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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2528

Mr ADAMS (2:41 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. How is the government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan helping farmers? Why is it needed? How has it been received?

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the member for Lyons for the question and acknowledge his strong engagement with primary producers in Tasmania. One of the important things about the Nation Building and Jobs Plan is the way in which farmers are able to receive cumulative payments. Today a number of them will start receiving for their families either the back-to-school bonus or the single-income family bonus, and as at 24 March the farmers’ hardship payment will start making its way through. It is important to acknowledge that the payments that go through here meet demands that have been made in this chamber for some time. You will find that members on this side of the House have talked for a long time about the challenges that occur for farmers in their electorates. I will read from a media release that one member of this place put out last year:

Country Australia is in urgent need of a massive economic stimulus package as a direct result of the prolonged drought and the chaos on the global stock markets.

Disturbingly, the person who understood the problem and called for that stimulus package then came in here and voted against it. Should we maybe say, ‘Well, it’s somebody who put out the media release and didn’t really understand the needs of farmers’? Maybe. It was the shadow minister for agriculture who made those statements and then came in here and voted against it.

It is not only the frontbench. It would be unfair to only blame the frontbench members of the Nats. We have had things said by backbench members. The member for Gippsland is a great source of material. In a speech about drought, he said:

Money is going to be needed for basic survival … I believe our challenge with EC funding is to support these farming families to basically get them over the hump, knowing full well that they will prosper again on the other side when the rains come.

Listen to this:

This is not welfare or charity; it is an investment in the future of our nation’s productive farming enterprises.

We agree. The country Independents agree. The members on this side agree. The difference, of course, is that the Nats were sufficiently out of touch with the bush that when proposals were put in front of them they voted against them. If you look over your shoulder to the country Independents, you will find two of the most popular members of this chamber, who began their political careers the same way as the member for Gippsland. They began their political careers the same way as the member for Calare. They began by joining the National Party. They are now some of the most popular members in this chamber—because they left the National Party.

Mr Ciobo —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order on relevance. In this dorothy dixer, the minister was asked about the jobs plan. He has not made one single reference to how one single job has been created—

The SPEAKER —The member will resume his seat. The question went on to refer to how the plan had been received.

Mr BURKE —In trying to understand why on earth they would be doing this, why on earth they would be opposed to plans that, in advance of them being brought forward, they were calling for, the only thing you can work out is that they are all trying to second-guess and arrive at the same position as the member for Higgins. The member for Higgins was on the Alan Jones program this morning, and it is always—

Mr Hartsuyker —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. It may surprise the minister that the point of order is the matter of relevance. He ceases to be relevant, if he ever was.

The SPEAKER —The member for Cowper will resume his seat. I will listen very carefully to where the minister is going. The minister shall respond to the question.

Mr BURKE —And we found this morning on the Alan Jones program how the plan has been received in the view of the member for Higgins. It is always a challenge in an Alan Jones interview how many words you get in, and the member for Higgins did pretty well. Alan got 860-odd words in; the member for Higgins, 1,300—quite an achievement on that program. But the two words that never appeared during that interview, the two words that were never said during that interview at any point, were ‘Malcolm Turnbull’. The two words that do not appear—

Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. This answer from the minister is as relevant to the question as free trips to China might be relevant to the question. I would ask the minister to get back to the question he was asked.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for North Sydney will resume his seat. The minister is responding to the question, but—

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —My tolerance, and the risk of getting favourable responses to points of order, is not helped by the advice that I seem to get when people sit down and continue on. I indicated to an earlier point of order about relevance that in the crafting of the question there was reference to how the plan had been received. I also indicated that I would listen carefully to the matters that the minister had got to and was now raising. I will continue to listen carefully. As I have indicated before—again, if people would like to read Practice—under different administrations, very applicable suggestions by procedures committees have been ignored, and so, in the circular fashion of ‘what comes around goes around’ in this place, I think that that is what we confront at the moment. The minister has the call and he is responding to the question. I will listen carefully to the matter that he is putting, and the matter must relate to the question.

Mr BURKE —The package and the reception of it on the Alan Jones program this morning go to the ongoing challenge of those opposite to actually support something that they called for. When the problem started, they were calling for precisely this sort of assistance, and it is very difficult to work out why on earth, when it comes to it, they are unable to support the package and the payments that are now being made to help some of our most needy people and to help as well boost economic activity at a time of global recession. Within that, we now count down to 25 May. If we make it to 25 May, as we look at how this program has been received, on 25 May the record of Alexander Downer will be safe as the shortest ever period as Leader of the Opposition, and then—

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will resume his seat.

Mr Hartsuyker interjecting

The SPEAKER —The minister has resumed his seat.