Adjournment – Liberal leadership and achievements
Mr PITT (Hinkler) (11:36): This is been a week of highs and lows, of losses and triumphs, but I will leave it to the commentators or so-called experts to pick everything apart. Today, rather than focus on any of the negative, I want to reflect on what it all means for the people of Hinkler. They are, after all, my No. 1 priority and the reason I am here today.
I am a member of the Liberal National Party in Queensland but in Canberra I sit with the Nationals. This means I do not get a vote on the Liberal leadership, just as those who sit with the Liberal Party do not get a say on who leads the Nationals. In 95 years the Nationals have had just 12 leaders. Our party continues to be a strong voice for regional Australia.
On Wednesday, the Nationals negotiated a new coalition agreement with the Liberal Party to form government, with Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister. The agreement contains some very significant wins for the Nationals, and I applaud our leader, Warren Truss. He is a man who gets things done, not via the media but through steadfast negotiations behind closed doors. I have strongly expressed my views on the renewable energy target previously and the impact it will have on electricity prices for those who can least afford it. While I do not agree with all our policies on climate change, I am pleased we have been able to get a guarantee that they will not be broadened or increased under a Turnbull government.
The responsibility for water policy will be transferred back from the environmental portfolio to agriculture, where it belongs. Farmers are the great guardians of water, because without it they do not survive. Our policies and programs, to date, have already started having a positive impact on my region’s local unemployment rate. The establishment of a new jobs program specifically focused on regional Australia will only further the positive trend.
The coalition agreement also maintains the existing policy on same-sex marriage, to hold a plebiscite of the people, should we win another term. We will increase family tax benefit part B payments to stay-at-home-parent families with a child below the age of one eligible. Importantly, we have agreed that cabinet will give proper consideration to amendments to the Australian Competition and Consumer Act that were recommended in the Harper review. The Harper report made 56 recommendations, laying the ground work for a more competitive and flexible economy to make markets work better for all Australians. The key one for cabinet consideration relates to section 46 and the abuse of market power. Some argue it will reduce productivity, chill investment and lead to higher prices. The reverse is true. The current laws have failed to protect consumers and smaller competitors, with only one case every two years making it before the courts. The system favours firms which can afford legal representation to help them engage in anticompetitive behaviour while remaining just within the bounds of the law. Strengthening section 46 would be a significant win for the consumers and especially businesses in my electorate: the farmers, food manufacturers and commercial fishers. In relation to Tony Abbott, I will say this: he delivered on his key election commitments. He got rid of the carbon tax, he got rid of the mining tax, and he stopped the boats. Everyone said that it could not be done, but he did it.
Border protection and national security is one of the top issues of concern among my Hinkler constituents. ‘Stopping the boats’ is not just a three-word slogan; it is backed by a policy of tough measures that have deterred people from risking their lives at sea. In the 12 months before the coalition introduced Operation Sovereign Borders there were 401 illegal boat arrivals carrying 26,542 people, compared to only one illegal boat arrival in 2014. Since coming to government two years ago our policies have resulted in the closure of 13 immigration detention centres, saving the 2015-16 budget $500 million. We have reduced the number of children in detention by 90 per cent. As a result, we have been able to increase the humanitarian program from the current level of 13,750 places per year to 18,750 places per year by 2018-19. It has also enabled us to take 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, in addition to the 4,400 we settled last financial year.
Over the past two years I have enjoyed a good working relationship with Malcolm Turnbull as a member of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, and I expect that will continue. I wore a path to Mr Turnbull’s door in relation to the NBN rollout, and I thank him for heeding my concerns and agreeing to list Bundaberg as one of 10 sites prioritised nationally for the fibre-to-the-node rollout. It is expected to be switched on toward the end of this year. The fact that Bundaberg is a point of interconnect for the NBN bodes well for further expansion across the electorate. More than 20 fixed wireless NBN towers are either delivered or under construction in the rural parts of the electorate. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Turnbull to continue doing exactly what I have been doing for the past two years, and that is delivering for the people of Hinkler.