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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 769


Dr McVEIGH (Groom) (17:23): I rise to make a contribution to the debate on this Agriculture and Water Resources Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, and I do so with a great deal of pride. It simply presents a range of amendments to legislation to, most importantly, in the interests of agriculture and rural Australia, reduce red tape and regulation—to simply make the legislation more improved and clearer for those who need to understand—and repealing various redundant acts is a very common sense thing to do. I applaud the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, our Deputy Prime Minister, for doing so.

At the outset I certainly note and, in some ways, understand some of the comments from the member for Hunter but was somewhat puzzled by his comments on decentralisation. As a regional member of this House, as the member for Groom, and from the significant regional centre of Toowoomba, my home town, I very much endorse the Deputy Prime Minister's recent encouragement for decentralisation in this great country and encouragement for people to consider their future in the regions.

In relation to specific comments made about the APVMA advisory board, I am advised that costs of that board were over $200,000 annually—and yet it had no decision-making powers. The APVMA, National Farmers Federation, CropLife and Animal Medicines Australia support the decision to disband the board. So it is a common sense move in line with industry requirements. It is most important to remember that industry pays the costs of what is a cost-recovery agency.

In terms of encouraging people to consider decentralisation—and I note, again, the member for Hunter made specific comments on the moves of the Deputy Prime Minister, in this regard—I say simply: what is wrong with a regional location? What is wrong with Armidale? What is wrong with places like Toowoomba? I welcome the fact that some elements of the Grains Research and Development Corporation have recently been relocated there.

Most R&D corporations are simply not required to table their annual reports in parliament. Moves in this bill simply bring into line all of those R&D corporations and like bodies. The requirement for them to publish annual reports on their websites, in fact, will make that information more available to Australians, particularly to rural Australians.

If I come back to the intent of this bill, I would state at the outset that I have very strong and significant confidence in the Deputy Prime Minister—as was referred to by the member for Hunter. Yes, I had the great honour, in a former role, of being a member of a standing committee of primary industries in this country, along with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, and know full well that the process will not only continue proper consultation between the Commonwealth and the states but also will do so in a very practical way.

As a person who had former responsibility for agriculture, fisheries and forestry in the great state of Queensland, I am particularly impressed that this bill has a simple but significant impact on agriculture, fisheries and forestry. The streamlining of administration in fisheries, for example, and common sense moves to streamline other bureaucratic requirements have a direct benefit for those involved in honey exports and meat by-product exports. That is common sense stuff, and it reminds me that it is in line with very significant achievements of this government in the area of agriculture, fisheries and forestry.

I could speak at great length on concessional loans, for example, that our Deputy Prime Minister has built and designed in cooperation with industry—be it in the dairy industry or in those affected by drought across our country—and has seen fit to ensure that they continue to be fine-tuned and updated for industry requirements. The member for Hunter also referred to biosecurity as an important area, and I could not agree with him more. As a member of the government I am very proud of the moves in biosecurity under the agriculture white paper, released by the Deputy Prime Minister, and under agreements that are underway right across the country to the benefit of agriculture in every state and region.

The Agricultural competitiveness white paper itself is a significant step forward for our country, as is the White paper on developing northern Australia, which has so much potential for the north and, through their prosperity, every other region of Australia—certainly every agribusiness value chain that extends here and overseas. More recently, moves such as the working holiday maker visa review—the backpacker tax—have improved the lot of not only workers, visitors and tourists but, most importantly, farmers and rural producers through our country. I am proud of the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister speaks at length quite regularly on the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund and water reform in general, which means so much for sustainability and productivity for irrigators and others going forward.

I am most proud of the trade agreement in relation to Korea, the continuing agreement between Australia and Japan and the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement secured by this government. Those trade agreements facilitate development right across our country, and nowhere more so, I can suggest, than in my electorate of Groom. We have had a range of activities and infrastructure developments on the Darling Downs in Groom and around Toowoomba that draw on supply chains—value chains—in beef, horticulture, grain and so many other agricultural industries not only throughout Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales but along the entire eastern seaboard and, in some industries, further afield as well.

To have suggestions lately from some commentators that we should be more protectionist in relation to our trade policies in this country would thwart those opportunities not only for the Groom residents, businesses, agribusinesses, workers and families in our electorate but right throughout our country. Such commentary, such opposition, such neglect, in not recognising the benefit of these trade agreements and the efforts of our trade minister, our government and those in relation to agribusiness and other industries, goes against history and goes against the experience of our industries in this country. I will provide a couple of quick examples from my own electorate from the region of southern Queensland.

Every member of this House would be aware of the benefits of the wool trade at the beginning of the last century and of how, as the old saying suggested, our country rode on the sheep's back. In my part of the world, the railway station in Toowoomba was a very significant freight hub for the wool industry, particularly out of south-west Queensland, before that produce was consolidated for shipment down to the wharves in Brisbane and then on to countries overseas. It was significant trade in the beginning part of the last century.

I can share with you, through the Queensland Butter Marketing Board, that in the middle part of last century the butter industry sourced a tremendous amount of product from the Darling Downs. That significant export trade income, which, interestingly enough, in those days, it went straight into Europe out of the Darling Downs and elsewhere, helped develop so many villages and towns across the Darling Downs. I could talk about the butter works, those butter co-ops, that were in place in numerous villages in my own electorate and that helped build those local communities.

In the latter part of last century, we saw significant development in grain trading overseas. Although the Queensland Barley Marketing Board and the State Wheat Board were government instrumentalities that are not typical of agribusiness trade nowadays, they developed our regions, developed infrastructure and, most importantly, developed relationships with the Middle East and throughout Asia, as well as Europe. Now, through our own Wellcamp Airport, we are seeing significant development of new trade: Story Fresh, a horticulture operation just south of Toowoomba; Stahmann Farms, who publicly acknowledge our trade deals are supporting their export trade of various nuts such as pecan nuts et cetera; Oakey Beef Exports, shipping product direct out of our new airport straight into Hong Kong for consumption the following day in those markets; and Kialla organic grains. They are enjoying markets that we would not be able to do if we had maintained a protectionist policy, which in my part of the world does not exist now and did not exist in the latter part, the middle part or even the early part of last century, as my examples explain.

In making common sense amendments and updates in relation to some export industries and the reduction of bureaucratic impact on our important agricultural industries, this bill does mean so much, as simple as many of the amendments and updates may be. Under his leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister, I am looking forward to continuing research and development in agriculture and continuing agricultural education across the country and to continuing to support those when necessary, such as in times of drought and even flood. With those comments, I certainly commend this common sense bill as being in line with the government's significant and continuing achievements for agriculture, fisheries and forestry for our entire nation.