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Thursday, 25 September 2014
Page: 7164

Agriculture


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:54): My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Abetz, representing the Minister for Agriculture. Can the minister outline how the coalition government's policies are contributing to the growth of employment in Australian agriculture?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:55): I thank Senator McKenzie for her interest in matters employment and in matters agriculture. I am pleased to inform the Senate that the latest ABS employment data has revealed the biggest annual gain in agriculture jobs on record—might I add, at a time when the Leader of the Opposition is going around the country demeaning agriculture jobs. We are absolutely delighted as a government to see this growth—some 39,800 positions in the year to August 2014. That, Senator McKenzie, represents 15 per cent out of the total 253,000 new jobs added across all sectors. This is a most remarkable outcome because it goes against the longer term historic trend of gradual decline in agriculture employment levels compared to the growth of output, from a peak of up to 400,000 employed in the 1980s down to around 245,000 by August 2013. But now there has been a welcome resurgence that has seen agriculture employment up to over 280,000 again, and of course that coincides with the coalition coming to government.

We as a government are delighted to see the resurgence in one very important pillar of the Australian economy, namely agriculture. It stands to reason that somebody with Senator McKenzie's interest and coming from the National Party should be expressing such a real interest. In the five seconds remaining, what a contrast between Senator McKenzie and Senator Conroy. (Time expired)


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:57): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the Hume region in my home state of Victoria is home to some 14 per cent of all Victorian farm businesses, can the minister inform the Senate how these farming operations are benefiting from a coalition government?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:57): As I understand it, the region from which Senator McKenzie comes—namely, the Hume region in north-eastern Victoria—is a region that excels in the production of a wide variety of agricultural produce. We have seen some standout sectoral performances: beef and veal up 28.6 per cent, sheep meat up 42 per cent, dairy up 22 per cent, horticulture up 28 per cent. We are seeing exceptionally good figures in agriculture Australia wide. Of course, it stands to reason that, therefore, the home area of Senator McKenzie is also a beneficiary. Why this upturn? Because there is new confidence. There is an understanding that this is a government that will remove the carbon taxes, that will engage in free trade agreements, that will seek to grow the agricultural sector— (Time expired)


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:58): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate of any threats that may exist to jobs in agriculture in my home state of Victoria and in Australia more broadly?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:58): I thank Senator McKenzie for that final supplementary question. The biggest threats to jobs in agriculture in Victoria and, indeed, elsewhere in Australia, include: excessive regulation imposing unnecessary costs on agricultural businesses and, thereby, hobbling their opportunities for improving profitability; a lack of adequate flexibility in employment options which discourages agricultural and other businesses from increasing their workforce; inadequate water and other agricultural infrastructure to enable growth in agricultural production and expansion of agricultural businesses; and, of course, Australia's budget deficit burden, born of a legacy of waste and mismanagement under the previous government and presided over by the failed finance minister sitting opposite me. Despite these difficulties, we are committed to growing the agricultural sector. (Time expired)