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Tuesday, 28 May 2013
Page: 4184


Dr STONE (Murray) (19:16): It is no wonder that the previous speaker representing the Labor government focused on state government issues, because it is just too painful to look at what the federal budget speech from the Treasurer, Mr Swan, delivered to us. We, of course, are aware of the parlous state of the economy in Australia. No-one who is living in this country thinks of the era that we are now in as anything but a budget emergency. Let us look at some of the incredible statistics.

Total gross debt will breach the $300 billion debt ceiling within the forward estimates. We are now living with Labor's fifth record deficit in five years and at least two more deficits to come. We have record net debt of $192 billion, and there is no credible path back to surplus—except, I suggest, having a change of government on 14 September. There have been so many broken promises, such as scrapped tax cuts and family payments. Most recently, we have been told that the baby bonus is gone. Very sadly, people who know how important it is to have private health insurance are finding it more and more unaffordable. There have been nonsense programs such as set-top boxes, pink batts, cash-for-clunkers and grocery watch—they go on and on. Some day someone is going to write a book about all of this and no one will believe it; they will think it is a comedy. But it is not a comedy. It is not funny when you look at what is happening on the ground and what is behind the statistics.

I will give just one example of the impacts of the carbon tax, which this government imposed in a flight of fancy while imagining that somehow enough new tax can be put into the system to make the climate magically cease its evolution. For example, those doing the heavy lifting in the economy by employing people and trying to generate production for export and for the domestic market are faced with incredible increases in electricity and gas bills.

I have in front of me a bill of 31 August 2012 for a two-month period from Mulcahy Pastoral, one of the biggest dairy producers in the northern Victorian region. This is just one of their electricity bills; they have a number of them depending on which part of their enterprise is being billed. Their electricity charge for two months was $7,069.97. On top of that came a carbon charge, which is itemised on their bill, of $1,142.48. So that is $7,000 plus another $1,000 for the carbon charge. Then, tragically, GST is levied on top of the combined charges. GST amounted to $821.24. Mulcahy Pastoral's bill therefore went from $7,000 to $9,000. There is no productivity advantage when the additional nearly $2,000, which went straight to the government as a carbon charge, is taken into account. Electricity bills such as this bring Mulcahy Pastoral ever closer to not being sustainable despite the incredible heavy lifting they do in employing scores of workers generating an excellent product benchmarked as world's best practice.

Think if you were a contractor to SPC Ardmona and you had just been told that, due to the costs which are now imposed on food manufacture—in this case, preserved fruits and vegetables—the costs, combined with the high Australian dollar, renders them unable to compete with imported rubbish, often product which has not been properly scrutinised at the border because this government has slashed and burned quarantine checking. Biosecurity is now on its knees as an agency. We know that every day we are facing real threats with food safety, as Coles and Woolworths delightedly import some of the biggest volumes ever seen of imported preserved fruit and things like tomatoes. They fill their generic labels with these products. The labelling laws in Australia are such that the discerning shopper has great difficulty working out exactly the source of the product in cans or in plastic squeezy tubes, in glass jars or in plastic packs.

Put all of that together and what did SPC Ardmona recently have to do? They had to tell the 114 orchardist suppliers that about half of them would have no contracts next year for supplying fruit and the other half would be able to supply only 50 per cent or less of the fruit they had previously been under contract to provide. This is stunning fruit—pears, apricots, peaches, all beautiful product. Some of the pear trees have been bearing for more than 70 years in the Goulburn Valley. In fact, the Goulburn Valley produces more than 85 per cent of Australia's pears.

While SPC Ardmona in the Goulburn Valley said no to its fruit suppliers, there has also been a rebounding impact on the packers, pickers and pruners of that product, on the transport operators who once took all that product to market and on the workers in their factory. SPC Ardmona in the Goulburn Valley had 870 full-time equivalent staff. Their salaries and wages in one year alone were $63 million alone, which went into the local economy. They provided apprenticeships and training programs year after year, giving experience to young people, and they had graduate student programs. The multiplier effect is that more than 2,700 jobs in the Goulburn Valley region alone will be affected. More than 150,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables worth more than $32 million each year was taken from local contracted growers. All of that now is history because this government has basically turned its back on the manufacturing sector in Australia and in particular on food manufacturing.

Imagine what the SPC Ardmona and fruit-growing sector thought as they saw the federal government scrambling to put millions of dollars into the very tragic announcement that the Ford Motor Company would basically be shutting up shop in a couple of years time. We have not yet heard a squeak of support for the Goulburn Valley or the Murray Valley for this magnificent food industry, which is now on its knees.

On 30 April, an application was made to this federal government for emergency safeguard action, which is completely lawful under the World Trade Organisation rules. This measure would have put a temporary, 200-day set of duties on the imported product—on tomatoes from Italy, on peaches from China and South Africa—and would have given this company and its growers and the growers' workers a 200-day, emergency breathing space, so that Coles and Woolworths were made to wake up, to look again at the prospects of having to buy local produce instead of cheap, junk imports. We suspect many of those imports are dumped.

What has happened to that application for emergency WTO safeguard action in the 28 days since it was launched with this federal government? You tell me. We do not know what has happened to that action. It was moved on fairly promptly from Senator Ludwig, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. We understand he gave it his support, his prima facie approval, saying that it looks like a reasonable application. It is now sitting with the Minister for Trade. It has been sitting for 28 days going on 29 days tomorrow. I have to ask: is it because they are not an automotive industry based in Geelong and Broadmeadows? Is that the problem? Is it because this government just does not understand agriculture and food processing in particular and the enormous multiplier impact that food processing has on other jobs generated and on other value generated in both the domestic and export market?

SPC Ardmona used to export 30 per cent of its product. Unfortunately, that is down to zero next year. Those export dollars used to circulate around the Australian economy and leaven so many other associated industries like packaging, marketing and promotional industries. Now they are simply staring down the barrel of being wiped out by cheap imports, and this government is sitting on its hands.

There is also a biosecurity problem looming with the lack of action from the federal government, and, I have to say, also from the state government of Victoria at this time. There are 700 hectares of beautiful orchards that have to either be pushed over in the next few months or they need to be actively sprayed to make sure that they do not develop fruit fly, codling moth, a whole range of pest species and diseases, which the vigilance of local orchardists keep at bay. But if these trees no longer have any commercial fruit and the fruit they produce will be left on the ground then these orchardists do not have the resources to keep the trees sprayed. The cost of pushing those trees over is not insignificant—some $3,000 to $5,000 per hectare depending on the age and size of the trees. So we are begging the state and federal governments to support these orchardists in keeping the disease-free state of these orchards intact so that pest species do not spread to the fresh fruit market orchards, which of course are in the same region. It seems a very reasonable and sensible thing to do but, again, we are waiting for some response. There is just deafening silence on this critical matter.

As we speak, SPC Ardmona is in the process of preparing an anti-dumping action in the first instance against the Italian tomato imports and then against South African peaches and preserved fruit and then against the Chinese preserved fruit. New Zealand has recently very successfully yet again rolled over its anti-dumping action against Chinese preserved peaches. It is the same product that is destroying the Australian market. So we should expect, if given a fair hearing, that those anti-dumping actions would be successful. The trouble is they need to happen quickly. They need to be brought into place before too many of these orchards are already bulldozed.

I was so saddened as I drove around the Murray Valley a weekend ago and saw the huge mounds of pushed over what were magnificent fruit trees mounded up ready for burning. Those trees could have fed the world. They could have been used for some of our food aid. Our Australian food aid now is purchased from the cheapest supplier anyone can find anywhere. Speaking to representatives of some of the ethnic groups from the Myanmar or Burma just last night, I was deeply concerned to hear that they continue to be malnourished and in great need of food aid themselves. Yet Australia very proudly bought broken rice from Myanmar for its food aid to be sent somewhere else in the very recent past. I have been given the rice sacks with the big Australian kangaroo and with 'Gift from Australian AusAID' printed on them and then in slightly smaller print, not much smaller, 'This is broken rice from Myanmar.' How disgraceful, how shocking. Meanwhile there were hundreds in fact thousands of tonnes of fruit lying in the on the ground in the Goulburn Valley going to waste.

I beg this government to look harder at how it supports the manufacturing industries that have been destroyed by its policies. Let me talk about the Labor failures in relation to agriculture. There has been $32.8 million taken from agriculture in recent times. They are under extremely strained resource deficits.

Labor have reduced the funding for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, from $3.8 billion to $1.7 billion, driven, of course, by the Greens, who do not see any value in Australian agriculture. They see farmers as the enemy of the people, it would seem. Then we have $33.4 million taken and cut from the cooperative research centres, which means fewer CRCs are funded each year. As most of them are agriculturally based, there is less funding for agricultural research just at the time we have to look at alternative crops and we have to look at how to grow agricultural crops in places where climates are changing. We have cuts in cargo-screening resources at ports and airports by $58.1 million, resulting in 4.7 million fewer air cargo consignments being inspected each year and 2,150 fewer vessels being boarded on arrival. That is the food security and food safety concerns that I was expressing before. We have cuts of $63 million from agriculture research within the CSIRO. They have closed CSIRO agricultural research sites in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. Some of those sites had been in action for more than three or four decades. All that research is now lost. No other country in the world that pretends to be a food-producing nation would do this sort of thing. We just cannot wait until 14 September but let us hope that is not too late for some of our great agricultural industries. (Time expired)