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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2028


Mr JOYCE ( New England ) ( 12:14 ):  This is the first time I have spoken from the backbench since being in the Senate. It's very important to rise on the Imported Food Control Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2017. To be honest, the country-of-origin labelling system was something that I fought for for quite some time. It was seminal in making sure that our nation clearly understands where products come from and what proportion comes from where.

In the past, under a Labor government, we had an anomaly where labels would say 'Made of Australian and imported ingredients', 'Made in Australia', 'Product of Australia', and the whole thing was completely and utterly confusing, and I would say in many instances misleading. It had been the case for quite some time that we wanted a labelling system that clearly told the Australian people what came from the Australian farm. It is their right to buy something that comes from somewhere else if they wish to—no-one is denying that—but it is also their right to have the capacity to buy, with their money, product from their nation. This underpins what we are doing to support Australian jobs, to make sure that people can say, 'Well, I can buy tomatoes from Italy,' and that's fair enough, 'or I can buy tomatoes that actually support Australian jobs, and if there's 30c or 40c difference in the price of the can, that is not an issue for me, because my respect for my nation and my desire to support my nation warrants me paying the extra money so that I can have that product.'

At the time, with the industry minister, the then member for Groom, Ian Macfarlane, we went to work on how we could do this. We had the green triangle with the gold kangaroo to show clearly that a product was made in Australia. Then there was a bar that clearly indicated the proportion of the product that came from Australia. I do get a great sense of pride in the work done by this parliament and this side of the House, and also through my own endeavours, when I go through the supermarkets now and, more and more often, see that labelling system in place. At the time, people argued that it would be the end of civilisation as we knew it, that it was a disaster. Of course they would say that, because so many of the supermarkets and so many of the producers made a lot of money by getting cheaper imported goods and putting them under the homebrand label or such like. People would think that 'homebrand' would probably mean that a product had come from home. Well, it had come from the home of the major supermarkets but not from our home, Australia; it had come from places all around the world. They are welcome to sell it; that's their commercial right—we believe in free enterprise—but if there is an alternative it must clearly show what portion comes from Australia. I firmly believe the push-back was because they didn't want people to know that and that our labelling system clearly indicated it.

As yet another example of how we stood behind agriculture, I note that we in the coalition, whilst I was the agricultural minister, had the biggest turnaround in agricultural income in the history of our nation. Of course, that was not by reason of the minister; it was by reason of a whole range of factors, most ably assisted by a government that took agriculture very seriously. Under the previous, Labor government and the inept minister that we had, the agriculture department's budget was more than halved. I am yet to be convinced that the Labor Party have a serious policy that they wish to take to the dispatch box in this House and discuss. It is something that they remain in an awkward silence about, because they have no vision for agriculture, and this resonates in regional areas because Labor and the Greens are known to have no vision for agriculture. The Greens are intent on trying to basically shut it down and return us all to being hunters and gatherers on the forest floor, eating beetles and nuts. That's their vision for the future. Apparently, as long as you can pick it off a tree in the middle of a rainforest, it's all right to eat. But if you have the temerity to go forth and try and develop the land and make sure that we get an efficient form of agriculture, then they have no view of it.

We have developed agriculture in a holistic form. The policy that we took forward related not only to our desire for the creation of new dams and water infrastructure. In this respect, I note such things as the Macalister Irrigation District, which payment has gone towards upgrading. I also note the vast amount of work done on water infrastructure in Tasmania, supported by the Commonwealth, which the member who spoke prior to me should have mentioned. That is transforming the Central Highlands of Tasmania into another centre of agricultural excellence. Our vision for agricultural excellence also extended to creating centres of excellence, such as in Armidale, with the relocation of APVMA, or in Wagga, with AgriFutures, formerly known as RIRDC. Creating these centres of excellence to further assist the development of our agricultural economy is part of our vision for our nation.

What I also note is that one of the great problems our nation had when we were competing against America, South America, Russia, Ukraine, Europe was that our intermodal transport capacity for bulk commodities was severely deficient. Over a long period of time we have fought for and attained funding for the Inland Rail. I know, Deputy Speaker Coulton, that you are very aware of this because you and the people in the seat of Parkes will be some of the greatest beneficiaries of that multibillion-dollar investment. It was something that we fought very hard for. Other people in the past talked about it—the member for Grayndler talked about it; I don't know if the member for Hunter talks about much; he hardly ever gets a question—but we actually delivered the funding. That's a vast difference. That is the difference between discussion and delivery, and I think it clearly shows what a difference there is in having an effective government.

I put the challenge to the Labor Party: what exactly is your policy on agriculture? What do we say to the people of regional and rural Australia about what is now this nation's fastest-growing sector in our GDP? That is what's happened under this government. It is the fastest-growing sector in our GDP. I would like to know when the Labor Party are going to rise to the task and say that they also support the government's position on the construction of the Inland Rail so that we have the capacity for greater transport efficiencies and greater cost reductions in the movement of bulk commodities such as wheat, cotton, canola, sorghum—whatever you like.

We heard the previous member bring up the biosecurity issue. The Labor Party decimated the agricultural budget. We had to refurbish our investment in biosecurity measures through the $4 billion agricultural white paper. I commend the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for the work they did in assisting in stopping the further outbreak of Panama race 4 and the white spot outbreak, both of which have been contained if not eliminated. These are great outcomes.

The next step in creating a centre of excellence was the vision to make Orange Australia's Chicago, somewhere where the finances that are pertinent to agricultural products can be further expanded. We created the multibillion-dollar Regional Investment Corporation and moved it to Orange. I note that the Labor Party fought against this every step of the way, because the member for Hunter, the shadow minister for agriculture, is led by the nose by the member for McMahon, the shadow Treasurer. The shadow Treasurer was completely and utterly disparaging about this vision for Australia, which is something that supports farmers in drought and farmers who have had to deal with the vagaries of the market caused by the issues of Murray Goulburn. We put the Regional Investment Corporation forward for the purpose of doing work in this vital area, and it has the capacity to expand its mandate further.

Let's go through them: the Inland Rail, the Regional Investment Corporation, the expansion of dams. The Labor Party wish to take money out of the dams portfolio, not expand it. They want to take it out. They have no vision. They are bereft of the ideals of Curtin and Chifley. They have now become a vacuous hold of people who have had no experience in being on the land. Maybe I'll be corrected, but I can't think of any member in the Labor Party who actually comes from the land. That was not the case in the past. We had people such as Mick Young, who was a former shearer. We actually had people who had got their hands dirty on the land. But they're not there now.

The Greens, with their desire to tie up everything in green tape, are becoming, more and more, the enemy of people on the land. They have gone from having serious concerns—which we must hold—on issues such as protection of aquifers and prime agricultural land to basically something that wants to inhibit any development on land.

Now that I have the capacity that's been given to me—with a pay cut—through being on the backbench, I want to make clear some of the things we need to do. One of those issues is of course the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This act is excessive. This act goes beyond protecting the environment to completely inhibiting the capacity of people on the land to deal with the private asset that they have paid for.

One would hope that this side of the House believes in private ownership. We believe in governments staying away. If you come into an area and decide, by mandate, by edict, that, piece by piece, you'll dispossess a person on the land of their capacity to properly own the land, and if you take from them, without payment, an asset that was formally theirs, then that is not the conservative side of politics and it is not the side of people who believe in a market economy where you should have just and fair compensation. If the community truly believes it is the community's right and in the community's interest to take an asset off a private owner, then it must be the community's responsibility to pay for it. We saw that in so many regional areas with tree-clearing legislation. As many people saw it, an asset that they formerly owned was taken over and owned by the government without payment. There was a word for that in the past; it is called 'communism' when the government decides it is not going to acquire an asset but take it without payment.

This act has now to be amended. I look forward to the review, which I think has to happen by 2019. We will move forward to a proper review of this and give back to farmers their rights which in the past have been taken from them. In doing that, we will also make sure that key infrastructure in regional areas is not inhibited by excessive environmental studies. Around Peak Hill—and you would be familiar with this in your electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker—hundreds of thousands of dollars was required to get approval to build a railway line. Where? Where a railway line is! In my seat of New England, with the Bolivia Hill realignment, I believe millions of dollars was spent on environmental studies to build a road where a road is. This is Kafkaesque. This has to change. The National Party stands proudly in making sure that we fight for this issue.

I go back to country-of-origin labelling and agriculture in general. I note that this amendment itself is meaningless; it has no purpose. It is a true reflection of the Labor Party's agricultural outlook: they have no meaning; they are purposeless. It is almost comical how little attention the Labor Party tactics group gives to the shadow minister for agriculture to ever get a question in question time. Is it because he has no knowledge of agriculture or does not care about agriculture, or is it because the Labor Party has no vision on agriculture? I think it is all three.

What we have to do now, what we have to fight for, is to make sure that one of our nation's greatest benefits, the massive turnaround in agriculture, is not stymied and continues to be built on. I commend the work that the member for Maranoa, the new minister for agriculture, has been doing in this area. He has really hit the ground running and is doing a great job.

They talk about issues such as the blueberry industry. Sitting behind me are the member for Page, for whom the blueberry industry is very important, and the member for Wide Bay, who definitely likes eating blueberries—and they go well with ice cream! I know that both of them would understand that the expansion of our agricultural capacity is driven in part by our three free trade agreements and the massive turnaround in our agricultural exports to China, Japan and Korea as we build on the foundations of the past but have a vision for the future.

There is no question about it: if any parliamentary side wishes to understand our economy properly and is bereft of ideas on what they do in agriculture then they do not deserve the treasury bench. I am proud of the work we have done on dams. I am proud of the work we have done on accelerated depreciation on fences. The Greens have now moved to get rid of the dog fences out in the Paroo. And why wouldn't they! I suppose they are having such a great effect that they just don't want them!

I support the continued work that we will do. The essence of this nation was built on agriculture and, in the future, it will continue to do the same.