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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1902


Ms KEAY (Braddon) (19:26): I rise to speak in support of the member for Hunter's second reading amendment to the Imported Food Control Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2017. It is with no joy that I support this amendment. I would like to thank members on this side of the House, the Labor members, who have spoken, sadly, on the very poor record of this government when it comes to agriculture, particularly for regional communities like mine. I always knew when I came to this place that the Liberals were never serious about supporting regional Australia, but I had hoped that those agrarian socialists in the National Party would be different. Sadly, I have been very disappointed. In many regions of my state of Tasmania, the Liberals and Nationals have overseen many policy failures in the agricultural sector. Since the departure of the member for New England from the agriculture portfolio, the number of farmers who have come up to me and said that he would have to be the worst agriculture minister in their recollection is quite startling. I will go through some of those policy failures, because they have hit regional Tasmania, which is most of the state, extremely hard.

In May 2016, dairy farmers were hit with a clawback practice by Murray Goulburn and Fonterra. This triggered an Australian dairy crisis. These retrospective price step-downs left farmers who were supplying Murray Goulburn and Fonterra devastated. In my electorate, the devastation was there to be seen. Farmers were forced to lay off workers, make difficult financial decisions and, in many cases, work days and weeks on end just to survive. This government had the chance to help farmers but refused to join Labor in calling upon the board of Murray Goulburn to deviate from their profit-sharing mechanism and return more money to farmers by way of a higher farm gate price. Instead, farmers had to wait 12 months for an investigation to come to a conclusion. The investigation reached the conclusion that Murray Goulburn had done the wrong thing, and now there is a belated prosecution of Murray Goulburn.

The government offered farmers concessional loans, saddling them with more debt at a time when most could not afford to take it on. Those farmers who did try and access concessional loans were tied up in knots by bureaucratic delays and paperwork. Many had to wait weeks and months for any form of assistance. I will take this time to note that I wrote to the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture, the member for New England, inviting him to my electorate to speak to my dairy farmers—no strings attached. It wasn't to be political. They were actually crying out for him to come and speak with them at the height of this crisis. He wrote back to me and completely ignored my invitation. Not one word of 'Sorry, I can't come' or 'I'll come another time.' There was absolutely no mention of that offer. Then I found out from a farmer that the Liberal Party of Tasmania will not allow any member of the National Party into the state. I've extended that same invitation to the new minister for agriculture, the member for Maranoa, and I really do hope that he can buck that trend of the Liberal Party and say, 'I'm going to come to Tasmania and see what is actually happening,' because there's a lot going on. Biosecurity is one thing that I will talk about. It's absolutely devastating for my electorate and for my farmers, and this government has done nothing to make it a priority.

Debate interrupted.