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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 6854

Mr CHAMPION (2:57 PM) —Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. What are the likely seasonal outlooks ahead, and what policy options have been supported in the past?

Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the member for Wakefield for the question. Members would be aware that the latest climate projections are not good for many parts of Australia. To quote from the Bureau of Meteorology:

In addition, many computer models, including the Bureau’s POAMA, remain firm in their predictions of an El Nino event in 2009. This puts the odds of an El Nino at above 50%, which is more than double the normal risk of an event. However, it’s still possible, though increasingly less likely, that the recent trends may stall without El Nino thresholds being reached.

That weather projection carries with it a problem that we have dealt with in this parliament for many years, and that is: what to do about a shortage of water—what to do to deal with the fact that El Nino brings with it extraordinary shortages of rain, often when you need it most.

There are a number of policies of the past that the government will not be considering. While we have decided to embark on the $300 million expense of improving on-farm infrastructure, we will not be providing the $5 million payment to upgrade the irrigation at Flemington Racecourse. Nor will we be adopting the policy that was used in the past of funding the Australian Rain Corporation. It takes a significant level of self-confidence when you are faced with a drought, to say, ‘Well, I’ll just tell it to rain,’ but that’s what the rainmaker sitting opposite at the table decided to do.

Against advice that the Australian Rain Corporation ‘have provided no convincing experimental data or theoretical modelling to support the proposed mode of operation of technology,’ and despite the independent review then saying that there is ‘no convincing evidence that the ATLANT technology operates as believed by its proponents’, the Leader of the Opposition chose a different path.

I have to say I think the Leader of the House and I have been unfair to the National Party. We have not given nearly enough attention to the outrageous abuse of public money by the Liberal Party and in particular, as a former minister, by the Leader of the Opposition, because what does he do when there is no legitimate data—

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This, under standing order 90, is a clear reflection on a member and a member’s conduct. It is plainly out of order and he should be instructed to conform to the standing orders.

The SPEAKER —I did not understand that in the answer there were specific allegations that were being made, but I will listen carefully and I will remind the minister of his obligation to respond to the question.

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, if I could assist—

The SPEAKER —On the same point of order?

Mr Abbott —The same point of order.

The SPEAKER —I have actually ruled and I have given the call back to the minister.

Mr BURKE —This goes to one of the options for how to deal with the upcoming seasonal conditions and policy paths that have been used in the past, which is precisely what I was asked to refer to. If it is something that causes a deal of embarrassment to the Leader of the Opposition now, it is something that he was proud of in the lead-up to the election. What does he do when there is no legitimate data, no legitimate evidence? The same thing that he did when there was no legitimate email—there is no sense of caution; impatience takes over and he just presses the accelerator.

The department recommended that at most there should be a $2 million trial. So what did he provide in response to a recommendation for a $2 million trial? Ten million dollars—on the very same day the election was called, and he writes to the former Prime Minister seeking the money. And who did he do it for? One of his neighbours who was an executive of the Australian Rain Corporation, the same neighbour who was a member of the election fundraising committee known as the Wentworth Forum, with membership set at $5,000 just to get into the room. Every time you hear the confected outrage—

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Under the standing orders generally, grubby smears are not to be encouraged, and this is precisely what we are seeing from this minister.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Warringah will resume his seat. There is no point of order. The minister is responding to the question but he will now commence to sum up his answer.

Mr BURKE —Thanks very much, Mr Speaker. I will sum up, because it is interesting that what was just described in that point of order as a grubby smear is something that moments ago the Leader of the Opposition said he was not a bit ashamed of. And there is a reason for that. Last night on the 7.30 Report, he said he had never accused the Prime Minister of corruption, and yet last Friday he said:

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have used their offices and taxpayers’ resources to seek advantage for one of their mates …

The reason he does not believe that that is corruption is that he actually did it, and he did it with real public money, turning $2 million into $10 million.

Mr John Cobb interjecting

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER —The member for Warringah will resume his seat. The member for Calare will withdraw.

Mr John Cobb —I withdraw.

The SPEAKER —He should consider himself very lucky—at least one of his colleagues on his side went for something much more minor.

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I appreciate that the minister has sat down, but he made an accusation of corruption against a member on this side of the House. It is clearly in breach of standing order 90, and we respectfully request that this accusation be withdrawn. It would assist the conduct of the House if this minister was to withdraw.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Warringah will resume his seat. When carefully listening on the first flow-through at the end, because I was trying to bring the minister to a conclusion, I did not think that he had offended, but it would assist the House if he withdrew just to clarify that point. Again, I do not want to make a critique on his answer. He was making a point by quoting back and then quoting, but I think that, if he withdrew, it would help.

Mr Burke —I withdraw.

The SPEAKER —I thank the minister. The member for North Sydney might resume his seat—just giving a big build-up for you.