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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6399

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (12:14): In relation to the opportunity for food processors to access funding, I would draw the member's attention to the clean energy future initiative that we announced. In terms of assisting industries to make the change to cleaner energy options, there is $150 million in there for food processors alone.

Dr Stone interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): Order! The minister is answering the question.

Mr CREAN: The member has asked a question. I just wish at times that she would sit there and listen to the answer. I would also point out that, whilst it is true that businesses within her electorate have been contracting in terms of numbers, it is not true that some of them have not been expanding their operations. You mentioned Murray Goulburn. Murray Goulburn has expanded its operations into Tasmania. Murray Goulburn is now investing down there, and it is seeing huge growth in the dairy in that state. The member for Lyons has been down there with us when we have visited Smithton with the member for Braddon. We have funded initiatives to support the infrastructure and the training to develop the skill base for this industry, because a company like Murray Goulburn sees the potential in terms of not only dried product and export but also—with the rebound in prices and the global demand for food security—quality, clean nutritious and safe food. They have seen that there is huge potential in all those prime agricultural areas.

We know that these companies are threatened competitively by the high dollar. Therefore there is always going to be a challenge for them to build competitiveness back in by doing things smarter. Inevitably, that means looking at ways in which they do it with fewer people or more technology or more innovation. That is the nature of an economy in transition. Do not pretend it away, and do not pretend you have got a magic cure if you want these businesses to survive. What we have got to do is to get behind them in terms of their competitiveness and back them. And that is what we are doing. We are doing it in a way that actually works with the regions and understands their constraints and understands their challenges.

The member has asked me about the Murray-Darling Basin, and she knows that I have been actively involved in this space too, along with the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, in really coming to grips with this difficult problem. Everyone you speak to who lives in the basin knows—they all have a different solution to it—that they have got to operate in a more water constrained environment. There are ways in which we can deal with this. One is water buyback but, quite frankly, my preference has always been to try to produce more with less; in other words, get into the efficiency stakes. The regions know that what they have got to do is to actually embrace a water constrained environment, otherwise they will not have any industries. The system will dry up. The minister is now coming in; he can take over in terms of the areas that he has been covering. But I am making the point: there are different ways, other than buyback—ways that are being pursued by him—and there is also the question of the economic diversification in those regions. That is what we are working together on. The member has sat on the committee that has made recommendations. Predominantly all of them have been picked up, and it would be far better if she contributed constructively to this debate rather than just carped from the sidelines.