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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 602


Ms KING (3:51 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. How will the government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan benefit rural and regional Australian economies?


Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —When I stood here a year ago the first time I answered a question and mentioned that I came to this portfolio with very little background knowledge, it never occurred to me at the time that the leadership of the National Party came to this parliament with even less. As we conclude this week in parliament, the member for Ballarat will be able to go back to Ballarat and, when asked by any of the more than 200 farmers who will be in receipt of the farmers’ hardship payment what she has done, she will be able to tell them that she has defended it for them. In the same way, she will be able to explain to them that hardship and drought have an impact not just directly on farmers but on entire towns and that projects such as the upgrade of schools have an extraordinary impact not just on the students and teachers themselves but on employment opportunities for construction workers, the transport industry and subcontractors. All of that feeds into local retail as well.

The leadership of the National and Liberal parties have put the people who sit behind them in this chamber in the most extraordinary position this weekend. While members like the member for Ballarat will be able to go back to their electorates and answer questions very easily about how they have defended and tried to help their constituents, when the member for Barker is asked, ‘Which schools are you going to support an upgrade of?’, he will already have the list of every school he is trying to prevent from having an upgrade. When people opposite on the backbench go back to their electorates and are asked in good faith by their constituents whether or not they are eligible for any of the bonus payments, they are going to have to say, ‘Oh, no, the leadership of the Liberal and National parties is trying to prevent you getting any of those bonus payments.’ When people ask whether or not they are going to be eligible for the farmers’ hardship payment, while the member for New England will be able to say to more than 350 farming families that he has defended it for them, the people sitting in the back rows on the other side of the chamber are going to have to say, ‘Oh, no, we are trying to stop you from getting any of that money.’

I deliberately blame the people who sit on the front row of those seats opposite because there are people who sit behind them who actually have understood for some time the importance of a package like this. I quote with great authority—and I was impressed to hear the words—back to 23 October last year the member for Gippsland because he said:

Investing in regional infrastructure will help local communities to withstand the worst of the global financial crisis and I encourage the government to act quickly in this regard.

I table that press release. The people who sit in the front row opposite have sitting behind them people who actually understand and are now going to be forced into the humiliating position all weekend—it might only last two days but it will be a very long weekend—of explaining why they are not supporting a plan that they know is in the national interest.