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Thursday, 14 September 2023
Page: 67

Mr LIT TLEPROUD (MaranoaLeader of the Nationals) (15:34): In just 15 months, all the Albanese government has managed to do is drive up everyone's cost of living and divide this country. The proposition in managing the Voice is not a new one. It's a proposition we've had before in this country. We've had a representative body; it was called ATSIC. For those that live in rural and remote Australia we live with the scars of that today. The Nationals took a very principled decision in November last year—that repeating the mistakes of the past would not help in closing the gap. The Nationals are committed to a proper process around constitutional recognition, not just where one cohort of the population get to go to Uluru and decide about what the make-up of our Constitution should look like but where there is proper process of a constitutional convention where every Australian should have a say about the intent, the change of the Constitution and the question that is put to the Australian people. That's been denied by them, this government, in ignorantly listening to Australians about their concerns about how this should be done in uniting our country through constitutional recognition instead of conflating it with the Voice.

But their mishandling has gone well beyond that. If you go to regional and rural Australia, we bear those scars today. It took them literally less than a month after the Jobs and Skills Summit to scrap the ag visa, a summit that the Nationals took a pragmatic stance on and went to, to be constructive, and where the government were told, apparently, after listening to those that went, by the NFF and COSBOA that they were 172,000 workers short to get food from a paddock to a plate. Yet the only thing they could do was scrap an ag visa and rely on a PALM scheme that we'd already put in place and that, at best, could bring in 42,000 workers. Since that Jobs and Skills Summit a year ago, nearly to the day, they've only brought in 16,000 workers, less than 10 per cent, and they have changed the PALM scheme to make it unviable for our horticulturalists to be able to use in any meaningful way.

The cost-of-living pressures that you are feeling at the moment across this country are a direct result of the unions riding high up in the stirrups, running this government and making sure that they have the direction of this government, and you are paying that bill. That goes to your energy bill as well—a reckless race to 82 per cent renewables by 2030 that demonises the firming power that's required to drive down energy costs. Inflation remains high because of fixed costs. Discretionary spend has already reduced. The Treasurer talks about inflation dropping, and that's because Australians are hurting and their discretionary spend has dropped. But what is still there is their fixed cost, and their fixed cost is their energy bill and their food bill. Our food processors are paying sometimes three or four times what they were 12 months ago because we are taking away supply, and when you take away supply you lift prices, and that is what they've done with their reckless energy policy.

But it gets worse for regional Australia, with one of the most callous and nasty pieces of legislation: to reopen the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. In 2012, we sat here—well, I didn't, but those that were here, in a bipartisan way, supported a Murray-Darling Basin Plan to recover 2,750 gigalitres to put back to the environment. Regional communities have bore that pain of over 2,100 gigalitres already recovered. That's 2,100 of the 2,750 recovered; they bore that and they accepted that. We put in place practical measures to ensure that we got away from the blunt instrument of buybacks because recovering water through buybacks doesn't hurt farmers; it hurts the small communities that are left behind: the machinery dealer, the irrigation shop—right down to the cafe owner and the hairdresser. They take away the tools of farmers to produce your food and fibre, they take away jobs and they diminish regional communities.

And what is the most callous and nastiest piece of legislation that they are going to amend? Their piece of legislation, for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, has now asked for another 450 gigalitres to be taken away from agriculture, without any protection for the economic viability of these communities—a mechanism that they put in place themselves. What sort of government does that to their fellow Australians?

Every Australian will feel the price of that at the checkout because if you don't give the farmers the tools they need to produce your food and fibre—they have borne the price of giving water back to the environment, and now the government are asking for more—then that means you pay more. This is about ideology not meeting the practical reality of what is being bled out of Australians' wallets every day. This government is out of touch with reality and out of touch with Australia.