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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 952

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (12:38): I present an explanatory memorandum and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard and continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Rural and regional Australia is struggling. We have heard over and over again the challenges communities are facing, and how they are trying to survive. In recent years, they have borne the brunt of extreme weather events, a high Australian dollar, and a lack of support from State, Territory and Federal Governments.

This bill has evolved from that introduced in the House during the last Parliament by the Member for Kennedy, the Hon. Bob Katter MP. It seeks to establish a specific board under the umbrella of the Reserve Bank, with the aim of promoting reconstruction and development in rural and regional areas.

In a sense, the proposed board is similar to the Commonwealth Development Bank, which was established in 1960. Its aim was to provide loans to individuals and businesses in the primary and secondary industry sectors, where that support would lead to an increase in productivity and wasn’t otherwise available to the applicants.

The bill establishes the Australian Reconstruction and Development Board (ARDB) under the Reserve Bank to formulate and implement a rural reconstruction and development policy for the Bank. The ARDB will also be required to undertake three tasks: the reconstruction, development and facilitative tasks.

The reconstruction task requires the ARDB to address the debilitating impact of financial arrangements in certain circumstances. This relates to financial arrangements that threaten or reduce the ongoing viability or sustainability of Australian agricultural enterprises or associated entities. These conditions or circumstances include the design of financial arrangements, inadequate evaluation, market or organisational failures, seasonal conditions, or any other adverse circumstances.

The development task consists of requiring the ARDB to contribute to the development of Australian agriculture, associated industries and infrastructure by developing and offering financial arrangements. The aim of this task is to provide support to these industries through tailored financial products and other arrangements so that the sector can begin to develop. The ARDB will also be required to assess these financial arrangements to ensure their ongoing suitability.

Finally, the facilitative task consists of researching, reporting on and helping to develop the resilience, capabilities and ongoing financial viability of Australia’s food and natural fibre systems, and any other Australian industries or sectors that the ARDB has identified as being at risk. The aim of this task is to provide for the ARDB’s ongoing consideration, assessment, review and improvement of this sector.

Rural and regional areas are, in many ways, the lifeblood of our country. Certainly, our farmers play an incredibly important role both in our economy and our food security. Without their produce, we are all vulnerable.

People living in rural and regional areas face challenges on almost every front. In terms of healthcare, of education, of aged care, and of employment, they have to fight to be counted.

If rural and regional communities do not receive the support they so desperately need, the impact on the rest of Australia will be significant, in both economic and cultural terms.

It is time to overhaul our attitude in this area. Government grants and programs are no longer enough. Instead, we need to establish a body that has the power to make a real, long term difference, such as the board proposed in this bill.

We cannot ignore this problem any longer. Australians living in rural and regional communities deserve better. They deserve security, and they deserve to know the Government is taking meaningful steps to fix this problem.

The measures in this bill will bring about real and long lasting change. And that change will not only benefit rural and regional communities, but the rest of Australia as those communities flourish.

This bill is in the best interests of us all.

Debate adjourned.