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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2025


Ms KEAY (Braddon) (12:02): Yesterday, in the short time I had to speak on the Imported Food Control Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2017, I spoke about the policy failure of this government when it comes to agriculture, and this continues to be the case for agricultural policy, particularly in Tasmania. I reiterate my point that I had, on a number of occasions, invited the previous agriculture minister, the member for New England, to come to my electorate to speak to dairy farmers at the height of the dairy crisis, but he failed to do so. But that is not the only example of policy failure and inaction by this government when it comes to the farmers in my electorate.

The former agriculture minister liked to blow his trumpet about investments in water infrastructure. That was nothing but a fraud, because every water development and irrigation scheme commenced in Tasmania was under state and federal Labor governments. Labor established Tasmanian Irrigation to build on the work of Tasmanian Labor's water development plan. Tasmanian Irrigation developed schemes as public-private partnerships, working with private landholders to establish how much water is wanted and the cost of building a scheme shared between the public and private sectors. There are now eight operational schemes from tranche 1, from the Midlands to the north and north-west in my electorate. In total, Labor's irrigation program represents a public-private commitment of over $310 million. Tranche 2 schemes have also been completed in the north-east, the southern Central Highlands and Circular Head in my electorate—all under Labor. I recall the irony of the former Deputy Prime Minister, on his one and only visit to Tasmania over the last two years, praising himself for Labor's Southern Highlands scheme. There has been no vision from the former agriculture minister, and only now in the dying days of the state Liberal Hodgman government have they announced tranche 3.

The Liberal Premier, Will Hodgman, has been aided and abetted by his federal colleagues and has done nothing over the past four years in government. This government can't even get it right when it comes to supporting Tasmania's horticultural industry. They have failed to open up markets for export, have imposed a systemic failure when it comes to securing labour, and in recent weeks at a state and federal level they have been exposed as biosecurity failures.

Economic opportunity for Tasmania, particularly in my electorate—and also I note in a number of National Party seats—exists through the expansion of the blueberry industry. Demand for Tasmanian and Australian blueberries continues to grow at a rapid rate. China is one of the fastest-growing blueberry markets in the world, yet Australian farmers cannot access that market, because the Australian government has not established an export protocol with the Chinese government. Instead of eating Australian blueberries, Chinese shoppers are eating blueberries from Canada, Chile, Peru and Argentina. While this government has been sitting on its hands, these countries have all signed export protocols with the Chinese government for the export of blueberries. Tasmanian and Australian farmers are missing out, and Tasmanian and Australian regional jobs are not there because of the failure of this government.

I'm unsure if this government's inaction on blueberries is deliberate or just pure incompetence. Perhaps it is deliberate, because this government continues to fail our farmers, who are unable to secure enough labour to harvest their crops. In Tasmania, there is genuine concern from fruitgrowers that there will not be enough labour to harvest autumn product, and the apples are coming into season in just a few weeks time. While the industry has just managed with the summer harvest, a much larger workforce is required for the late summer and autumn harvest of apples and pears. Industry has told me a combination of issues highlighted by the backpacker tax and changes to the 88-day second visa requirements are now seeing the prospect of fruit falling to the ground. There are other issues, such as exploitation by unscrupulous labour hire bosses, strict picking versus select picking, and inconsistent piece rates. This government has also overseen a breakdown between regional job providers and industry. There is no consistent way in which a farmer can secure labour. Yet what is the solution of the Tasmanian state and federal governments? Nothing but deafening silence.

I have touched on some of the government's failings when it comes to supporting Tasmanian farmers, but I have left the worst till last. Under the conservatives, Tasmania has seen Norwegian salmon on supermarket shelves, blueberry rust, myrtle rust, Pacific oyster mortality syndrome and now a fruit fly catastrophe. What started out with a fruit fly being detected on Flinders Island has spread to fruit fly being discovered around the Devonport area, which is my home town, and also in George Town on mainland Tasmania. Even worse, a shipment of fruit for retail sale containing fruit fly arrived in Tasmania and sat on supermarket shelves. Growers have been forced to dump their product and are now experiencing significant additional costs to fumigate their product. Some have given up trying to save those crops that have a short shelf life. As part of its protocol, the highly valuable Chinese market is refusing to take fruit from the control zones. Taiwan has also locked out Tasmanian fruit. Farmers are being forced to sell their product into other markets and are receiving half the price they would if they could export to China.

These are just some of the examples of devastation local producers have suffered because of this biosecurity failure. Worse, the Tasmanian brand is being damaged and Tasmania's fruit-fly-free status has potentially been compromised because of systemic failures by this government and the Tasmanian state Liberal government. By any measure, there has been a biosecurity breakdown at the state and federal levels. At the state level, we know the Liberal Premier, Will Hodgman, cut $1 million from Biosecurity Tasmania in his first budget. So deep were his cuts they have put the hardworking staff from Biosecurity Tasmania under extreme pressure. Just imagine what they're going through now, dealing with this fruit fly catastrophe. Corners have been cut, and even in the current emergency we still have people arriving by sea and air without any checks. This is despite a promise by Will Hodgman's government in 2015 that every flight in and out of Hobart and Launceston would be met by sniffer dogs. You can hardly fulfil that promise when you cut the budget.

Documents obtained under the right to information show this cut contributed to a $1.9 million budget deficit in Biosecurity Tasmania as of August 2015. It is alarming that the discussion points from this meeting state:

Biosecurity Tasmania has already been severely cut in the past and there is little room for further cuts without severely impacting on program areas.

The same points also state:

Demands from programs exceed Biosecurity capacity so prioritisation and a reduction of program activity will need to be undertaken.

No wonder we have fruit fly in Tasmania now.

The state Liberals' incompetence is also matched by a failure to act by this Prime Minister and his former agriculture minister. This government abolished the Standing Council on Primary Industries. It has failed to respond to the recommendations of the Plant Biosecurity CRC fruit fly report and the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity review. It also attempted to abolish the position of Inspector-General of Biosecurity—a move Labor successfully blocked. Now this is not playing politics with fruit fly in Tasmania; this is devastating the local economies in my electorate and the jobs and the businesses there that are supplying export markets with fruit. This government and the state government are sitting by and doing nothing.

In a litany of biosecurity failures we have also learnt, from a leaked Tasmanian government question time brief, that the federal government has also cut Tasmania's biosecurity funding. The brief states:

There have been some staff reductions across the large organisation that is Biosecurity Tasmania, primarily due to reductions in Federal funding for providing Commonwealth biosecurity services.

There you have it: a failure to act on a national stage at the same time cutting Tasmania's biosecurity funding. This is at a time when visitor numbers to Tasmania have been increasing exponentially. The question time brief was silent on their action. What did the Tasmanian Liberals do to stand up for Tasmania in Canberra? Nothing; not a thing. The Tasmanian Liberal Premier always has been and always will be too weak to stand up for my state.

I did, however, note the irony last week when the Tasmanian agriculture minister tried to abrogate any responsibility for this fruit fly catastrophe. During a media conference he chose to blame this government with the words, 'This seems to be a national system breakdown.' The Tasmanian government is now blaming the coalition federal government for a biosecurity breakdown that is having a tremendous impact on my state. So who is actually responsible? Is it Mr Rockliff, the current Deputy Premier of Tasmania, or the former Deputy Prime Minister? This side of the House knows it's a combined responsibility.

Unlike state and federal conservatives, Labor has responded. State and federal Labor have made a $5.7 million commitment to boost Tasmania's biosecurity actions—a commitment welcomed by the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association's CEO Peter Skillern. Mr Skillern said:

This commitment demonstrates a recognition of the importance of agriculture to the State, and its heavy reliance on a well-resourced biosecurity system.

He said that further commitment to focus on prevention and preparedness—which has been lacking because of these cuts—was to be highly commended. He said:

Markets must be assured that the Tasmanian biosecurity system is second to none and of a world-class standard.

There is no doubt that this government has been failing Tasmanian farmers. It failed them on dairy. It is failing them on export opportunities. It is failing them on water development. It is failing them on securing enough labour. And it is failing them on biosecurity. Tasmanian farmers deserve so much more than what the state Liberal and federal Liberal-National governments have to offer. I do hope that the member for Maranoa takes up my offer, which I did extend to the former agriculture minister, to come to my state, see what we can do here and actually listen to the farmers, because the Tasmanian farmers do matter.