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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 4643

Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (12:36): It is important to talk about an issue that pertains to prime agricultural land. I recognise that there is support on this issue, but the National Party went in to bat for the particular issue of the protection of prime agricultural land. Prime agricultural land, as you well know, is vitally important for our capacity as a nation to feed ourselves. On the hierarchy of needs, it is at the very top. Prime agricultural land is more important than mining, because we as a nation have a duty to feed not only our people but others throughout the world, especially as the global food task—which my good friend and colleague Senator Heffernan is always talking about—increases as population increases. We have to make sure that we have the capacity to utilise our prime agricultural land. When talking about prime agricultural land, which this amendment discusses, I think it is important to state that some misconceptions have been put out there, none better than a statement by the minister in Queensland, Ms Nolan, who has stated that farmers never had any rights over their land. That is totally and utterly factually incorrect. Certainly, the Crown had the right of prospecting on your land and, right back to Magna Carta, had the rights to gold and silver on your land. But it did not have the rights to the coal, oil or petroleum on your land as far as mining went. Those rights were taken over in Queensland in the 1915 act for petroleum and gas, for security of those rights in World War I. It is almost 100 years ago, but certainly not hundreds of years ago, and it is certainly not something that was there in perpetuity. In Victoria, as I am sure Senator Feeney is aware, it was the threat of World War II that led to security for that asset—they started pilfering it off the farmers at that point in time. Then, going all the way through to 1981, it was at that point in time that the adroit Neville Wran managed to pilfer the rest of the farmers' rights. So it is factually incorrect to say that the farmers did not actually have a property right. They did, but it was taken from them.

It is because they lack property rights that we now see the immense discrepancies and the absurdity that farmers get less than 0.75c for every $1,000 the mining company earns. I do not think that is a reflection of a fair bargaining position. I am certain that Senator Feeney and others on the other side have a clear understanding of how bargaining positions go for workers—when you are getting a fair deal and when you are not—and I imagine that there may therefore be some sympathy from over there for the fact that the farmers are not getting a fair deal.

Also, regarding the carbon sink legislation, if we lose our prime agricultural land to forests rather than mining it, is not going to be much use to us unless we intend to evolve to a higher form of termite! The idea that we will all somehow live happily ever after in an economic upland with forests kept in perpetuity rather than ones you can cut down is wrong. It will send the towns and their economies into privation. At the same time we will have absconded from our moral duty to feed other people. That is a duty we have. One might recognise that the rice industry in Australia has the capacity to feed up to 60 million people. That is quite substantial. It seems peculiar that in some of our legislation we might want to shut it down. Do we think it is not morally correct to feed people? Do we think there is something that presupposes that having scrub is more morally right than feeding people who are hungry? I think that the highest duty you have is to feed your people. I am sure my colleague Senator Brandis will agree with me on that one. No doubt he has come in here because he thinks I am an extremely loquacious speaker—

Senator Brandis: I think you are an extremely eloquent speaker, Senator Joyce, and an adornment to the Senate.

Senator JOYCE: Thank you. I have always thought so myself!

So on this issue the National Party does have an extremely strong interest. It was one of those times where the National Party crossed the floor—the lot of us, on carbon sink legislation.

Now there is an interesting thing we should talk about. We have the carbon tax legislation coming up. One of the greatest rights you have in this place as a represent¬≠ative of the people, first and foremost—there is no mention of a political party in the Constitution; it is your representation of the people—is that if you believe something to be truly right you can vote on that accordingly. You have the right to walk from one section to another in this chamber and in the other place. It is a fundamental right that you should have. I believe strongly that, behind the rhetoric, there are people in the Australian Labor Party and maybe the Greens—or maybe not—who fundamentally do not believe in a carbon tax. It is wrong that in the year of our Lord 2011 we still have this kind of medieval approach of bullying people so that on key issues they cannot exercise their vote in the way they see fit. And this is a key issue; it is a big one. No-one can arrest you or assault you because of it. But it is wrong. We talk about the modern position with the internet the way it is and we talk about all the other liberties that people want and their view on them. We are allowed to discuss same-sex marriage but we are not allowed to discuss the liberty of being able to vote the way you want to on an issue. But you should be able to do that.

It is absurd that some person you have never in your life met and who was never elected to office can instigate a process of extracting you from this parliament by disendorsement or basically bullying you out of the joint. That is wrong. It should not be happening these days, and I think the Australian people are more and more becoming a wake-up to this. They will watch the carbon tax debate evolve and they will be asking their local representative to represent them first and foremost above and beyond allegiances to any other body. That is their right; it is what they should be entitled to do. Every person will be answerable for the way they vote, because it takes only one vote in the other place to stop the carbon tax. So any one of the people in the lower house actually has the balance of power. They have the capacity to make a major change for our nation. All they have to do is move the 10 feet or 10 metres from one side to the other. The right to take that walk should be absolutely ingrained. It should be your fundamental right.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Marshall ): Senator Joyce, I think I have been fairly tolerant, but I do remind you of the question before the chair, which is an amendment to the legislation.

Senator JOYCE: I think I should reflect on your tolerance. You have been a very tolerant person. I understand.

Senator Feeney: You need to spend more time with him!

Senator JOYCE: We need to get to know one another better! But it is very important that on prime agricultural land we reflect the intention of what that is about. It is not all the land in Australia; it is merely a footprint of maybe three to four per cent of our nation. That leaves you 96 per cent to knock yourself out with. That prime agricultural land should be protected and the rights of the farmer should be protected. The capacity of Australia to feed itself and feed others is a moral obligation we hold. If we destroy primary agricultural land you cannot get it back in the future. God has not been around for the last couple of weeks. Whatever is there is all you are going to get, forever. There is no more. That is as good as it is going to get. Anyway, I think we should be considering that.

Progress reported.