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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Page: 8285


Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (14:36): We will stay on the Northern Australia theme. My question, which I am reading on behalf of fellow Queenslander Jake Farrell of Townsville, is to Senator Colbeck, representing the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development and the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Townsville is in the depths of one of the driest periods on record and now on level-2 water restrictions, with only 30 per cent of the water left in the town. Queensland has been in severe drought for four years and the situation is worsening. Eighty per cent of my state, of course, is drought declared. The government's agricultural white paper provided for the injection of capital into water infrastructure and research to address the problems being caused by drought. Despite this, nothing appears to be happening. Can you tell me what steps the government is taking to urgently assist the people of Townsville, Queensland and the rest of Australia with the drought and the delivery of water infrastructure solutions?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Tourism and International Education and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:37): I acknowledge Senator Lazarus and the concern he is expressing on behalf of his constituent, and I acknowledge the question. It is an important issue. Obviously with something like 80 per cent of Queensland now declared to be in drought, it is an issue that the government has significant focus on, and I know that Minister Joyce has himself spent a fair bit of time in Queensland and in other areas around the country where we are dealing with issues around drought. And Senator Lazarus is correct: in the white paper we made quite significant contributions towards particularly water infrastructure. That is one of the reasons I know Minister Joyce was very keen to bring the water portfolio back into this particular portfolio, because he wanted to ensure not only that the environment is properly looked after as part of managing our water resources but also that there is a fair resource available for our agricultural sector, given that the intention of the government is to make agriculture one of the five pillars of the economy.

So, the government has in place a group within the Department of Agriculture that is developing the rollout phase of the agricultural white paper. We will be working with the states to determine the priorities that the states will have as well with respect to water infrastructure. And of course part of the conversation we had in Northern Australia over the past few days was the huge importance of the water resource, the infrastructure that is required to take that water resource to the right places and how that might be best used in the development of Northern Australia. So we are quite focused on rolling out our commitments under the white paper. (Time expired)

Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (14:39): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Queensland farmers are on their knees, as we have just said. Overseas buyers, including China, are circling our farmers like hawks, buying up our land because our farmers are on their knees due to drought. What is the government doing to protect Australian farmers from predatory behaviour from other countries and international companies?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Tourism and International Education and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:39): The government has taken action in respect of the management of agricultural land, and we note that the opposition is now opposing the measures we are proposing to put in place with respect to identifying who owns agricultural land in this country but also the thresholds we are putting in place—

Senator Wong: You will have to correct the record; that is not true.

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left.

Senator Wong: We are supporting the register. You are misleading the parliament.

Senator COLBECK: I have not finished my answer yet, Senator Wong.

Senator Wong: You cannot stand up as a minister and say stuff that is not true. Correct the record.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Order on both sides. This is not a chance to debate across the chamber.

Senator COLBECK: In particular, the Labor Party has decided that it will not support the thresholds we are looking to put in place to protect agricultural land.

Senator Wong: That is right—not the register.

Senator COLBECK: We think that is a sensible measure not only to ensure that we scrutinise what is in the Australian interest with respect to purchase of agricultural assets but also the register will— (Time expired)

Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (14:41): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The Kidman property, which spans four states and territories, including Queensland, and is Australia's largest private land holding and includes the world's largest cattle station, is up for sale. The Chinese are in negotiations to buy it. Will the government intervene to stop this massive parcel of valuable Australian land being sold off to a foreign country?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Before I call the minister again, I remind all senators that in asking questions the supplementary questions are designed to be formulated from the primary question and also the answers given. I will allow this question to stand, Senator Lazarus, as I did yesterday, but I just advise senators to be cautious with their questions.

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Tourism and International Education and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:42): Senator, you would know, or perhaps should know, that there are processes in place that people who come into this country wanting to invest in our agricultural assets—land—and agricultural businesses have to go through. That is why we want to put in place those protections and the thresholds that will give us proper oversight of that. That is the purpose of what we are doing. The Kidman station would very much fall within the framework of what we are proposing to do as a government. I would hope that you would support the amendments we are proposing to put forward very soon in this place. It is important that we go through a proper process to understand that a purchase is in the national interest, and I think we all understand that that is an appropriate thing to do, regardless of which side of politics you might be on. You are right: that station is for sale, and there are a number of parties, as I understand it, who are interested in purchasing it. (Time expired)