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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2895

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (21:12): Tonight I am a very proud member of the Abbott-Truss coalition, having sat and listened, in the bleachers, to the budget in-reply speech given by Mr Abbott on behalf of us all. And what a stark contrast it was, for the Australian public going forward, between what an Abbott-Truss government would be offering—restoring the trust between the people and their government, doing what we say we will do, keeping the promises we make and responsibly managing Australia's financial issues—and Prime Minister Gillard, Mr Windsor and the Greens and the merry dance they have led us on in our fiscal situation; I think 'spiral' was the word used tonight. Where there has been a culture of divide and conquer, what we heard tonight was about a culture of collaboration, focused on increasing productivity—unchaining business to grow, to employ and to ultimately contribute. I am sure Regional Australia would welcome a government that focused on Jakarta, not Geneva, in its foreign policy. That will be no more evidenced, if the coalition is successful in September, by the unshackling of our environmental policy and our financial future from Europe by getting rid of the carbon tax.

Manufacturing and food processing operations are key to our future food security needs in this nation, and they have been closing. They have been closing at an increasing rate under this government, because they have been forced to compete, with their input costs going up, against nations who do not have the electricity costs they do, or the transport and labour costs et cetera. Eleven have closed. The carbon tax accumulates and cascades right through our food supply chain. And no matter what the opposite side says about agriculture not being subject to the carbon tax, it is—come and talk to my dairy farmers.

No matter what the opposite side says about agriculture not being subject to the carbon tax, it is. Come and talk to my dairy farmers; come and talk to Senator Colbeck's dairy farmers. They would be happy to walk you through how it directly affects their businesses—not to mention businesses right through that food supply chain and our food manufacturing and then obviously on through the wider economy. It is functioning as a reverse tariff—and Mr Abbott mentioned that tonight—as jobs are lost throughout regional Australia. There have been: 68 jobs lost in Tamworth at Grain Product; 64 jobs lost in Rochester, a small town of 2,000 people in north central Victoria's Murray-Goulburn closed its milk drying operation there; 344 jobs lost from Golden Circle, with 146 of these again in north central Victoria in Girgarre and 38 in Wagga. This is a reverse tariff costing real jobs in regional communities.

SPC Ardmona waits to hear from the government regarding their request for a safeguard investigation, a request that was made two weeks ago to this government by this business, which is employing 879 people in Shepparton just down the road from several of the towns that I have just mentioned, an area that has seen significant hardship. There were floods there 12 months ago that covered most of the orchards. We have had the uncertainty caused by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. And here we have the iconic SPC Ardmona making a very valid and legitimate request of the government, and I am not getting a sense of urgency. Emergency safeguards are a temporary mechanism available under the WTO framework to assist local industry that is severely impacted by foreign imports. It is not an actual tariff—although our industry is operating under a reverse tariff. It is a short-term stop gap to give time to ascertain if there is an issue with another country's behaviour.

It would be nice if this government would support communities, workers and growers. It is incredibly ironic that our food processing industry is subject to the reverse tariff of the Gillard-Greens-Windsor government while this very iconic company, which is key to this local community, is simply asking for a response from government. It should not take this amount of time. I call on the Minister Emerson, Minister Ludwig and the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to make the decision and let them know one way or the other, rather than just hanging them, their workers and the broader community out to dry.

I raise this here tonight because last Thursday I headed up to Shepparton, a great place in regional Victoria, for the 'Toss a tin in your trolley' rally. The AMWU was out in force, the local community was out in force, local leadership was out in force and growers were out in force. They were on a back of truck saying that this is important. We understand that there are two sides to this conversation. We understand that on the one hand we have to ensure that we have a framework and a way of operating in this nation so that food processors can get on with growing jobs, growing their business and ultimately contributing to the economy. On the other hand, the onus is on us as Australians to not support imported produce that supports jobs overseas. We need to make a conscious decision about what we put in our trolley. I thought that it was a really positive response by the local community. I would like to thank Teena Parris-Knight and Lee Luvara, who is a worker at the factory, for getting together on this. Teena actually set up a Facebook site saying 'Save SPC Ardmona' and got 3,000 supporters very quickly. I thought it was a great way for social media to actually do something positive in our regional community. So I would recommend to everyone out there to log on, sign up and toss a couple of tins of local produce into your trolley when you are next at the supermarket, if you can find it. Look hard and read the labels. The tins are usually on the bottom shelf, but the reasons for that are for another adjournment speech.

Orchardists Peter Hall and Doug Brown outlined the challenges for our growers in terms of having their quotas slashed going into the cannery. It means that the fruit they would usually send to the cannery now has to go to the fresh fruit market. It is not particularly grown for fresh fruit, so it is actually causing a huge impact and flow-on effect right through the food supply chain as the bottom falls out of the fresh fruit market. That is great for everyone who likes fresh fruit, because it is going to be nice and cheap, but it is not good for our growers.

The other challenge they outlined was that if at the end of the day they are not going to get enough money in their back pocket they are not going to be able to afford to pay the pickers to come and pick the fruit. So what we are actually going to be left with, now that the water from the floods has dried up, is a flood of rotting fruit on the ground. That is a huge biosecurity risk—not to mention the smell—because of the microorganisms and insects it will cause. I was a little disappointed with the minister's response today, because they were very genuine questions borne of a genuine concern for my community in central regional Victoria.

I would like the thank the AMWU for their passionate support for growers and their local regional community and for working so collaboratively around trying to find a solution to keep this company going, to keep their workers in jobs. At the end of the day it does not matter what your penalty rate is, because if you have not got a job you are not going to be able to earn it.

This government fails to understand how we live and work in regional Australia. There were no ALP senators or ALP state members on the back of the truck. It was a crying shame. I urge the government to respond and to give some certainty to the Goulburn Valley community, which has been buffeted by this government's legislative programs—and I mention them: the CO2 tax and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Time means money. In this case it means actual jobs for real people. I would like the AMWU and the senators who are friendly with that particular union to do their utmost to lobby internally for this government to actually make a decision and let SPC Ardmona know where they stand, and get behind our local industry. So toss a tin in your trolley, please.

Senate adjourned at 21:22