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Tuesday, 23 July 2019
Page: 711


Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-Monaro) (15:38): The story of agriculture over the last six years has been a terrible indictment of the government, and I'm pleased to support the member for Hunter, our shadow minister for agriculture, who, with me, has been working with our farmers, as have many of the other members who have regional electorates. But before I refer to some of these terrible failings, I would like to comment on the answers from the member for Hume in response to the questions today from the member for Griffith. He made the claim that I wasn't responding to the farmers of the Monaro. The interesting thing was that he claimed he was representing his constituents. Of course, the Monaro is not in Hume. Funnily enough, the name refers to the fact that it's in my electorate of Eden-Monaro. So his interest in farmers is curiously specific and limited to the farmers of the Monaro.

I've had journalists come to me and ask me about the story affecting the member, and I've refused to talk to them because I make it a practice to never impugn the integrity of members in this place—or outside this place. But he got up in here today and slagged me off, saying that I wasn't representing the farmers of the Monaro. Let me tell you that no farmer in Monaro, no constituent, has raised this issue with my office. I went back and checked through all the records. I have had representations from constituents about the story affecting the member for Hume. And I'll leave it at that. But for him to attack me on this issue—he evidenced the fact that he was looking at an issue that didn't represent the interests of his constituents but the farmers in my electorate. I leave others to draw conclusions from that. His answers were very revealing.

Beyond that, we've seen other issues of self-interest emerge in this whole story. The shadow minister for agriculture, quite rightly, talked about the APVMA saga—a terrible saga, for many reasons—but where was it relocated to? Can we remember where it was relocated to? It was relocated to Armidale, in the electorate of New England, the Minister for Agriculture's electorate. There are a few things that occurred as a result of that. This organisation was critical to our farmers, and this action of decentralisation, so-called, wrecked it. They lost 30 per cent of their scientists straight off the bat.

The reason that organisation was here was that it was close to the CSIRO and other tertiary research institutions. It was also a convenient place for peak organisations of our farmers to conveniently visit and be here in the centralised location of the organisations relevant to their interests and needs. That's what the peak organisations representing the farmers have said. That's what the dairy farmers' association and the MLA have said—that this decentralisation does not make sense. And it doesn't create new jobs in the regions. It's been taking jobs from this region to another region. It's stealing from Peter to pay Paul. The ACT is the Bush Capital. It was created to be that, and it supports the whole of southern New South Wales and the farmers that exist in this region. So this was a short-sighted issue.

It reflects the other damage that the minister created in relation to water policy: the Murray-Darling Basin—we're seeing all that come back to haunt us—the interventions he made in the work we were doing on droughts, in terms of the COAG committee process and looking to move beyond the exceptional circumstances regime, which was not serving the interests of our farmers, and dealing with the more exigent circumstances of drought our farmers are facing. He killed that off and replaced it with nothing. Then we had no answer to the droughts that have been affecting us lately.

He also took away the measures we put in place to assist with our live export problems. As could well have been predicted, it came back again to bite us, in relation to the live sheep trade. Every time there is an instance like this it erodes the market for our producers, our meat producers. Butchers are telling me that every time one of these videos appears people stop buying their meat. It affects the market, and it affects the image of this country as a clean, green, healthy animal-welfare exporting nation. So the damage he did by taking away those reform measures came back to bite him as well

There were so many things. The backpacker tax was mentioned. That skills deficit in the bush is still a huge issue, and that really poor policy impacted my fruitgrowers in Eden-Monaro, my wine growers. Even today, the RAI have reported that there are 44,600 vacancies in rural and regional Australia. There is a massive skills deficit that is only being exacerbated by the policies of this government towards our TAFEs, which people in country areas know are vitally important, and which you've got to start putting some effort back into.