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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2193

Mr KATTER (1:17 PM) —I rise to speak in the debate on the Tax Laws Amendment (2010 Measures No. 4) Bill 2010. The Daily Telegraph features on the front page, as well as on two other pages, articles on ‘Selling the farm’. I am very familiar with the dairy industry. All five of the processors were Australian owned, prior to deregulation. Now only one of the five is Australian owned. I would say that, probably by Christmas—most certainly in the new year—two-thirds, maybe three-quarters, of the Australian sugar industry will be in foreign hands. Prior to deregulation the sugar industry was entirely owned by Australian corporations and Australian farmers. Here we have the sale of a large number of water rights—‘Murray-Darling water licences sold in 2008-09; $55 million worth of water rights are being sold’—in other words, Australian farmland on a massive scale is being sold as we talk at present. Forty per cent, arguably over 50 per cent, of our meat-processing industry was entirely Australian owned until about 20 years ago.

It amazes me that very few people in this parliament seem to appreciate that we actually have a trade surplus, which is quite remarkable because we have hardly ever had a trade surplus in the last 20 or 30 years since Mr Keating started this ridiculous marketism, which is fine if someone else in the world is doing it. But since nobody else is, it is the act of an imbecile. It was undertaken by the Keating government and then carried on by the Liberal-National Party government and is, again, being continued on by the current ALP government.

With respect to the burning question of minerals, all six of our major mining companies—and I personally come out of the mining industry, not out of the cattle industry—were Australian owned: Normandy, North, BHP, Western Mining Corporation and Mount Isa Mines. Now they are all foreign owned. They account for about 80 per cent of Australia’s entire mineral production.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms S Bird)—Can I just ask the member for Kennedy to hold for a moment; I have waited a few minutes. Can you help me out by indicating how this links to the tax bill before the House.

Mr KATTER —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Today it is being made easier for people to sell their water rights in the main to the government. But one of the catchy pieces in this bill—and the minister can clarify it—is that it also makes it easier for foreign people to take that water. The most important aspect of this is that if the government buys—as it intends to and as the opposition intend to, if they go in there—15 per cent of Australia’s agricultural production, but four or five farms close down, as happened with our dairy factory, then the dairy factory will no longer be viable. There is not enough rice going through the rice factory, there is not enough cotton going through the cotton gin and there is not enough beef going through the meatworks to keep it open. So they close down. Then your cost structures become much higher because you have to send the product a lot further away because your local sugar mill has closed down.

The facilitating of the sale of the Murray-Darling water rights is further fuelling this movement. Farmers are going broke and they have no alternative but to sell. They do not want to sell, but they are watching five and six generations of their families going up in smoke. If you cannot make a quid you have to sell. That goes for water rights or anything else. What we are saying to you is: you do not realise that when you make these decisions you are putting another nail in the coffin of your country. We will just be a land of serfs working for foreign landlords. If the labour market is again deregulated we will be increasingly working for nothing.

If you cannot see that your dairy industry—the biggest of your agricultural industries—is now foreign owned, if you cannot see that your 15th biggest export item, sugar, is now foreign owned, that 66 per cent of your entire nation’s earnings are coming from your mining companies and 80 per cent of that is now foreign owned, and you are still doing nothing about it, and you are leaving Woolworths and Coles out there to screw the farmers down further, then they will sell off more and more and more. It will not only be their water licences but they will be selling their land and anything else that they can sell. This is the farming sector as well as other sectors of our economy.

Today I will, once again, be a minority of one, or two or three, but people in latter years will say, ‘Wasn’t he right?’ and ‘Who sat in this parliament and let the entire nation be sold off? Who did it?’ Did galahs out in Gunnedah do it; did they?

Mr Zappia interjecting

Mr KATTER —You are doing it and you are most certainly continuing on exactly the same as your predecessors. Do you want to take any bets on whether the sugar applications for sale will be knocked back? Do you want to take a bet for a thousand bucks down on the table tomorrow? I would willingly part with it if I knew I could retain ownership in Australia of these assets.

To some degree you cannot maintain an asset if it is going broke. I have said again, again and again in this place that it is impossible for our farmers. They have to sell their water rights because they cannot make any money out of farming. Why can’t they? Because the only country without subsidies or tariffs in agriculture is Australia. Get your latest OECD report out—39 per cent OECD subsidy tariff level—and the subsidy tariff level in Australia is four per cent. If you think our farmers can run a 100-metre race and give their competitors a 30-metre start you do not know much about farming or any other damn thing in the competitive and economic world that is out there.

I most certainly feel very, very strongly in opposition to this bill. If the House does not divide in the vote on this bill I would like my opposition to be registered on it because I see it as another nail in the coffin of agriculture in Australia. Not only has this parliament sat idly by and watched this nation’s great assets, which were built up by our forebears, being flogged off overseas but they have watched agriculture sink to a point where within five years the nation will not be able to feed itself. Isn’t that something to be proud of as a nation—that we cannot even feed ourselves! I disagreed with the report last week that said that that is the situation now. I do not think it is. But within five years there is absolutely no doubt that it will be. That is what we have fallen to in Australia.

I have not done the figures recently and I do not know if the figures are available. Within two years of the dairy industry deregulation, arguably three years, this nation went to a farmer committing suicide every four days in this country. This is something for this parliament to be proud of! I am not. I am ashamed to have my name associated with this parliament over a period of 16 years. We sold off the farm. We sold off our mining industry. We closed down our manufacturing industry. We have oppressed our farmers to a point where one of them decided that it was better not to live in this world at all. The Australia that you have created is such a horrific place for farmers that one of them thought that he would be better out of it, and he exited in the most terrible way possible.

I conclude by saying that we are burying so many now in North Queensland. As the coffin is going down we play that magnificent and beautiful song written by our northern son, Graeme Connors. The song, which was sung at the Opera House to commemorate 200 years of Australia, is Let the cane fields burn and says:

Well let the cane fields burn

Let the flames rise

Let the politicians and the bankers in the city look up

In wonder at the glow in the skies

Let the cane fields burn—

as the bloke incinerates himself in the middle of his cane fields. I know two people who have done that.