MPI – Rural and Regional Services in Australia
Mr PITT (Hinkler—Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) (15:39): It is a great pleasure to respond to some of the comments by the member for Hunter. I would say this to the member for Hunter, who, I have to say, I get on well with. In opening the MPI, he asked the question: when was the last time anyone mentioned the agricultural white paper? I can say to the member for Hunter that it is very clear: it was in last week’s edition of Queensland Country Life. In fact, you provided a quote and your quote was this:
“Insurance risk mitigation seems the obvious model,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“This is an initiative in the government’s Agriculture White Paper which I welcome.
There it is: a glowing endorsement in Queensland Country Life that you support the agricultural white paper. You also mention the Deputy Prime Minister’s op-ed, which was out this week. The line from the op-ed piece that stuck with me was quite simply this: it said you were about to be hit in the face by the stick called reality.
This is the reality. If you are talking about renewables, you should be talking to the people who have technical knowledge. Those people with technical knowledge know how to operate a system: power network, generators, coal fired power stations, hydro, solar—all of those things. The reality is very straightforward. I actually have a degree in electrical engineering; I majored in power systems and have trained as an electrician. I will say to the member for Hunter that we need to get away from the policy wonks, we need to get away from the arguments and we need to provide a reliable supply which can be afforded by the people who have to pay the costs. That is a stick called reality—someone has to pay the bill and at this stage it is the poorest people in our communities. We cannot continue to do that.
You talk about the age of a power station. Would you believe, they actually get maintained. Every year there is a program of maintenance, and they get upgraded. In fact the Kareeya hydro station up in Tully, I understand, was opened in 1955 and it works perfectly well. It is upgraded constantly. Here is perfectly good renewable energy that works as a peaker. It is something which I support, and there should be more of it.
When we talk about hydro, we need dams. The question I put to the member for Hunter is this: you have stated there will be no dams. Do you have knowledge of the Queensland Labor Party’s position? Are they not intending to build any dams in Queensland? We have put forward over $100 million to build dam infrastructure. Dams mean jobs. They also mean increasing the value of agricultural land; they mean further production.
We spent an awful lot of time signing up free trade agreements with South Korea, Japan and China to provide opportunities and market access for our producers and our services. We have increased our tourism. In fact, tourism is an enormous contributor to the Australian economy. There is one comment I would make to the member for Richmond: simply saying something does not mean that it is true. It does not matter how many times you say it, it does not make it true. When you talk about the Nationals, you should look at the reality, and the reality is that the Nationals held every seat and every senator, and they gained one. So the people of Australia support the Nationals. They did not lose one seat; in fact they maintained the seat of Capricornia. The member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, was targeted by every union under the sun, but she held onto the seat with no problems at all.
We are doing things for regional Australia and we will continue to do so. If we talk about the backpacker tax, the reality is straightforward. Every single person who is out there and operates a farm needs labour short term—they need large pools of labour to get their crop off. They need a flexible workforce. That has been provided by backpackers. They are not workers; they are tourists. They come to see this country and they work while they are here. They should contribute to the taxation system. If we accept that, the only debate is about the value. We have put forward a proposition of 19 per cent in consultation with stakeholders. The stakeholders agree—they support 19 per cent wholeheartedly. Right now, the agricultural community needs certainty. Right now they are ringing your offices and they are saying, ‘Get on with it.’ I can tell you that the reality is: these people—
Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): The member for Hunter has had his turn.
Mr PITT: are building our economy. They provide jobs; they pay their bills—unlike many on the other side of the House. They get on with it. The people on this side of the House understand it, because we have done it. We have been out there, we have had dirt under our fingernails. We have taken risks as well. We understand what it is like to be short on cash flow, to have filled the overdraft. To have someone turn around now, after all the months of negotiation, and say they will not support this bill is absolutely outrageous. You should be supporting our agricultural producers. For the first time in a very long time, they can be out making money. I would say to the cross bench and the opposition, and particularly to Senator Lambie: go and talk to your cherry producers, because they are going fantastically well. If they leave that crop in the field, they will not make a cent.