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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2270


Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:59): My question—

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator JOYCE: It will be good! My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig. I refer the minister to an article written by the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, Dr Craig Emerson, in the Australian last week. In that article Dr Emerson states that Australia 'can establish itself as a reliable supplier in meeting Asia's food security needs', and that to do this we must have 'improved water catchment and conservation infrastructure'.

Senator Cameron interjecting

Senator JOYCE: If the government believes that agriculture is important to Australia, Dougie Cameron, why has it abolished R&D organisations such as Land and Water Australia, cut money from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry's budget, ended overnight live cattle exports to Indonesia, bought back more water than it has saved through infrastructure upgrades in the Murray-Darling, supported vegetation management policies which have placed restrictions on 80 per cent of the state, and also sold coal seam gas licences all throughout the state? If food production is so important to the government, why is its record so deplorable?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (15:00): It will not be difficult to be relevant to that irrelevant question. What we do have in foreign investment is important investment in rural Australia. Coal seam gas is primarily a state issue, but this government is taking the lead with the states and territories in investing to make sure that environmental consideration is at the forefront. If you take a look at the Murray-Darling Basin, for years the opposition have ignored that issue. This government has driven for an outcome for years. The Murray-Darling Basin has been overallocated with water and everyone has acknowledged that issue for years.

If you look at the opposition, they did not look at how you develop food security for Australia. This government is taking the first actions of developing the first national food plan. Those opposite have not taken the lead on any of this. They remain focused on simply opposing investment in agriculture. They remain opposed to coal seam gas, which provides gas for the east coast and which provides income for farming communities. They remain opposed to the food plan.

Senator Joyce: Mr President, I rise on a point of order, one of relevance. The question asked specifically what areas are actually going to increase our agricultural sector. Everything you have talked to thus far is things that will actually decrease our agricultural sector.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Joyce, that is not a point of order.

Senator LUDWIG: I do not accept the actual premise of the question that was put. R&D development has been a significant investment by this government right throughout its period since election in 2007. What those opposite would want to do, through their policies, is trash agriculture and trash rural Australia. They are not supporting rural Australia. This government has made significant investment in health and hospitals, in rural and skills all the way across—

Senator Joyce: Mr President, on a further point of order on relevance, the minister said that R&D was very important, but the question asked specifically—and this is why it is relevant—'If you believe it is so important, why did you abolish it?'

The PRESIDENT: Senator Joyce, there is no point of order. The minister now has 11 seconds.

Senator LUDWIG: We looked at the Productivity Commission report and maintained R&D investment. Those opposite should actually look at our policy. He is misquoting it, he does not understand it and quite frankly he does not understand rural— (Time expired)

Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (15:03): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to the fact that over the last 30 years Australia's land in agricultural production has fallen from 500 million hectares to 400 million hectares. I also refer the minister to the recent announcement made by the Queensland Labor government of plans to shut down even more agricultural land through its border-to-beach wildlife corridor, a policy which AgForce has described as an example of a constraint on the state's farm sector. If the government supports locking away agricultural land in green corridors, where will our future food and fibre come from?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (15:04): I thank Senator Joyce for his supplementary question. He is doing two things: he is having a bid for Maranoa and also supporting the LNP in Queensland in rural Australia. I do not think either of those are very sensible—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Ludwig, just come to the question.

Senator LUDWIG: for Senator Joyce. If you look at its policies, you see that the National Party is simply a doormat to the Liberals. They run out issues about royalties for CSG; they run out issues about caps on foreign investment. None of them are going to be allowed by those opposite, the Liberal Party. They are simply going to run their spurious arguments in the hope that they will be able to get them up in the party room. I doubt that you will be able to get them up in the party room, because they are not looking after rural Australia. They do not care about rural Australia. They are simply turning politics into a fine art— (Time expired)

Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (15:05): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Thank you very much for that complete and utter nonanswer from the minister. I referred the minister to the Queensland Labor Party's wild rivers policy, which prohibits a range of agricultural activities, including dams, vegetation management and agriculture, over 35 per cent of the state of Queensland. If agriculture is so important to the government that Dr Craig Emerson says we have to increase our food, does the government support the Labor Party's proposal to extend wild river declarations to a further eight rivers?

Senator LUDWIG ( Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery ) ( 15:06 ): If you look at the wild rivers legislation, it is sensible legislation. But it is a matter that the state government is dealing with. On the issue of dams that Senator Joyce raised, what Senator Joyce wants mining companies to do is build dams anywhere with no proper impact assessment and no proper examination of whether dams would be useful in particular regions—no strategy. He just wants to get mining companies to build dams. I do not why mining companies would do that without being paid or without having some return on their investment. Maybe it is the opposition's second policy on the MMRT and rather than using that money to fund small business tax cuts they will use it to build dams. Those opposite do not care about rural Australia. This government has more investment into rural Australia than the National Party managed to during their 10 years in government.

Senator Chris Evans: I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.