MPI – Supporting Australians through challenges

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Mr PITT (HinklerMinister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia): It’s a great pleasure to follow the Leader of the Opposition. It’s an opportunity I’ve been looking for for the last two weeks, and I’ve got it now.

We’ve heard a lot of noise from those opposite, and I’m sure there’ll be more. I know you’re keen to hear this, Mr Deputy Speaker O’Brien. It’s a headline which will have some impact: ‘Labor group’s war on gas appliances’. I thought it was from The Betoota Advocate until I looked closer. It wasn’t from the Betoota, that great publication allegedly from Birdsville, out past Windorah; it’s from The Australian, written by Greg Brown, and it’s an exclusive. What is the great plan for recovery from those opposite? Labor’s environmental action network is launching a campaign for people to junk their gas powered household appliances. They want a ban on the barbecue. Can you believe it? I’m so pleased it was the Leader of the Opposition in the MPI today. Can you imagine the Leader of the Opposition out there with the member for McMahon and the member for Maribyrnong? They’re in their camouflage, they’ve got their hard hats on and sledgehammers in hand and they’re tearing through the kitchen, looking for the gas powered appliances to take out—the gas powered hot water system, the barbecue. They want to put a ban on barbecues—no more gas! This is all they have in the opposition. Quite simply, we are serious about recovery in our economy; we are serious about the actions that we take.

The Leader of the Opposition is calling for resignations. Well, I have a resignation that the Leader of the Opposition should be asking for, and that is the resignation of Minister Bailey in Queensland. Minister Bailey should resign from his position in Queensland. He is misleading the people of my electorate; he is misleading the people of Queensland. In fact, the local member, Stephen Bennett, the member for Burnett, has called for Mr Bailey’s resignation today. Do you know why? I’m sure you do, but I’ll inform you anyway. In my electorate, in our region, we have delivered $173 million for a regional deal, including $10 million for a conveyor at the Bundaberg port. That is 100 per cent funded by the Commonwealth, with a contribution from Sugar Terminals Limited to deliver that conveyor system. Minister Bailey has come out and said he has only been asked about it in the last month. That is ridiculous. It was announced in April 2019. There have been six months of work between governments and between officials. All they have to do is approve it. The Queensland Labor government owns the port. The Queensland Labor government needs to provide the approval. Minister Bailey is out there saying that he knew nothing about it until recently and that the reason for the delay, the reason they don’t want to approve this very important piece of infrastructure, is the GST. Can you believe it is the GST which is stopping the building of a conveyor at the Bundaberg port from being approved by the Queensland Labor government, from being approved by Minister Bailey?

I find this completely nonsensical. The Leader of the Opposition has spent 10 minutes railing against the government, when his own side has a plan for banning barbecues, and a Queensland Labor minister is stopping jobs in our electorate—stopping those jobs cold—at a time when they are desperately needed. Our money is in the bank. It is ready. We are ready to deliver. We are ready for this project to move forward. I congratulate the local member, David Batt, the member for Bundaberg; and the member for Burnett, Stephen Bennett. Today they’ve launched a petition calling for this project to be approved. I would encourage not only all those people in my electorate but all Australians looking for jobs in regional Australia to get onto that petition and sign it.

We take responsibility in these challenging times for leading the nation forward, for delivering on our economy and for providing future growth and opportunities. We continue to provide support for the Australian people at one of their most difficult times. Mr Deputy Speaker, without reflecting on you, I’m sure that you are old enough to recall the last recession—1990-91. I remember it. I was an apprentice. I was on the tools. It was a very, very tough period for the Australian nation. It was the recession that we allegedly had to have. Well, currently we are in a difficult position because of the outbreak of a virus around the world which is impacting all international economies, and of course it impacts Australia’s trade. But the resources sector continues to be a shining light. It continues to deliver to its customers. It continues to ensure those supply chains are maintained.

In terms of support in Australia, we’ve provided and committed $314 billion in assistance to Australians. That is a record level. If we hadn’t made those commitments, an additional 700,000 Australians would be out of work. Through the JobKeeper program, we’re supporting some 3½ million Australians and some 900,000 businesses in our electorates and in the electorates of those opposite. We are providing opportunities to ensure that apprentices and trainees are able to stay connected to those businesses that employ them, through a 50 per cent wage subsidy to the value of $2.8 billion. As a former apprentice, I recall that it was fairly tough because you were not paid a great amount of money. In fact, I recall my take-home pay was under $60 a week as a first year. I know times have changed and that’s improved substantially, but the fact that the Commonwealth is willing to support 50 per cent of apprentices’ wages is no small thing. It will make a difference into the future for those individuals and allow them to complete their training and go on to be incredibly productive members not only of our society but of industry and to continue to drive our economy, to provide opportunities into the future.

So we are helping businesses through the pandemic. We’re helping individuals and households. In fact, we’ve provided further support for our seniors and pensioners in support payments of $750 in tough times, and I know that that money has been very much appreciated. A $1 billion relief and recovery fund has been set up to support the regions, which is allocated, including money towards air freight. That will make a difference, because it’s about bottoms on seats. The best thing we can do for businesses is to get customers back through their doors, to provide further opportunities for them.

We’ve temporarily waived the environmental management charge for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park—that is $8.1 million. In my local area—and our local area, Mr Deputy Speaker—the Lady Elliot Island resort is very appreciative of the fact that those fees have been waived. It has meant that they are able to ensure that they are ready to go when tourists return to those areas, particularly international tourism. There is $10.1 million in support for national parks in the Northern Territory, and $165 million provided for domestic aviation network guarantees. We have continued over a long period of time to support the Australian people in their time of need.

In my electorate of Hinkler, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, we have over 1,400 businesses that produce some of the best agricultural produce not only in this country but around the world. It is critical that we continue to have confidence in that industry and provide confidence for those farmers and businesses that are making investment decisions right now. What does that mean in a practical sense? It means quite simply that they’re deciding whether to plant or not. They’re deciding whether to invest their hard-earned and take a risk as to whether they can actually get that crop off in the future. To do that, they need labour, seasonal labour, and they need it available at the time that the crop is ready to pick. This has been a very, very challenging period of time not only for those businesses but right across the country. We have to ensure that the hundreds of millions of dollars that pour out of my electorate in agricultural product can be delivered.

The hardworking men and women of the resources sector will continue to do what they’ve done over recent weeks and months—that is, manage the pandemic. They have managed it incredibly well in terms of their local processes and procedures. They’re ensuring the health of their employees and, most importantly, they’re ensuring the lights stay on in this country. They’ve made significant commitments, and I take the point from the Leader of the Opposition earlier: it affects the individuals in this parliament as well in terms of isolation periods and being away from families. But there are members working in the resources sector who for months have not been home and have not seen their families, and it has been incredibly difficult for them. So I want to thank them all again, publicly, for the work that they are doing. They continue to help drive the Australian economy. They continue to help ensure that there are jobs into the future, and, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I’m sure you’d agree, they will continue to do that because it’s necessary.

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