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Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Page: 14263


Ms KEAY (Braddon) (18:18): I welcome this opportunity to speak on this bill, the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment (Support for Infrastructure Financing) Bill 2019, and I thank my colleague the member for Lyons and all those from the opposition for their contributions today. I guess this is just another example of the coalition following Labor on policy. It seems to be happening a lot, which is probably not a bad thing. Imitation is the best form of flattery. So we'll see how this goes. I know it's being referred to a Senate inquiry. We'll look forward to what comes out of those recommendations. I'm sure the Senate will look at those when this bill comes to their chamber.

We announced a policy on 29 October, and the Prime Minister announced his on 8 November. Obviously, our policy is to strengthen those partnerships that we have with Pacific nations, and a number of factors that were announced around that have come through the coalition's policy. But the Liberals' commitment has only come about because of their history of blunders, sadly—their missteps, their insults and their policy failures—when it comes to the Pacific. These failings came to a head in the last quarter of 2018, since the current Prime Minister was given the role. You can contrast that with Labor. Here on this side of politics, we genuinely want to engage with the Pacific. I'd like to acknowledge on the record the work of the member for Corio and of Senator Claire Moore, who, sadly, is departing this place. They are both very strong advocates for Australia's role in the Pacific and for the partnership that we have with the Pacific. Their contributions have been very valuable. The member for Corio will continue to do that, as well as a number of other people in this place, but Senator Moore will be sadly missed in her advocacy for the Pacific.

This proposed legislation is welcome, but it is long overdue. But it does seek to reaffirm our place in the Pacific, which is a good thing—a place which, sadly, has been compromised by this government, which has clearly taken its eye off the ball. As a result, other nations are gaining a foothold in the region. That, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, but Australia, as the nearest neighbour, should be playing a leading role. The member for Lyons made some valuable points: it is good for security in our region and there are also opportunities for our businesses to work in collaboration with those nations.

The former minister Senator Fierravanti-Wells' successor, Senator Ruston, was appointed as an assistant minister by the PM after all that kerfuffle with the leadership changes. The former minister said that it sent the wrong signal. She said: 'I'm disappointed that this is happening at a time when we have growing interests and growing contestability in the Pacific region.' I guess this is just further proof that this government has not been taking the Pacific seriously at all. Another example was when the Prime Minister snubbed Pacific islands leaders by failing to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in early September. Other leaders were there, but our Prime Minister was missing in action, which does not send a good signal at all.

And then we have the issue around the current environment minister, Melissa Price. Senator Fierravanti-Wells called her 'an L-plate minister', which is a little bit harsh—but I guess they are all up for criticism! It was reported that, at a Canberra restaurant, the environment minister said to the former president of Kiribati, Anote Tong: 'I know why you're here. It's for the cash. For the Pacific, it's always about the cash. I've got my chequebook here. How much do you want?' I think we were all pretty offended by that, not just those Pacific nations and Mr Tong. It is reported that Nuie's Premier, Toke Talagi, said: 'People say some stupid things sometimes.' When you are dealing with our neighbours, you need to be a bit more diplomatic in your approach. That's another failure of this government.

Commenting on the issue, Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown mentioned the government's policy failures on climate change. He said: 'I do understand that science is a difficult subject for some people, but some of these comments coming from Australian ministers kind of resemble the comments you hear from the flat earth society.' I very much agree with him. I think there are a number of people on the government benches who are still debating whether the earth is flat or round! Seriously, we have to get with the times; it is quite embarrassing, really. I agree with the Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister's comments.

The September Pacific Islands Forum declared climate change to be 'the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific'. This was a forum that our Prime Minister did not attend—and, sadly, he leads a government full of sceptics. There is an opportunity for that to change in just a few weeks time, at the upcoming election. Whilst this proposed legislation is welcome, you can't have a Pacific policy if you don't have a climate change policy. We need to do our bit, but first we've got to agree; among those opposite, sadly, there are many that don't.

Another example of the chaos and division of this government is the agriculture visa debacle. We have to look at that as undermining existing programs. It will undermine Tasmania's horticultural industry, which relies on the Seasonal Worker Program. In my electorate, I have a berry farmer, a major large company that needs thousands and thousands of workers and really does rely on the Pacific islands seasonal visa program. It helps with their product and it helps with the expansion. They are incredible workers. I know a number of the Niueans who are working in farms just near where I live, and they are some of the most amazing strawberry pickers you could ever come across.

This agriculture visa was really a thought-bubble concocted by the National Party to give the new leader of the National Party a win. It didn't happen because the senior coalition partner slapped the junior down—

Mr Coulton: A point of order.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Claydon ): I will take the point of order.

Mr Coulton: The honourable member is straying way off the topic of this bill, which has bipartisan support for the refinancing of change at Efic.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I'm listening very carefully, and there have been a lot of conversations. I'm sure that the member for Braddon will stay on track, and she hasn't diverted too far off course.

Ms KEAY: It is important to reiterate the importance of the relationship this country has with our Pacific nations and some of the failures of the current government, but I do acknowledge that we are supportive of this bill. We will see what happens in the Senate inquiry. The relationship is very important to the people in my electorate, and that's what I am talking about with the agricultural visa. You might like to say that it is bit of foreign aid to have people like the Niueans come and pick strawberries in my electorate and then send that money back home to their country. I think it's very, very relevant. Maybe the member is a little bit offended by what I've said because it is actually true. But we then look at the backpacker tax, which does have significant implications for some of those workers. That was an issue where this government failed to address the labour shortages in a lot of regional Australia—and some of those are National Party seats, would you believe.

We'll go now to the cuts to foreign aid. This government has cut $11 billion. That's a direct impact on the people on those islands. That aid went directly to the Pacific. This is another policy failure—proof, yet again, that this government does not take the Pacific or its people seriously at all. The Pacific will be core business for Labor. As I said before, we announced some policy and then the government followed late last year. For starters, we will tackle climate change, because we don't believe the earth is flat and we do acknowledge that it is a significant issue of great concern to the people in the Pacific. We welcome the fact that the government has woken up and mirrored our plans in this bill, as I said before, which is important, and I think that's very relevant. Labor has a plan to create a government funded infrastructure bank for the Pacific to drive investment in the region. New Zealand is already doing this. It's a bit sad when we have to follow our friends from over the ditch, but that's what happens when you act very, very slowly. The United States has passed the BUILD Act. This will establish a development finance corporation called International Development Finance Corporation. A similar body exists in the UK. They will invest solely in Africa and Asia. The international community is acting, and it is welcome that this government is again following.

Labor also welcomes the Australian benefits test that forms part of this bill. This test means any alliance provided by Efic must have a benefit to Australia or a person conducting business in Australia. I just note some of the businesses in my state, those in advanced manufacturing, who can play a critical role in some of the infrastructure building in the Pacific, whether it be through renewable energy generation, with new technology that we can assist Pacific Islanders with, and, of course, addressing climate change. This test means that any loans provided by Efic must have a benefit to those people, which is really important for our own business. Labor will reposition Australia in its rightful place as a friend to the Pacific. In all those examples I mentioned before, we do have some groundwork to do to re-establish the important partnership that we have. We will enhance security and prosperity in the region. This government can't do it because of its inaction and inability to accept climate change, which our Pacific friends so desperately need us to act on. This proposed legislation is welcome. We will be supporting it, but if the other side were genuine they would also join Labor by making a genuine effort to address climate change.