they hang in there and look after their industries well and market the wheat well. I would be very happy if the Australian dollar fell another 5c or 6c and went back to 70c.

But the future is looking good. I do hope that everyone in the Senate makes a good contribution to the future of our nation in this upcoming 45th Parliament.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you very much for your contribution, Senator Williams.